Eleventh place on a Finnish championship round – three minutes down on the winner – might not sound like the start of a revolution. Trust me, it was.
Ken Torn’s result on the competitive debut for M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta Rally3 was just what the Kraków team had ordered. The future for future talent has arrived in our sport.
Ahead of Saturday’s SM O.K. Auto-Ralli, books up and down the land were taken on where this three-cylinder, 200-plus bhp four-wheel-drive machine would fit in. Would it be a Group N beater?
Indeed it would. Almost.
Only Ville Hautamäki’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX had the edge over Torn and the all-new Fiesta – a source of some frustration for M-Sport Poland managing director Maciej Woda.
“I am very, very happy with how the event went,” Woda told DirtFish, “and I’m in no doubt at all that this is the car we wanted. We set out to beat the Group N cars and one got away. It’s a shame, we would have liked them all, but Ken did a good job.
“We have to remember this was the car’s first outing and he made it clear he didn’t want to do anything stupid.
“He had a spin in the fifth stage and was really frustrated about this – but we have to remember these guys are out here competing on these stages and these rallies every year. Like I said, I’m happy. I would say this is mission accomplished for us.”
Even more important was the reaction from a customer day held in Finland on Sunday, where 15 Group N drivers came to take a look at the opposition.
“That’s the reaction I’m pleased with,” said Woda. “They drove this car and they understood what it’s about. This is a proper, proper rally car.
“When we set out with this car, we set out to try to bridge what’s a fairly big gap between Rally4 and Rally2 – the two-wheel-drive Junior Fiesta and the Fiesta R5 – and we have definitely done that.
“But in the meantime, a considerable debate has started on how the Rally3 car would fare against Group N. But what is Group N now, really it’s a little bit dead as a category. So to have Saturday’s result and then to have such a great reaction to the car on Sunday is very good news for us.”
But the only book that really matters is the one with the orders written in it. And that’s filling already. The first customer car will be delivered on March 16, with another 12 of these €99,999 motors already sold.
It’s been a long time coming, but after more than 30 years as the only option for a slightly more affordable four-wheel-drive solution for rallying, it seems Group N might just have had its day.