M-Sport Ford team principal Rich Millener has admitted to DirtFish that “it’s hard to stay motivated” after a deflating Rally Turkey for the team that was full of “what ifs”.
The team’s trio of Ford Fiesta WRCs haven’t quite been on the leading pace of Hyundai and Toyota since the World Rally Championship restarted on Rally Estonia two weeks, largely because M-Sport has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and was unable to conduct a pre-event test ahead of Estonia or Turkey.
As a result, Teemu Suninen, Esapekka Lappi and Gus Greensmith were on course to score sixth, seventh and eighth for the squad respectively on an event Millener had previously suggested could suit the team’s car.
But the opening stage on Sunday bit two of its cars. Suninen retired with a destroyed rear-left corner, and Lappi picked up a puncture.
Greensmith did however capitalise to earn a career-best fifth place and Lappi did end the rally in sixth, but Suninen’s exit was a real bitter pill to swallow.
Punctures for Thierry Neuville, Sébastien Loeb and Kalle Rovanperä on SS9 and Sébastien Ogier’s penultimate stage engine failure could theoretically have promoted Suninen into second place had he not picked up damage himself.
He started the Çetibeli stage a shade over a minute behind Loeb and Ogier, who shared second spot at the time.
“You can’t help but be disappointed,” Millener told DirtFish.
“You can be [as] positive as you want coming into this, but it’s always difficult when you come away with not the result you wanted. There’ll be all the ‘what ifs’; what if Teemu hadn’t have broken a damper, he’d have probably come out of that stage second overall.
“But he did break a damper, so that’s the reality of the situation and then to rub it in EP (Esapekka Lappi) had a puncture and a broken damper as well. It’s part of the game, I guess, but it’s very difficult and it’s hard to stay motivated like that with the guys.
“But you know we’ll keep going and we know that we’re the underdogs at the moment, and we just hope that we can get a good result in one of the remaining two events.”
The first of those events is Rally Italy Sardinia, an event M-Sport’s Fiesta WRC has won once before when Ott Tänak took his first WRC victory in 2017.
When asked by DirtFish what M-Sport can do to up its competitiveness, Millener replied: “We won’t be testing before Sardinia either, so we’re going to have to go from here and just try and learn, take what we’ve learned here from the car for the drivers and get used to the set-ups, and try and find something that works in Sardinia.
“It’ll be tough there as well, but we’ll just keep trying. It’s always better to reset and go again when we get there.”