M-Sport Ford driver Teemu Suninen says the team must look to improve the pace of the Fiesta WRC on fast stages, conceding he “couldn’t do much more” than finish fifth on last weekend’s Rally Italy.
Suninen went an incredible 12.4 seconds faster than team-mate Esapekka Lappi, who in turn was quicker than anyone else, on the first stage in Sardinia and was second quickest behind Hyunai’s rally winner Dani Sordo on the next.
But from there, he struggled to live with Sordo’s pace, and the Spaniard overhauled Suninen on SS4 to open up an overnight lead of 17.4s. A malfunctioning handbrake was a hindrance, but Suninen struggled further on Saturday and Sunday to eventually slip down to fifth, 1m33.9s down on the winner.
The first stage – Tempio Pausania – was a really narrow and technical challenge and hadn’t been used since 2005. It wasn’t necessarily indicative of what the crews faced throughout the rest of Rally Italy, and was new to most of the service park, which is why Suninen thinks he was able to post such a good time.
Reflecting on a weekend that started so strongly but ultimately fizzled out, Suninen told DirtFish: “We proved at least we can be really fast on some sections but yeah we are still struggling a bit in the fast places. That shows in [the] results now, we finished fifth and we couldn’t do much more.”
Suninen was M-Sport’s strongest performer in Sardinia, with Lappi retiring immediately after that strong first stage with an engine issue and Gus Greensmith pulling over on the road section before SS10 when a rock split his alternator belt.
Team principal Richard Millener had called on his drivers ahead of Italy to up their performances, and when asked by DirtFish if he felt he’d answered that criticism, Suninen said: “Yeah I still stand by that.
“[We are] still losing in the faster sections, I don’t know if it’s coming from me or the car but it’s clear that area we have to work. Yeah, clearly the stage time [on] the first stage proved that we can be fast on the slower [stages] when we are using first to fourth gear, then it’s all fine.”
The remaining two rounds of the 2020 season – Ypres and Monza – are both on asphalt, a surface Suninen hasn’t driven on since Monte Carlo 10 months ago.
He confessed he is more worried about his own performance rather than his Fiesta’s; a car he believes has shown itself to be really strong on sealed surfaces.
“I think on Tarmac it’s been really strong,” he said.
“Especially when it’s really challenging conditions it’s not about the cars, it’s about the drivers. I’m more worried about me, if I can be enough fast.”