Метка: M-Sport

Ford signs Carlos Sainz Sr to lead Dakar Rally programme in 2025

Sainz and double event winner Nani Roma will be two of the four drivers to represent Ford in the prestigious Dakar event in Saudi Arabia next year, with its remaining line-up to be announced at a later date.

This would mark the Spanish driver’s fourth stint with the American auto giant, having periodically competed with its range of cars in a World Rally Championship career that lasted almost 20 years.

It was at the wheel of a Ford Sierra RS that he made his WRC debut back in 1987, before joining the factory team for a handful of events the following season.

He returned to Ford as a two-time WRC champion in 1996, scoring three victories over the following two seasons before heading back to Toyota.

Toyota’s withdrawal at the end of 1999 paved the way for a third stint between 2000-02, which yielded another two wins and a best finish of third in the championship.

Sainz has been hired by Ford after he steered Audi to its first victory in Dakar in January, the culmination of a three-year factory programme that was cut short due to what has been described as a lack of spare parts.

With Ford, Sainz will be targeting a fifth Dakar win with as many manufacturers, having scored his previous four triumphs with Volkswagen, Peugeot, Mini and Audi.

«I’m very excited by this new Dakar Rally project, to go back to working with Ford for the fourth time, and to return to M-Sport, to return to Malcolm [Wilson, founder of M-Sport] who I know very well, it’s really great to be back,» he said. 

«My history with Ford goes all the way back to ’87, and I think I was Malcolm’s first driver, his first ever factory driver, back in the day, and I’m very proud of that.

«I’m really excited to be driving the Raptor truck, and to approach this big challenge with a lot of goals. One is to help Ford win the Dakar Rally.»

 Ford Raptor

Ford Raptor

Photo by: Ford Performance

The American auto giant made the announcement on Friday afternoon, where it also revealed that it has begun active testing with the 2025 Ranger Raptor.

It had already planned to build an all-new Dakar challenger for 2025 after making an explanatory outing in this year’s Dakar with a revised version of the NWM-built Ranger, piloted by Roma and South Africa’s Gareth Woolridge.

Ford dropped a teaser of the new Raptor along with the announcement, showing the rear of the vehicle kicking up dust in a desert.

«The scale of our ambitions in off-road racing is unparalleled in Ford’s recent history and nothing is more clear in that ambition than our challenge to take the Ford Raptor to the legendary Dakar rally,» said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsport. 

«Taking on such an enormous challenge requires the best engineers, designers, team members, navigators and drivers, and in Nani Roma and Carlos Sainz Sr, we have two of the most experienced and successful drivers in Dakar history.

«The Ford Raptor is already showing promising signs in testing and having two of the best drivers in the world with us for the ride gives us confidence for the continued development of the truck.» 

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Ford simulator boosting M-Sport WRC Puma performances

Adrien Fourmaux highlighted that recent simulator sessions in the US played a role in helping improve the M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1’s performance on Croatia’s asphalt stages last weekend.

While Ford is not currently operating as a fully-fledged factory team in the WRC, the blue oval offers support to M-Sport’s WRC programme, which includes access to the Ford Performance Technical Centre’s simulator in America, to help assist the development of the Puma.

Fourmaux says sessions in the simulator have helped transform the Puma’s pace on asphalt significantly since January’s Monte Carlo opener where he finished fifth.

In Croatia, M-Sport debuted a new rear wing which was the first visible performance upgrade on the car this year. Fourmaux scored two stage wins last week including an impressive Power Stage victory that helped him secure 13 championship points.

“I’m really happy because we have come really far with the car since Monte Carlo,” Fourmaux told Autosport/Motorsport.com.

“The car wasn’t good at all on tarmac, we were struggling so much but we have done a lot of development in the simulator and on the test.

“We were searching a little bit at the beginning of the rally but after Friday afternoon where I did the second fastest time, I found a really good set up.

“We have made a big step but there are things we still need to improve and we are working on it to gain some time. It is really positive and we are much closer. We were fighting with Ott all the weekend.

“It [the simulator] is working and I’m really pleased we have done a good job with the car, and it has been working on this rally.

“We are using it as a tool to make the car faster and it is working.”

M-Sport team principal Richard Millener says the simulator access is a valuable resource to the British team in its fight with full manufacturer-backed operations Toyota and Hyundai. 

“Obviously there is only a certain amount of things you can do with it but it allows us to be a little bit more efficient before we go testing as testing regulations are quite restricted,” Millener told Autosport/Motorsport.com.

“It also allows the drivers to have a bit more feedback with the engineers and the design team and keep them thinking all the time about what we can do.

“It gives you a little bit more freedom to come up with some out of the box ideas that we would never try in reality and see what happens.

“It is great that they support us with those things but there are limitations as rallying is very different to circuit racing which is what the simulators are designed for at the moment.

“It is part of the help that Ford give us that not everybody knows about and appreciates the value that is to us as a company.”

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Why tough love has allowed Fourmaux to reach new WRC heights

Three rounds into the 2024 World Rally Championship season, a compelling case could be made for Adrien Fourmaux to be classed as the driver of the season so far. The Frenchman has turned heads on his full-time Rally1 return, exceeding both his and the M-Sport Ford team’s expectations to sit third in the championship standings.

Fifth in the Monte Carlo opener, he then took a first outright podium in the WRC in Sweden before repeating his third place in Kenya. That made Fourmaux the first driver since Dani Sordo in 2006 to follow up a maiden podium with a top-three in their next event.

Fourmaux’s impressive start to 2024 has left him sitting 23 points adrift of championship leader Thierry Neuville. The former doctor in training-turned rally driver is 13 points ahead of Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Ott Tanak, the man he replaced at M-Sport this year. But the key statistic that outlines Fourmaux’s stark turnaround in form is this: he has already eclipsed his entire 2022 tally by 31 points after three rounds.

This improvement can seemingly be attributed to a strategy of stepping backwards to go forward, employed by M-Sport, renowned cultivators of young rally talent. It’s an approach that three-time WRC runner-up Elfyn Evans and 2019 world champion Tanak know all too well.

«In all honestly, I didn’t expect us to be third in the drivers’ championship,» M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson tells Motorsport.com. «I probably didn’t expect to get back-to-back podiums, but Adrien has got them by being smart.

«The thing about rally is it is a long process [to be successful]. Sadly, there is no quick route unless you are absolutely exceptional like a Sebastien Loeb or whatever. You have to look at how long it took with Ott and Elfyn and how long it has taken with Adrien. There is no short cut, unfortunately.»

Fourmaux has shown superb form since returning to a Rally1 seat after a year out of the spotlight

Fourmaux has shown superb form since returning to a Rally1 seat after a year out of the spotlight

Photo by: McKlein / McMaster

Fourmaux burst onto the top-flight rally scene with M-Sport in 2021, finishing fifth in Croatia on his first outing in a full WRC car. He went on to score a maiden stage win in Kenya that season, finishing five of eight rallies inside the top seven. Such form created plenty of excitement and growing expectation that M-Sport had found the driver who could be France’s next rallying hero after Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier, as Motorsport.com discussed at the time here.

But the following season, the first of the hybrid Rally1 era, proved to be a nightmare campaign for Fourmaux, headlined by high-profile crashes and reliability issues. M-Sport kept the faith with its young driver, having seen his abundant potential, but made the difficult call to drop him back to the lower Rally2 tier for 2023. This was combined with an ultimately successful programme in the British Rally Championship that yielded the title that Wilson himself won in 1994 and Evans managed in 2016.

Taking young guns out of the top tier and placing them in Rally2 for a season or two is a tried-and-tested method the team has utilised on more than one occasion. It did so with Tanak and now Toyota star Evans when the pair were at the Cumbria stable, and it appears to be working again with Fourmaux.

«What we did last year has had a big influence on where he is now. He is a very clever boy, and he now understands what he needs to do»
Malcolm Wilson

«Pushing these drivers back into Rally2 seems to work,» smiles Wilson. «It worked with Elfyn, it worked with Ott and now it seems to have worked with Adrien.

«In fairness, Adrien is not doing anything more 1713289450 probably than what I always felt he was capable of. But what we did last year has had a big influence on where he is now. Obviously, as you can imagine I’m delighted, but he is a very clever boy, and he now understands what he needs to do and that is the bit I love to see when working with these guys.

«It is about maturing and understanding what makes the world go round. He is now starting to show the potential that I have always believed he had.»

The similarities with Fourmaux’s growth in ability and confidence to those of Tanak and Evans after their seasons in Rally2 are telling. Tanak’s first top-tier WRC full-time campaign with M-Sport in 2012 was far from being disastrous. The Estonian picked up 52 points and scored a maiden podium in Sardinia. On his return to the WRC top class in 2015 after a spell in Rally2, he picked up 63 points and by 2017 was an established winner capable of pushing Ogier and Neuville in the championship.

Sending drivers back to the less-pressured environment of WRC2 is a tactic M-Sport has employed previously with great success for Tanak (pictured) and Evans

Sending drivers back to the less-pressured environment of WRC2 is a tactic M-Sport has employed previously with great success for Tanak (pictured) and Evans

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Likewise, Evans dropped back to Rally2 in 2016 after two seasons in the main class with M-Sport which had yielded two podiums. The 2015 campaign was his best, finishing seventh overall with 89 points. The Welshman then spent 2016 building confidence in WRC2, winning three rounds and only missing out on the title by 10 points to Esapekka Lappi alongside his BRC exploits.

When drafted back into M-Sport’s WRC team for 2017, Evans scored a maiden win and two podiums while amassing 128 points to finish fifth in the standings. Since joining Toyota in 2020, he has become a regular title contender.

Demoting a driver from a seat in rallying’s top tier to Rally2 can understandably be interpreted as a negative move. But even if they don’t want to admit it, for some drivers it appears exactly the right call for their career. Wilson says the thinking behind the strategy is always centred around creating an environment to allow the driver to rediscover the confidence required to unlock their potential.

«I’m not going to give all my secrets away,» Wilson jokes when asked to elaborate on the tactic. «There is no rocket science to it. Personally, what it does do and if you look at all of them, they all had a difficult season in Rally1 cars, so the confidence is not where it needs to be.

«For me, so much of this job is about confidence and being happy with driving. The opportunity to get back in the Rally1 car and the confidence and success from Rally2 helps. It is all about being in the right frame of mind.»

Fourmaux himself has acknowledged that he learned a huge amount last season competing in Rally2 machinery, despite the initial frustrations of being dropped from the Rally1 line-up. A season away from the spotlight has not only helped Fourmaux find his confidence, but he’s also improved his ability to manage WRC rallies. Learning when to push and back off has reaped rewards in each of 2024’s opening rallies that present unique challenges. But above all of that, Fourmaux is enjoying his driving again, a commodity that shouldn’t be forgotten.

«It was not a bad thing to do [to go back to Rally2],» a reflective Fourmaux tells Motorsport.com. «It was really frustrating at the beginning, but now looking at where I am and what we have done, it is really positive.

Wilson knows that rebuilding confidence can be crucial for allowing drivers to unlock their potential

Wilson knows that rebuilding confidence can be crucial for allowing drivers to unlock their potential

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

«I think it was the right decision to make because I could be myself and put a lot of things away and just focus on getting back to the feeling of driving and enjoying. In 2022, in the end, I wasn’t enjoying it all because the pressure was there, and it was negative pressure at times.

«I prefer to have positive pressure, so in the end, it was just better to be in Rally2. There was much more focus on Ott and Pierre-Louis [Loubet] and I just had to drive and deliver the best result. Now I can accept pressure from the team to deliver because I know I am capable of doing it.

«I have been working on some details, we have gained some reliability [in the team] and also some comfort, but it is all about preparation and how to manage rallies. I think the experience was also a big part. In rallies, you could be leading or fighting for a position, and you still have to manage your tyres, car and you have to be smart. I have been working a lot on that last year and that has helped me transfer that to Rally1 now.

«We have given him the tools to do the job, and the fact that he has matured, we are both seeing the benefits»
Malcolm Wilson

«In 2022 it was not always my fault, the car was breaking down as well, so there were a few rallies where I didn’t score points with a reliability issue. For sure the team has been making some progress, the car has been reliable, which is really positive. It is small details that make the difference.»

Another key aspect in Fourmaux’s arsenal is his ability to act as a team player and endear himself to his colleagues, which will bode well as he aims to continue his upward trajectory. This was perhaps best showcased in 2022 after his frightening Monte Carlo accident when Fourmaux arrived at M-Sport’s Dovenby workshop spanner-in-hand to help his mechanics repair his Ford Puma.

Wilson believes this side of Fourmaux’s character will only add to his growth as a driver and his ability to unlock the most from his M-Sport package.

«I have been saying to him that he has an incredible opportunity, and he can make this his team,» Wilson adds. «He can have everybody working for him and that is what he is doing. This, combined with how he has got his head around finishing events, is the whole package that is coming together.

Following his maiden podium in Sweden, Fourmaux doubled up in Kenya to underline his maturity

Following his maiden podium in Sweden, Fourmaux doubled up in Kenya to underline his maturity

Photo by: M-Sport

«He learned a lot of things last year and we had some good discussions about how to tackle it. He was very clear about what he wanted from the engineers. We have given him the tools to do the job, and the fact that he has matured, we are both seeing the benefits.»

This weekend’s visit to Croatia offers up the next test for Fourmaux 2.0, who is eager to add a podium on asphalt to his gravel and snow successes on an event that after the high of 2021 featured one of the low points of his 2022 season. Caught out on a wet patch, his crash into the garden of a residential property inflicted chassis damage that prevented him from rejoining.

It is no secret that M-Sport and Fourmaux have taken a strategic approach to the first three rallies, which has been executed expertly, but now the WRC enters a series of performance rallies where the focus will turn more to outright speed.

«Let’s not kid ourselves we are now moving into a part of the season where a lot more focus will be on performance,» says Wilson. «But he has been doing a lot of work on that and he has been quick in Croatia before. The next few events are going to be another step for him.

«This will be another step on the ladder for Adrien and I’d be very happy if he can finish in the top five in Croatia.»

Can Fourmaux continue his strong start to 2024 as the WRC returns to Tarmac?

Can Fourmaux continue his strong start to 2024 as the WRC returns to Tarmac?

Photo by: M-Sport

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M-Sport set to debut WRC Puma upgrade in Croatia

The British squad has been working on the aerodynamic performance upgrade since last year, before opting to delay its rollout until the 2024 season.

Following a successful test last week, the team has confirmed that it plans to fit the new component to its cars for next week’s asphalt rally. Drivers Adrien Fourmaux and Gregoire Munster each chalked up more than 250km of running during their pre-event test days.

«Our plan is to introduce it in Croatia. Everything has gone okay with that, to be honest, and that was always the kind of date we were trying to aim for,» M-Sport team principal Richard Millener told Motorsport.com.

«It [the rear wing] is not suddenly going to make us 10 seconds a kilometre faster. There are only small things you can do, and it is small tweaks that we are looking for at the moment.

«This should help us in the higher speed stuff and combined with a couple of other set-up changes, it can make a difference to the car. It is constant development, we are a little bit later than the other teams on the rear wing, but we are trying to stay as close as we can to the opposition.»

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

M-Sport has enjoyed a strong start to the 2024 campaign highlighted by back-to-back podium finishes in Sweden and Kenya for Fourmaux, who is sitting third in the championship after three rounds.

Team-mate Munster has picked up three points after a difficult start to the season that included a minor off in Monte Carlo, a puncture in Sweden and a broken suspension in Kenya.

Reflecting on the start of the season, Millener is proud of the team’s efforts thus far which have outlined the strength of the Puma Rally1.

«I think it is just underlining what we have said last year about the car being okay is being shown here,» Millener added.

«We have had a slightly different approach this year we have less expectation. We have Adrien in a strong place mentally and physically and approach the rallies as he needs to with the goal of collecting as many points as possible. Consistency is going to be key for us to do well and I think that has been shown.

«We have had very good reliability touch wood up until now and we have to try and continue that in Croatia. We can be very happy.»

Watch: Safari Rally Kenya Sunday afternoon highlights

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WRC teams pushing FIA to keep current Rally1 rules for 2025

Multiple sources have confirmed to Motorsport.com that Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport have collectively written a letter to the FIA expressing a need for the current Rally1 technical rules to see out the original window from 2022 to the end of 2026.

In February, the FIA’s working group revealed its vision for the future of top-level rallying, including a raft of proposals incorporating changes to technical and sporting regulations, and the promotion of the category. The proposals will be voted on in June’s World Motor Sport Council meeting.

While WRC Rally1 teams have shown their unanimous support for proposed changes to the sporting side of the championship, the FIA’s plans to change the technical regulations for next year have been strongly opposed by drivers and teams.

Under the FIA’s plan, it intends to remove hybrid power from Rally1 cars and further reduce the car’s performance through a reduction in aerodynamics and air restrictor. The aim is to bring the performance more into line with Rally2 cars, which will be offered more aero and performance through an upgrade kit, to boost the overall entry lists of competitors.

Chief among the team’s concerns is the tight timeframe to enact these changes, with the proposed ratification of the regulations offering a six-month window to design, test and validate their revised cars.

Hyundai has been most vocal regarding its concerns, with team principal Cyril Abiteboul stating this week that it would not be possible for the Korean manufacturer to “do a good job” next year under this timeframe.

Abiteboul also shared frustrations that his team has had to scrap a significant investment made in upgrades to its i20 N completed in accordance with the current regulations, that would be rendered redundant next year.

Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team

Cyril Abiteboul, Team principal Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Asked by Motorsport.com if he had any hope the FIA would make changes to its plans for next year, before the letter was sent, he said: “We have expressed our opinion in December, in January and then February, verbally and in writing.

“At some point you have to simply deal with it and accept the governing body has made its mind and the one thing we need to understand is the aftermath of it from a competitiveness perspective.

“Hyundai is a very committed to rally and we want to be a serious competitor and we want to do what we need to do to have a competitive car against our competitors.

“We had good results in the opening rounds. We all agree that there were some favourable circumstances even if Thierry [Neuville] was remarkable in Monte Carlo.

“We know we still have a clear handicap against the Toyota and now we are facing a situation where this handicap has to remain for another two years.”

Speaking to Motorsport.com last month, Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala admitted he felt some aeras of the FIA’s vision was “too aggressive”, revealing that talks were already under way with the FIA to find a compromise.

“Ideally, taking hybrids out will make the cars slower anyway. But at the same time changing the restrictor and aerodynamics all of this at one time is a bit too much because it means you need to start optimising the engine performance for the different restrictors and you need to do testing for the aero,” he said last month.

Jari-Matti Latvala, Team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing

Jari-Matti Latvala, Team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“I hope we can find a solution where we don’t do that many things immediately for next year.

“For me just taking the hybrids out would have been enough and teams wouldn’t need to do so much testing. We are limited with the testing but these days you can do simulation and you try to optimise everything that is possible.

“We have started the communication with the FIA and there are now weekly meetings going on which is really good. All of the manufacturers are on board, so I feel our chances are really good to find a compromise.”

M-Sport-Ford team principal Richard Millener also previously shared concerns over the timeframe to undertake the technical changes for next year.

“In reality, that is going to be quite tight to have new aero rules [for 2025]. Teams are going to want to test, develop and understand them. It is a lot to do in 10 months and realistically it is going to be six months by the time we get things sorted and understand what the reduction in aero means and develop, build, create parts and test,” he told Motorsport.com last month.

“There are quite high levels of sign-off for some of that required and that will be a challenge.”

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Adjusting to hybrid-less WRC cars will be a “challenge”

The FIA announced last month that the WRC would drop hybrid power from its Rally1 class three years after its introduction in 2022.

The change is part of the FIA’s roadmap for the future of top-level rallying, which will also see Rally1 cars undergo a reduction in aerodynamics and the car’s air restrictor, to cut costs and close the gap in performance to the Rally2 class.

Removing the hybrid unit is understood to drop €150,000 from the cost of the car and reduce the weight of the vehicle by 87 kilograms.

When the control 130kW hybrid unit is engaged alongside the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, the current Rally1 car produces approximately 500 horsepower in short bursts.

Reflecting on the upcoming changes to the rules for next year, M-Sport driver Fourmaux is expecting the cars to feel dramatically different.

“For sure, the cars with the hybrid are really nice to drive, the push we have when we have the engine and the hybrid is really impressive, it’s 550 horsepower,” Fourmaux told Motorsport.com’s Gravel Notes Podcast.

“But you also have to understand that when we remove the hybrid, the car was designed with the hybrid so the weight distribution will change.

Watch: WRC Safari Rally Preview with M-sport’s Adrien Fourmaux

“We moved the radiator to the back of the car and there is the big block of the hybrid and a lot of pipes, so many things will change, it is not a case of just removing the power and go. I think the cars will change a bit with the driveability so, in the end, it will be a challenge.

“I think we are just going to have to find a way to get the balance back as we will remove a lot of weight from the back of the car.

“I don’t know how it will be so I think we will need a bit more explanation of the regulation and how it will work. But it the end, it is the same for everybody, so we will have to fight with that.”

The changes for next year will be followed by the introduction of new Rally1 regulations for 2026 based on the current Rally1 car concept. The cars are expected to incorporate a larger spaceframe chassis and produce 330 horsepower, and will be capped at €400,000.

These regulations were announced alongside a raft of proposals including changes to event formats and the promotion of the championship.

When asked about the FIA’s plans for the future, Fourmaux believes improving the promotion of the championship should be the main focus. 

“New regulations are always interesting, but regarding the technical regulations about the car it is hard to give an answer,” he added.


“But what I personally feel is we need to be more focussed on the promotion of the sport. The cars are spectacular, and we have one of the most spectacular championships in motorsport, so for me it is more about the promotion and how we can improve.

“I think for me I would be more focussed on that than changing the regulation, but at the end of the day I’m not a manufacturer, so it is more difficult for me to answer.”

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