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There were mixed emotions for the M-Sport World Rally Team on the opening round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship. Following the first full day of competition at Rallye Monte-Carlo, Mads Østberg holds a strong sixth place but while Éric Camilli made a promising start to his debut with the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta R5, it ended somewhat prematurely.

On what is one of the most demanding events of the year, Østberg had to overcome more challenges than most. Having to reaffirm his familiarity with what is an evolution of the Fiesta RS WRC he knows, the Norwegian also had to learn a new pacenote system.

Partnered by compatriot co-driver Ola Fløene, Østberg is hearing his pacenotes called in his native language for the first time in seven years and must familiarise himself with a voice that has not called his notes since 2004.

Using this difficult event to perfect their partnership, the pairing are making good use of the competitive seat time – running at a steady pace so as to get themselves perfectly synchronised ahead of the Norwegian’s strongest events.

Following a highly consistent performance over the opening two days, their game plan is paying dividends and Østberg holds a strong sixth place going into tomorrow’s penultimate day. In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Camilli was showing real promise on his competitive debut. After a cautious start allowed him to guage the level required to compete with the rally elite, he proved to be a quick learner – fourth fastest through the first five kilometres of this morning’s “Aspres les Corps – Chauffayer 1” (SS4).

On what was only their fourth competitive stage with the top-specification Fiesta, he and co- driver Nicolas Klinger finished the stage with the fifth fastest time – an incredible achievement given their limited experience. Unfortunately, this lack of experience would be to their disadvantage over the second loop. Getting a wheel off line, they slid off the road on an ice-strewn section and hit a tree six kilometres into “Corps – La Salle en Beaumont 2” (SS6).

With damage to the rollcage of their Fiesta RS WRC, the pairing will not restart the rally – depriving them of further experience on this notoriously difficult event.

Rally car on ice

Mads Østberg (6th) said:

“It’s been quite a good day for us. Okay, I think it’s clear that we’re not pushing to the maximum, but we have done a lot of work inside the car and that is really important. I’ve not used proper Norwegian pacenotes for a really long time so it is taking a bit of getting used to. Like anything, it will take a little while to perfect but we are getting there.”

“We’ve just been running at a comfortable pace and I’m pleased to have finished the day without any problems. It’s all about finding a set-up that suits and a pacenote system that works best for us – we like a challenge and we will keep improving!”

Éric Camilli (DNF) said:

“Last night we learnt many things – about the car and about the level of the WRC – so this morning I was able to push more. I was really pleased with the times that we were able to set because, if I’m honest, it was a bit of a surprise!”

“But it didn’t go our way this afternoon. I really wanted to finish the rally and I think that was the problem because I was driving far too carefully – far too slowly – on a section of ice. We made the corner, but when we took the cut it dragged the car off the road and into the trees; we were really unlucky that the impact damaged the rollcage.”

“Of course I am disappointed that my rally has ended early but this has not reduced my motivation. The time that we showed this morning has shown me that we have the potential to be fast one day and this was by no means a bad rally for me. We will take the experience from this weekend and we will build on it for the future. My ambition is higher than it has ever been.”

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:

“It’s been a day of highs and lows for us today. Firstly, Mads and Ola have had a really solid drive which is exactly what we expected of them. They have done a lot of work in the car to get the pacenotes to their liking and it is starting to pay off. We probably made the wrong call on the tyres this afternoon, but they seem to be enjoying themselves and I think they have the potential to become a very strong partnership indeed.

“Eric started strongly today and it was fantastic to see how quickly he and Nicolas were able to get up to a competitive speed. Sadly, things didn’t go quite so well this afternoon. I have seen the on-board video and I have to say that they were extremely unlucky – getting caught out on the same corner that caught out a number of crews. Unfortunately, with damage to the rollcage, they will not restart tomorrow.

“Everyone is really disappointed that they will not have a chance for further experience tomorrow – no one more so than Eric and Nicolas. But this is an extremely difficult event and I have no doubt that they will learn from it and use it to their advantage as they continue their development.”