M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg and Éric Camilli showed a good turn of speed as the FIA World Rally Championship embarked on the season finale at this weekend’s Kennards Hire Rally Australia.
Having both posted top-three stage times, the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC pairing are separated by just 7.8 seconds – locked in an intense battle 16.3 seconds adrift of the podium positions.
Contesting two loops of four stages – interspersed with three spectator-friendly Super Specials – tyre management was key. M-Sport’s crew might have benefitted from a cleaning road, but with that came a more abrasive surface which required careful tyre preservation.
Quick out of the blocks, Østberg and co-driver Ola Fløene posted the third fastest time through the opening speed test and continued to take their Fiesta RS WRC to competitive times throughout the day.
The Norwegian might have only contested this event twice before, but quickly got to grips with the unique stages. Despite losing some time through both passes of Newry, he kept his main rivals firmly behind him and remains hungry for more.
Currently holding fifth place overall, there is all to play for and Østberg will be looking to close the season with a strong result over the following two days of competition.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Camilli and co-driver Benjamin Veillas are contesting the Australian fixture for the first time. Growing accustomed to the terrain, the pairing were quickly up to speed and challenging those with considerably more experience.
Underlining the knowledge and understanding that they have gained over the past year, they were quick to adapt their set-up to the conditions and posted an incredible third fastest time through the third stage of the day.
Keen to continue their progress, Camilli has every chance of challenging for his best ever result – a perfect way to bid farewell to the car that give him his competitive debut at the sport’s highest level.
Mads Østberg (5th) said:
“It’s been a good day. We had quite a big moment in the morning, but we got away with it and I’m pleased to see that we are competitive and posting times to challenge the leaders.
“We seemed to lose quite a lot of time on both passes of the Newry stage (SS4 and SS9) and would have been even closer were it not for that. Okay, we were on the same pace as those around us, but there was quite a big gap to the guys ahead so we need to understand why that was.
“Apart from that, it’s been good. We’re only 15 seconds shy of the podium and it’s great to be back in the fight. We’ll do what we can to continue that fight tomorrow.”
Éric Camilli (6th) said:
“It’s been a really good day for us. We didn’t expect to be this competitive straight away so that is always great to see. We showed some really good speed in places and set the third fastest time on the third stage of the morning.
“This is our first time here and we took a lot of pleasure from the stages. We had a lot of confidence with the car and that was a big positive for us – especially after the last couple of events.
“We’ll try to continue like this for the rest of the rally and hope to secure a good result at the end.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Both Mads and Éric have showed good speed today – each getting to grips with the unique stages and each showing speed to challenge for the top positions. Éric’s third fastest time was particularly impressive – posting such a strong time so early into his first experience of this demanding event.
“It’s been a challenge to manage the conditions, but both drivers have held their own and I think we’ve got an exciting couple of days to come. With Mads just over 15 seconds adrift of the podium – and Éric not far behind – anything is possible and we’ll be pushing to close the season on a high.”