Kennards Hire Rally Australia was a noteworthy one for the M-Sport World Rally Team waving goodbye to the current Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta RS WRC exactly twenty years to the week after signing an agreement with Ford and becoming regular contenders on the stages of the FIA World Rally Championship.
For the past two decades, M-Sport cars have competed at the head of the field and, for the past six years, the top-specification Fiesta has been the car of choice. Having been entered 531 times on 78 different events, the car has racked up 50 top-three finishes and three podium lockouts.
Contesting its final outing before retiring from top-flight competition, the Fiesta secured sixth place overall in the hands of Mads Østberg and Ola Fløene.
Quick out of the blocks, the Norwegians were rapidly up to speed and posted the third fastest time through the opening stage on Friday morning.
A second fastest time through the first pass of Valla (SS13) on Saturday had seen them challenge for what could have best Østberg’s best ever result on Australian soil, but the hard work was undone through the afternoon when he adapted a set-up that was too hard for the slippery conditions.
Lacking the confidence and traction that he had enjoyed earlier in the rally, Østberg fell to sixth but continued to post competitive times as the season entered the final day of competition.
Contesting five stages in the forests north of Coffs Harbour, the Norwegian held his own consolidating his position and bringing the current Fiesta home in sixth place for the final time.
In the sister M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC, Éric Camilli and Benjamin Veillas suffered a mixed event, but impressed the team by quickly getting to grips with the distinct character of the Australian roads - setting the third fastest time on only the third stage of the event. Continuing to set solid stage times on their Australian debut, the Frenchmen were on pace and in touch with their more experienced rivals. Unfortunately, the final rally of their debut season came to an untimely end this morning when they got too deep into a right-hand corner and rolled the Fiesta on SS21.
With the end of this week’s event came the end of an era as new technical regulations for next season usher in more spectacular cars that hark back to the Group B days of old. All attention now turns to next season and the new generation Ford Fiesta WRC. Having embarked on a rigorous test schedule, the team are relishing the challenges ahead and determined to make a return to the top step of the podium.