The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team is preparing to launch its fleet of Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1s at the first pure-asphalt event of the season, Croatia Rally.
It is only the second time Croatia Rally has run as part of the FIA World Rally Championship, following its thrilling debut in 2021 where the event saw one of the closest finishes the sport has ever seen. The rally became an instant hit with crews, teams and fans featuring some of the wildest and exciting asphalt stages, with some crews likening some stages to Rally Finland but on Tarmac.
This year’s edition of Croatia Rally consists of 291 competitive kilometres split over 20 special stages in and around the historic city of Zagreb.
Croatia Rally wasn’t the only WRC debut this time last year as M-Sport sensation Adrien Fourmaux made his WRC category debut here, claiming an impressive fifth overall in the process whilst coming an agonising 1.1 seconds off his first ever WRC stage win.
This year, M-Sport’s latest recruits, Pierre-Louis Loubet and co-driver Vincent Landais, make their debut in a Puma Hybrid Rally1 at WRC level in what will hopefully be a strong first event for the young French duo. The pair have already experienced driving the Puma Hybrid Rally1 following 150 kilometres of stages on the South Belgian Rally in March, as well as a pre-event test in the weeks leading up to the rally.
Gus Greensmith and Craig Breen are hoping to build on their strong performances on the asphalt of Monte-Carlo, where Greensmith claimed his maiden career stage win and Breen delivered a fantastic podium result after a very consistent weekend. Both drivers faced challenges in Sweden on what was an exceptionally tough snow-and-ice event, but the fast and thrilling asphalt of the Croatian countryside is expected to suit them well.
In the WRC2 category, Finnish talent Jari Huttunen is back in a Ford Fiesta Rally2 after his season launch in Sweden. The Finn claimed a strong third overall in Sweden and is feeling increasingly confident in the Fiesta, his first event in the car only being on Rally Monza in 2021.
The FIA Junior WRC also continues into its second round in Croatia, where the M-Sport Poland-built fleet of Fiesta Rally3 cars battle it out once again amongst the future stars of WRC.
Rich Millener, Team Principal, said:
“We are really looking forward to Croatia Rally following an encouraging pre-event test where all our drivers gave very good feedback about the car. After the strong performance we saw on Tarmac in Monte-Carlo back in January, we are very much looking forward to this rally following a slightly more difficult event in Sweden.
“I am looking forward to Pierre-Louis joining us in Croatia which sees us presenting a four-car line-up for the second time this season. I have known Pierre-Louis for a while now, he has been working very hard in the build-up to Croatia and is a great addition to the team.
“It’s also great to have Jari with us again competing in WRC2, I think he’s starting to get very comfortable with the car and he has done a lot of work with the team to get everything feeling right. He brought a solid performance in Sweden so we’re hoping to see more of the same out in Croatia.
“The first event in Croatia last year was fantastic, we had encouraging pace with the Fiesta WRC which had limited development so I am incredibly excited to see what the Puma Hybrid Rally1 is capable of. The focus for everyone in the team on this event is to get a good haul of points. I also really liked the city of Zagreb and the passionate rally fans we have there, so I am looking forward to seeing them all again!”
Craig Breen said:
“I’m really looking forward to Croatia, it’s a rally I really enjoy. Tarmac rallying is actually what I prefer, so to get back out in Croatia is going to be great. We had a really good test last week, I found a really good feeling with the car and I was happy with everything, so let’s see if we can bring on the pace that we showed in Monte, our last part-Tarmac rally.
“It should be a good event – if not tough – but the stages are similar to last year, there are some new ones, but most are relatively the same. So we’re looking forward to it, and let’s hope that together as a team we can do a good job and bring home some good points.”
Gus Greensmith said:
“After the team’s performance in Monte-Carlo, on what was a very dry version of the rally, we’re feeling very confident going into Croatia, and I think the pre-event test has validated that. We started on a very similar surface to Monaco, and the car immediately felt so alive. It’s just such an impressive car on Tarmac so we’re feeling very good, I’m very excited for this rally. It’s been a long time away so we’re looking forward to getting going.”
Adrien Fourmaux said:
“Last year I started my first event in a WRC car in Croatia, so it feels like we have come full circle now after a full year. We’re very happy to be going back to Croatia, where I managed to get a good result last year, and to get back out on asphalt before a long line of gravel events is going to be great. I think we’re really going to enjoy it, it’s a tricky rally with lots of different grip levels, but it’s a great rally to do because you have so much variety between the stages.
“The team gave a strong performance on asphalt at the beginning of the season, so we hope to be in a strong position after that. I’m looking forward to the event, and it marks the first time I’ve competed twice on the same event in a WRC car, so I’m pretty happy about that as well.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet said:
“I’m really happy to be going back to Croatia and to be joining the M-Sport team. We did a pre-event test with the team a few weeks ago, as well as a rally in Belgium, and everything was working really well and the feeling in the car is nice. I hope I will be able to do my best for the team this week in my first rally, we’re going to take this one step-by-step and try our best to be competitive. We’ll see you there!”
Jari Huttunen, WRC2 Driver, said:
“This year is my first time competing in Croatia, so I’m not really sure what to expect, but I’ve watched some footage and the conditions look nice. This will be my fourth event with the M-Sport team, starting in Monza last year, and so far is it going well and the car feels good. Hopefully we will be somewhere in the top three, but the aim will be to maintain a consistent pace over the weekend.”