In the latest exclusive M-Sport World Rally Team column on for 2015, we hear from head of engineering Chris Williams, as he looks to Sardinia and reflects on the last event in Portugal...

The Rally de Portugal heralded the exciting arrival of the new generation Ford Fiesta RS WRC and, as a whole, we thought the event was a very encouraging one for the car. The car provides a clear step-up in performance and I agree with Malcolm Wilson that we should see both Ott [Tanak] and Elfyn [Evans] challenging for the podium more regularly in the second half of the season.

In addition, we also launched the new 1.0 litre Ecoboost Powered Ford Fiesta R2 at this event which proved to be another success. It locked out the top positions in the RC4 class and Max Vatanen - winner of the first DDFT round - was only beaten by two of the 15 J-WRC R3 cars which is a huge boost for him and the car.

We chose Portugal to give the Fiesta its first competitive run as we had done a lot of testing by this point, so we were fairly confident that we had made a step forward. However, there is no substitute for competition and it's fair to say that Rally de Portugal was the biggest test yet and I'm pleased to say that it was a successful one!

Though the car looks similar on the outside, there is a lot of work that has gone on behind the scenes. Work on the new engine actually started as early as 2012 but there has been a tremendous amount of development since then. All of the various departments have had an input and it was good to see that their hard work is paying dividends.

Developing two new cars was a huge undertaking and never before have we had to deliver so many new cars for a single event. Running the two developments side-by-side was a massive project. Ford may no longer be directly involved in the FIA World Rally Championship, but we have continued our strong working relationship and received technical support from them on both projects.

The event itself was a bit tricky for various reasons, but there was clear potential from the car in the hands of Ott and Elfyn. There's no doubt that we didn't see Ott at his full potential in Portugal so the quick times that he was able to set were very encouraging indeed.

Ott was a man under pressure after the results in Mexico and Argentina and this fifth place should give him the confidence he needs going into the second half of the season. He has really gelled with the new car and I think it really suits his driving style. He looked calm and controlled all weekend. If he can do that without taking any risks, he has the potential to do a lot more when the time is right for him to push the limits that little bit more.

His two third fastest times on Friday afternoon gives us optimism for the future and gave us a glimpse of what he and the new car are capable of when they are up to full speed.

Elfyn had a more difficult round but he was struck down by one of those things that happens in motorsport from time to time - a tried and tested part that we've never had an issue with before breaks. The time loss came with identifying what the problem was. Elfyn and Dan [Barritt - his co-driver] were in constant contact with the engineers trying to solve the issue and in the end it turned out to be a fault with the throttle pedal fly-by-wire which is a relatively straight forward fix. We'd never had that issue before, but these things happen.

Nevertheless, Portugal really was M-Sport scratching the surface of what is capable with the new car. We viewed Rally de Portugal as the final phase of the new car's development programme. We know that the potential is there, now it's just a case of helping Elfyn and Ott unlock it to deliver the results we all know they are capable of.

I fully believe the new Ford Fiesta RS WRC can compare well to its peers from VW, Hyundai and Citroen now. Unlike Formula 1 where it is clearly the car that makes the biggest difference, the regulations mean that a talented and experienced driver can make all the difference in rallying.

We knew that the old car was capable of winning rallies - you just have to look at the times Thierry Neuville was able to set in 2013 and the times Robert Kubica was able to set in 2014.

This new evolution perfects what was already a competitive car. Making the most of things that we knew were good - like the fantastic Fiesta chassis - and making ground in areas where we felt we were slightly lacking - like bottom end torque.

Looking ahead, Sardinia is an extremely complex event with a lot of factors to consider. Road position will undoubtedly play its part but I believe the rally we be won and lost on tyre management and selecting the optimum tyre strategy. It's a difficult event for the crews, but one that holds a lot of happy memories for both Elfyn and Ott so I hope that will spur them on.

The car has been developed to cope with all that the FIA World Rally Championship has to offer. One thing that our drivers are extremely pleased with is the handling of the new car. A car that handles well can do wonders for a driver's confidence and we hope this will play into the hands of our crews in Sardinia.

We're not setting specific targets for Sardinia. The main thing is for Ott and Elfyn to go out there and really enjoy driving the new car. If everything is working well for them, I see no reason why one, if not both, can't be challenging for the podium positions.

Chris Williams.

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