Cumbria’s M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s young squad are ready to take their chance as the FIA World Rally Championship returns to action today with the Rallye Monte-Carlo - an event the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC has won twice in the past three years.

The traditional start to the season is one of the most demanding on the calendar. The mountainous stages offer everything from dry asphalt to full ice and snow, and the crews must master these challenges in darkness as well as daylight. In these varied conditions it is often the best compromise that delivers, but confidence behind the wheel is also a must.

Building that confidence during a four-day test earlier this month, Esapekka Lappi, Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith got to grips with the top-specification Fiesta and are ready to get their 2020 season off to a strong start.

With an average age of just 25, this year’s driver line-up looks to the future but there is also a nod to the past with two Finns behind the wheel of the No3 and No4 Ford for the first time since 2011 - both keen to deliver and maybe even replicate the success of fellow Finn, Marcus Grönholm, who powered his Ford Focus RS WRC to victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo in 2006.

This year’s event starts today and is based in the town of Gap, in the French Alps.

The Cockermouth-based team’s principal, Richard Millener, said: “There’s no tougher start than Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we’re definitely up for the fight.

“And looking at some of the videos from our pre-event test, Esapekka [Lappi], Teemu [Suninen] and Gus [Greensmith] are fairly rapid behind the wheel of the Fiesta - so I’d say we have as good a chance as anyone when it comes to securing a strong result next week.”

Finnish WRC 1 Driver Lappi echoed Millener’s comments about the difficult season-opener but feels confident.

“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started,” said Lappi.

“Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence, but Monte [Carlo] is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.”

Fellow Finn, Suninen has high hopes for the event, and will be looking to improve on last year’s ninth placed finish - his best ever at Monte-Carlo.

He said: “This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!”