By Paul Evans
So new is the VR4K Oreca FIA R4-spec rally car concept, that nobody in the sport really knew what to make of it – until this weekend, when Osian Pryce gave it a dream world competition debut!
With no testing and only three runs over the pre-event shakedown stage, the 25-year old Machynlleth-born driver recorded an impressive three fastest stage wins and finished second overall in the Etios R4 on the Rallye Ciudad de Granada.
Against much more powerful opposition, Pryce finished the event just 52.5 seconds behind former works WRC driver Xevi Pons, who was in a more superior and quicker Škoda Fabia R5.
It was a great result for the French Oreca team, who have designed and developed the car from scratch, and for the Barcelona-based ASM Motorsport squad, who ran it on the event, via its dedicated R4 Rally Cars Division.
Indeed, Álex Sabater, boss of ASM Motorsport, thanked Pryce for doing such a professional job, as the superb performance and result on the Spanish Gravel Rally Championship round puts the R4 well and truly on the world map – and highlights what a fantastic formula it is.
Co-driven by Dale Furniss, Pryce was on the pace right from the start – successfully completing Friday night’s short asphalt stage around the streets of Granada, before heading to the following day’s eight gravel stages.
The first gravel stage on Saturday morning was damp, but despite taking a cautious approach Pryce was third quickest. On a shorter stage which was more technical and twisty, and better suited to the Etios R4, Pryce set the fastest time on each of the three passes through it (SS4, 7 and 9). And as the stages dried and the pace of the event increased, Pryce was able to hold onto second place.
“I really enjoyed driving the R4-spec car, and from a performance and results point of view I couldn’t have asked for any more,” said Pryce. “We only did three runs over the shakedown stage, but straight away the car felt good and easy to drive and we made no changes whatsoever before the start. We were a little cautious over the first gravel stage, it was damp and we knew we had a job to do, but we still set the third fastest time! It dried out after that, and some of the stages had very long straights where power was a big advantage, but where we lost out in outright speed – the R4 car had a near-standard engine – we gained in the tight and twisty sections.
“One gravel stage in particular suited the R4 car, and we were able to set fastest time every time it was run, which we were very pleased with. The R4 car ran faultlessly, we set consistently good times and came away with second overall, which everyone was very pleased with.
“I’d really like to thank ASM Motorsport and Oreca for giving me this opportunity to drive the R4 car in Spain. We made rally history together by giving the R4-spec car its world competition debut, and I’d certainly love to drive it again in the future.”
“The purpose of coming to the Rallye Ciudad de Granada was to show that the FIA R4-spec car is a very competitive, reliable, strong and fast car – and this is exactly what we achieved,” added Álex Sabater. “Osian did a very professional job, and gave Oreca and us a lot of very good technical feedback. With only three runs over the shakedown stage before the start, he was able to demonstrate what a good and driver friendly car the R4 is. To make three fastest stage wins, and finish second overall in a very strong field, on the R4 car’s world competition debut, is an incredible achievement.
“Until today, a lot of people didn’t know what to expect from the new FIA R4-spec car. But we have shown that you can jump straight into it and do well right from the very first stage. Osian’s first comment was that the R4 was a very driver friendly car and easy to drive, which is one of the key design elements. Why spend a lot of money on a car that is difficult to drive, and expensive to run, when you can have an R4 car that is comfortable and easy to drive, yet still very fast and competitive? It’s the perfect car for a young driver wishing to progress from a two-wheel drive car and to show his talent and for a gentleman driver who wants to really enjoy four-wheel drive rallying, without making everything very expensive, stressful and complicated. It’s a fantastic concept, and we have shown to the world what R4 really is all about today.
“I really couldn’t be more delighted with the R4 car’s world competition debut. Everyone at ASM Motorsport and Oreca did a very good job, Osian drove brilliantly and we have put R4 on the world map.”
Rallye Ciudad de Granada – top six finishers
1. Xevi Pons/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Škoda Fabia R5)….57mins 39.9secs
2. Osian Pryce/Dale Furniss (Etios R4)….58mins 32.4secs
3. Gorka Eizmendi/Diego Sanjaun (Ford Fiesta R5)….59mins 42.4secs
4. Daniel Alonso/Candido Carrera (Ford Fiesta WRC)….1hr 1mins 3.7secs
5. Diogo Salvi/Jorge Carvalho (Škoda Fabia R5)….1hr 1mins 32.8secs
6. Javier Pardo/Adrian Perez (Suzuki Swift R+ N5)….1hr 1mins 51.4secs