M-Sport’s Ott Tänak overcame adversity on Rally de Portugal, fighting back to fourth overall and claiming an important four power stage points to aid his championship fight.
The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team showed their strengths in both the Rally1 and Rally2 categories, as Tänak, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Adrien Fourmaux all claimed stage wins and all held the rally lead at one point during the weekend in their M-Sport-built machinery.
Starting the rally on exceptional form, the Estonian duo of Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja would win SS2 and show the pure pace of the Puma on gravel by leading the rally at the end of the opening loop.
With no service during the entire first day, it was always going to be a hard day of competition. Heartbreakingly, a puncture on SS4 would put an end to Tänak’s speed, stripping him of the lead and moving him away from the podium positions. A second damaged tyre meant he had no spare tyres left and therefore had no option but to carefully steer his car around the remaining stages and get back to the end of day service. He would eventually finish the day sixth overall.
Saturday would be a day of little real drama which saw Tanak set consistent top-five times over the course of the seven stages, but setup issues and a lack of confidence in the car on the rougher second pass of the stages meant he was unable to close the gap to his rivals and would finish the day in fifth overall.
Sunday was always going to be based around an attack on the power stage, but a mechanical issue for rival Neuville meant Tanak would unexpectedly inherit fourth overall, another example of showing the rally is not over until it is over. A rejuvenated Tanak would give everything he could for the final stage of the event and his determination would be rewarded with a second-quickest time and an additional four points to add to the championship ledger.
French youngster Pierre-Louis Loubet opened his Rally de Portugal attack with a bang, claiming the opening stage win, his first of the season so far and more importantly propelling himself into the lead of the rally. Loubet would fight hard to protect his lead in SS2, but his charging teammate would steal it away from him. Holding third overall after the final stage, a small fire scare as he finished the end of the final morning stage meant drama after the finish line. Some quick work from the crew would see them get to the Tyre Fitting Zone for the expert mechanics to repair the issue and see the crew back on their way.
A continued push throughout Friday afternoon stages would see him end the day in fourth overall, a mere 0.9 seconds away from a podium position.
Saturday would be a hard day for Loubet. A small mistake on the entry to almost the final corner of the first stage of the day saw an impact with a rock bounce him across the road and into a bank, breaking the Puma’s suspension. The incident sadly ended his day and with it, the battle for his maiden podium finish.
He would restart on Sunday, gaining further experience of the Portuguese event and now focuses on the positives from this event in preparation for Rally Italia Sardegna in only a few weeks’ time.
In WRC2, Fourmaux delivered an exemplary performance on Rally de Portugal, highlighting both his own talents and the performance of the Fiesta Rally2 and the effectiveness of its new updated differential ramps and dampers.
Fourmaux claimed four stage wins throughout the weekend, the joint-highest of any WRC2 driver. He led the rally in WRC2 on Friday morning and into the afternoon, before the rough conditions delivered two punctures on consecutive stages.
Despite being knocked down the standings, Fourmaux staged an impressive fightback to claw himself back up the classifications from 25th to 15th overall and 10th in WRC2, whilst setting consistent top-three times in addition to his collection of stage wins.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:
“It’s been a tricky weekend, but I think we’ve come out the other side with a lot of positives. Ott’s pace at the beginning of the rally was fantastic and he continues to show us what both he and the car can really do. As usual, he’s given us plenty of feedback and things to work on as we move forward, but ultimately, we are still second overall in the drivers’ championship which is something we should be really proud of.
“I have been very impressed with Pierre-Louis’ grit and determination on what has been a rally of highs and lows for him. He’s had his fair share of bad luck this weekend with the puncture on Friday afternoon, but time and again he shows us that he’s not willing to give up. I am confident he’ll soon see the results he deserves.
“Adrien has also had an absolutely fantastic weekend. Being competitive and consistent on nearly every stage this weekend goes to show where he and the car are currently performing, which is very positive to watch and an overall WRC2 win is only around the corner.”
Ott Tänak, Fourth Overall, said:
“Overall, a demanding weekend for sure. We have been struggling quite a lot, it’s just about understanding how we can go on from here. It’s my second gravel rally in the car now, in Mexico I wasn’t feeling completely confident and it has been hard to figure out what’s been missing, but I would say this weekend has given us a lot more understanding and now I think we have enough information to move forward.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet, 32nd Overall, said:
“Our performance, in terms of pace, I think is strong already. On Friday and Saturday the pace was there which is good, we went back to the set-up we had last year and I feel better in the car. We were able to set a best time and fight for the top-three, but unfortunately the small mistake on Saturday had big consequences for us. It’s a shame but part of the rally unfortunately. I’m sure with the pace we have then the right results will come.”
Adrien Fourmaux, 15th Overall, 10th WRC2, said:
“We didn’t have issues other than the punctures, otherwise it’s been very good and we were doing well leading up to stage four. I think it’s been a strong performance this weekend, it’s a shame about the punctures but that’s part of the game. On Sunday we were focusing on the power stage, and in the end we scored two points so that’s a real positive.”
Published 14 May 2023