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The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Hybrid Rally1 Pumas tackled the dirt and dust of Rally Portugal this weekend in the first gravel event of the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship.

Despite a rally lead on Friday morning, and some fantastic stage times throughout the day, the team ultimately faced disappointment as a promising start to the event didn’t transpire to the podium result that was possible.

The highly anticipated return of 2022 Rallye Monte Carlo winner, Sebastien Loeb, was certainly full of drama as the nine-time world champion stormed into the rally lead position on Friday morning after claiming his first stage win of the event in SS4 by a comfortable 2.8s and moving from 7th to 1st overall in one stage. However, his lead wouldn’t last long after a collision with a wall just 100m into the start of SS5 would break the rear wheel and suspension of the car, bringing what had promised to be an exciting day to a sudden end.

The car was repaired to get Loeb back out on Saturday morning, until the car lost power early on in SS11, causing to the crew to stop in the stage. Loeb and co-driver, Galmiche, attempted to identify the issue but could not solve it roadside and it would mark the pair’s unfortunate retirement from the rest of the event.

After two years since last competing in Portugal, Craig Breen’s rally started off on good footing in Thursday evening’s super special stage in Coimbra, where he set a third fastest time, only 1.4s off Neuville’s stage winning time which would put him in good stead for Friday morning. Breen would deliver a consistent drive throughout Friday’s stages, although slightly off the pace of his team-mates.

Saturday saw Breen start to feel more comfortable in the car and his pace would increase throughout the day, battling with Tanak and Katsuta in SS13 and SS14 for a top three time. Breen would head into the final day of the event in sixth position, but a late brake issue would ultimately stop him from contending for any Power Stage points.

On his second outing with M-Sport in the Puma Hybrid Rally1, Pierre-Louis Loubet delivered a confident drive throughout the weekend. Friday was a particularly strong day for the young French driver, setting a second fastest time through SS2, only 0.6s off the pace of Sebastien Ogier. He would maintain his speed into the afternoon, setting a further two fastest stage times before the end of the day. Loubet stayed on pace with his teammates throughout Saturday and Sunday’s stages and finished the event as the lead Puma.

Adrien Fourmaux showed a comfortable and confident drive throughout the rally, keeping on a competitive pace with his teammates and maintaining a consistent approach over the weekend, building much needed confidence after a couple of tricky events.

Gus Greensmith started the rally on exceptional form, setting a second fastest time in Friday’s first stage and ending the day fifth overall and in hot contention for the podium. A puncture early on in the day, followed by a concealed rock that caused damage to the rear suspension meant Greensmith had to retire at the back-end of the day on Saturday, taking him out of contention for the result that he showed was reachable.

Sebastien Loeb, Retired, said:

“For sure I can’t be too happy about my weekend, it was already finished on Saturday morning so it wasn’t what we expected. Yesterday I made a mistake, on Saturday we broke the turbo, so it’s not great. But on the other side, we saw at the beginning of the rally that the car is good, and it’s fast, we were leading the rally after four stages, so that was a very good start. So that is the positive thing we will try to remember, we’ll try to get experience from that and I hope there will be another chance to try this car later this year.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet, 7th overall, said:

“We can be really happy about our weekend for the first time in the car on gravel. The pace was there when everything was working in a good way, so we have learnt a lot ahead of Sardinia and if we make the right choices, we will have the same sort of pace there as we had on Friday in Portugal.”

Craig Breen, 8th overall, said:

“Obviously, we didn’t have the best of weekends here in Portugal. Our good start on Friday unfortunately was hampered by our puncture on the same afternoon. We made some progress with the car during the weekend and I was gaining more confidence, but unfortunately a brake problem put us out of the fight for any power stage points today. We now focus on Sardinia, where we will try to do the best job possible to get our championship back on track.”

Adrien Fourmaux, 9th overall, said:

“It’s been a good rally for us to get the confidence back, we can be happy to get to the end and take some points for the championship, and for the manufacturer’s championship also. It was great to be back on the gravel with this new generation of cars, and we’re now looking forward to Sardinia.”

Gus Greensmith, 19th overall, said:

“Friday started off really well, at the end of Friday we were fighting for the podium which is where we wanted to be this weekend. Unfortunately, a bad tyre choice and also a puncture on Saturday morning took us out of the fight for the podium, and then it was just about clawing back some positions after dropping from fifth to eighth.

“Unfortunately in the afternoon on Saturday, I went to use a sandbank to straighten the car up, to carry a bit more speed, but hidden in there was a large rock and it tore apart the rear suspension. Sunday was just about driving around, so not the best results for sure, not very happy. But there are plenty of positives to take away in terms of our performance on Friday.”

Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:

“We came here with a very strong line up and hopes of a second podium result. It was looking good on Friday lunchtime and as a team we were all very excited. Unfortunately, a mistake that I think nobody would have expected from Seb meant an early end to an exciting day. Mixed misfortune for Gus and Craig meant they were unable to get the results they deserved, but Pierre and Adrien had very strong performances. We only have a very short time before Sardinia, and the team are once again under pressure to re-prep the cars, but I am looking forward to starting another event in only a matter of days!”

Published 22 May 2022


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