With soaring temperatures and challenging conditions, Craig Breen delivered a hard-fought second position in his Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1.
It was a successful event for the M-Sport Ford World Rally team as Breen claimed his second podium of the season and Pierre-Louis Loubet exceeded the team’s expectations, with an outstanding performance challenging hard for the third spot on the podium.
Loubet, together with co-driver Vincent Landais, in the end claimed a career-best finish at the highest level of the sport, fourth overall, thanks to his wise and measured approach which is fast helping to develop his experience at the top level.
All crews were forced to battle the heat on Friday, but a fantastic start from Loubet, setting a top-three time on the opening stage of the day, just 0.8 seconds off the fastest time would set his mentality for the weekend. Breen would also see himself in the hunt for a podium from the outset delivering top-three times on the morning loop, resulting in the young pair of crews heading into Friday’s lunchtime service in third and fourth overall respectively, separated by just 1.2 seconds.
In the afternoon loop, Loubet and Breen battled on, trading near-identical times, showcasing the competitive pace of the Puma Hybrid Rally1. At the conclusion of Friday’s running, Loubet sat third, ahead of Breen by just 0.4 seconds, and 15.1 seconds from the rally lead.
Saturday would see another excellent day for Breen, shooting to second overall on the opening stage of the day and claiming M-Sport’s first stage win of the rally on Stage 12 with Loubet completing third fastest.
After a disappointing first day for Gus Greensmith, spinning on stage three and stalling the car, losing him significant time, Saturday saw a much improved effort, helping him climb back up the ranks after Friday’s setback.
As temperatures soared during the afternoon loop, Breen and Loubet would continue to show their impressive pace and with the final two stages of the day cancelled, Breen would round out the day heading the M-Sport lineup in second place while Frenchman Loubet would end up fourth overall but still in the hunt for third. Greensmith’s solid and mature approach saw him climb from 25th on Friday to end Saturday in seventh in his bid to secure precious championship points for the team.
For Breen and Loubet, the goal on Sunday’s stages was simple: bring home a strong result for the team, they would deliver. Their efforts secured M-Sport’s third podium of the season thanks to Breen, along with a career-best result for Loubet in fourth and a solid seventh position finish for Greensmith.
There was also success for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team in the WRC2 category, as Finnish duo Jari Huttunen and co-driver Mikko Lukka completed a strong weekend in their Fiesta Rally2, claiming six stage wins throughout the rally weekend, including the final power stage on Sunday.
Adrien Fourmaux started the rally off with impressive pace, building up a strong hold to fifth position by the end of Friday. His pace continued to develop throughout Saturday until disaster struck, catching a tree on the inside of a high-speed right-hand corner on Stage 17 bringing out the red flags, thankfully the crews emerged unscathed. Fourmaux’s accident ultimately led to his retirement from the event due to damage to the car.
Craig Breen, second overall, said:
“Obviously it’s been a great weekend, really happy with how everything went. It was important that we got a good result here after a couple of difficult rallies. So we’re definitely feeling better, and looking forward to Kenya now, having this good result in the bag should give us a bit more confidence.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet, fourth overall, said:
“Really happy about this weekend for only the third race with the car and the team, we can be proud about what we’ve done. Thanks to everybody, they did a fantastic job to build such a nice guy, so to the mechanics and to everyone, thank you a lot.”
Gus Greensmith, seventh overall, said:
“Obviously not a good weekend at all, really struggled to find a good feeling with the car for some reason this weekend, and could just never really find the confidence. So we spent a lot of the weekend just trying new things, looking towards Kenya, and today on the penultimate stage that was the first time I felt comfortable with the car, and the speed showed it. At least we’ve gone in the right direction, but yeah, not a great weekend.”
Jari Huttunen, third overall, WRC2, said:
“We’re quite happy. Especially on the pace, it is there, and there was a really nice feeling. I don’t know what it is, maybe back luck with the two punctures, and we lost quite a lot of time, but not really any more problems with the car, so overall we’re quite happy.
“Our next event is Estonia, it’s difficult to say now, but hopefully we can make a good impression there also, but for sure it is a bit more difficult than this event.”
Adrien Fourmaux, Retired Saturday evening, said:
“It was a disappointing end to what was looking to be a strong weekend for the team. The plan for this event was to collect some good points for the team, which we were on track to do, but unfortunately a small mistake resulted in an accident.
“I’d like to apologise to the team and thank them for their hard work over the weekend.”
Rich Millener, Team Principal, said:
“What can I say, back on the podium is a brilliant feeling. I would like to once again extend my thanks to the whole team who worked three very long days to get the cars here, and Craig and Pierre have helped deliver a result for them. I am really happy to see the pace of the Puma Hybrid Rally1 on gravel and I think this could be the start of some strong results for our young and energetic team. Congratulations also to Jari and Mikka who delivered another strong result in WRC2. I look forward to Kenya in a couple of weeks time – we have a lot of work to do before then, but bring it on.”
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