The fairy tale came to an abrupt end this Saturday morning for M-Sport, after Sébastien Loeb and Pierre-Louis Loubet finished top of the first stage of the Acropolis Rally last night. In a bad pass in the championship, the English structure thought indeed finally to be able to revive in Greece thanks to its two French pilots, very in form this weekend, but the bad luck struck again and it will be necessary to wait to see the troops of Malcolm Wilson reconnect with the heights.
Everything started off well on the first special of the day, Pyrgos 1, where Loeb set the second fastest time behind Ott Tänak. But the Alsatian quickly encountered problems on the link leading to SS9, Perivoli 1, and had to stop to carry out repairs which ultimately proved too long to hope to reach the next stage in time.
« We had just crossed the finish line (of SS8, Pyrgos 1), when we had an alarm that told us that the battery level was low »explained Loeb, who could only note the lack of time available to put his Ford Puma back in working order. « So we stopped the car because the alternator belt was broken. It’s too late, we lost too much time to fix that, so we find ourselves out of the race. »
The nine-time World Champion notably had difficulty reaching the area where the alternator is located. “He simply could not have access to carry out the repairs given the short time available to us”confirms the manager of M-Sport, Richard Millener, at the microphone of the official WRC website. « There was little time between the two stages, so it would have stuck anyway regardless of the nature of the problem and for anyone. »
The disappointment is great for the English team, who really thought they could finally get a valid result, the first since Loeb’s victory in the Monte-Carlo Rally at the start of the championship. « It’s really disappointing for the team »regrets Millener. « Everyone has worked so hard, and Séb’ has really instilled a great state of mind. It’s really disappointing after all the efforts that have been made. It’s cruel that everything happens like this, especially after the very good performance from Séb’ this morning on the first special. »
« Without all that I think we could lead pretty well to be honest. I think we have to take all the positives from yesterday, about the team, about the car. We’re going to continue as hard as we can. we can, and there’s no doubt it will pay off at some point. »
Loubet also had some bad luck this morning, with a front left puncture on SS9. His tire having ended up delaminating, the Corsican still decided to continue until the end of the special, losing a little over a minute to drop back to seventh place in the standings.
A better decision than that of changing his wheel on the special stage, according to the person concerned. « We lost 1’15, but if I had stopped it would have taken two minutes or more, and on top of that something can always happen to you when you change a wheel »supported the French to the assistance.
Loubet preferred to continue on SS9 rather than stop to change wheels, thus minimizing his loss of time.
Loubet’s temerity rewarded
It is true that his Puma only suffered purely aesthetic damage, and the Frenchman was able to go back on the attack from the next special, even if it meant getting a big scare in the disputed SS11 at the start of the afternoon. . « He realized that his tire was totally ragged, and he was able to continue on the rim without causing any further significant damage. »underlines Millener.
« On the last stage the lap times were good, so there’s not really any additional damage to the car, other than to the bodywork. I’m also sorry for him, because he was really busy. solid position. He had lost some time, but that’s something we expected against Thierry [Neuville] and Otto [Tänak]and finally he suffered this puncture which takes him away from the podium.
Thierry Neuville effectively occupies the lead of the Acropolis Rally now, ahead of Esapekka Lappi and his teammate Tänak, who engage in a duel at loggerheads for the place of runner-up. Loubet meanwhile managed to move up to sixth position at the end of SS12, ahead of Craig Breen. Note that Gus Greensmith for his part retired, also due to a technical problem, in SS11.