The nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb will be back at the wheel of the Ford Puma Rally1 this weekend for the second time this season after his successful rally comeback at Rallye Monte-Carlo last time out.
Loeb took a record setting 80th victory at the opening-round in Monte-Carlo, which also was the first-ever win in the new Rally1 hybrid era. He was battling with his fellow compatriot Sebastien Ogier for the overall victory but at the penultimate stage of the rally Ogier was caught with a puncture which handed the Ford Puma Rally1 driver the win and wrote a new chapter in the rally history books.
Now the Frenchman will return for another go in Rally de Portugalwhere he will be joined by French female co-driver Isabelle Galmiche and they will also face Ogier one more time.
Loeb says he is happy with the setup and the feeling in the Puma on the pre-event test. He also hopes he can find the rhythm quite early in the rally and fight at the front.
“The first feeling in the Puma on gravel at our test was quite good, I was quite happy with the feeling I had as we worked on the suspension and the differential setups. Only one day of testing isn’t a lot when it’s the first time you are driving a car on gravel, but at the end I was happy with the feeling I had.
“My goal will be to find a rhythm as quickly as possible, hopefully I will be in a good rhythm to fight at the front, if I could be not far from the podium that would be a good performance. The challenges of Rally de Portugal for me will be that I am fourth on the road, road cleaning is always a challenge in this kind of rally if it is dry. I don’t really know what to expect there so we need to do a good first day, and for the rest we will see where we are.”
Craig Breen: “I’d like to have a bit more speed than what we showed in Croatia”
Loeb’s Irish teammate Craig Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle haven’t done Rally de Portugal for several years so there will be a lot of new stages for the pairing to learn on the recce before the start.
Breen is currently the highest scoring M-Sport driver in the team, he ended the Rally Croatia in a respectable fourth but Breen says he is keen to find more speed in Portugal and will work hard to achieve that.
“I am looking forward to Portugal, it’s a rally that I haven’t done for several years, I think it was 2018 the last time I did it. After the first three rallies, they were all a bit unique in their own way, so looking forward to seeing what the pace of the Puma will be in Portugal.” Breen said.
“We had a good test, I felt good in the car and we got some good work done. I am looking forward to discovering the rally, there are a lot of new stages and some changes since the last time I was there, so it will be interesting. I’d like to have a bit more speed than what we showed in Croatia, so we’ll be working as hard as we can make that possible.”
Gus Greensmith: “I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time with the car”
Britoin Gus Greensmith and his Swedish co-driver Jonas Andersson are keen to get their maiden podium finish in Portugal this weekend, the duo have improved a lot over the season but there are still some fine small margins to be worked on and hopefully it will be the time now for them to achieve something great.
Greensmith will not be joining Loeb and Breen to score the manufacturers’ championship points in Portugal so he will have that pressure of, he admits this is his favorite rally and it was also the first rally he has done outside of United Kingdom.
“I am really looking forward to Portugal, it is without doubt my favorite rally and the first rally I did overseas. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of this rally, it will be my seventh time doing the rally, so I’ve got lots of experience here.” Greensmith said.
“I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time with the car, co-driver and everything. There’s no pressure this weekend as I’m not scoring any manufacturer points so I’m just here to enjoy myself. Usually when I enjoy myself, things go well, so that’s the plan.”
Adrien Fourmaux: “We are looking forward to all the gravel events coming up”
The Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux and co-driver Alexandre Coira have had a bad start to their season at M-Sport with two did not finish results.
Fourmaux first went off a cliff in Monte-Carlo which got his new Ford Puma Rally1 being written off and last time out in Croatia he went off again but this time in to a private garden, where he damaged the rollcage of the car.
Ahead of Portugal the team was questioning if he should be removed from the team or not but he got the chance to continue and will be in the manufacturer team this weekend. Fourmaux says he is hoping for a good result this time and hit the ground running for the upcoming gravel rallies.
“This will be my second time in Portugal, and I had a good feeling last year with the WRC car, so I am looking forward to getting out in the Puma and see how it goes. It is a really nice event, the spectators are great and it’s a fantastic atmosphere.” Fourmaux said.
“We are looking forward to all the gravel events coming up, there are quite a few ahead of us now, so we’re really excited to get going in Portugal and hoping for a good result for the team.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet: “Portugal has always been my favorite rally in the past”
The Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet and co-driver Vincent Landais is the fifth driver to be entered with M-Sport and he will be joining Greensmith as an additional entry for Portugal.
Loubet made his debut for the team in Croatia, where he faced several punctures but he has admitted the pace was there anyway and he is now hoping to have a good result in Portugal.
“Portugal has always been my favorite rally in the past, it’s where I have had some of my best results. It was my first ever WRC event, when I was only 18, so I’m looking forward to it and hope it will be a strong second event for us this season.Loubet said.
“We were happy with our pace in Croatia, and we’re hoping that with the same pace, and no punctures, it will go well and we can hope for a good result.”