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The Ford squad appeared set to challenge for a second win of the World Rally Championship season with nine-time world champion and 2022 Monte Carlo winner Loeb leading team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, after the pair shared the spoils in Friday’s six stages.

However, the team’s victory and podium hopes unravelled on Saturday as four of its five cars hit trouble during the day’s six stages.

Loeb retired from the lead due to an alternator failure after Stage 8,  while Loubet dropped to seventh after suffering a front-left puncture in Stage 9.

Gus Greensmith started the day in sixth but joined the retirement list due to yet-to-be diagnosed mechanical issue that grounded his Puma on Stage 11. Moments before Greensmith’s issue, privateer runner Jourdan Serderidis was ruled out of the event with a terminal hybrid issue on the road section.

Greensmith’s demise did allow the recovering Loubet to climb to fifth overall ahead of team-mate Craig Breen, who suffered a puncture on Friday, which cost the Irishman two minutes.

Team principal Richard Millener admitted witnessing the collapse of a strong position for the team was “deflating” as the team’s run of misfortune continued.

“It is deflating what has happened to us this weekend but we remain positive and we know we can do it, and we proved that yesterday, but today was not our day,” said Millener.

“It is just disappointing for the team. I feel so sorry for the everyone who has put in so much hard work. Seb was keeping the spirits alive and we will continue.

“We are determined not to let our heads drop about anything. It is just really upsetting for everyone who has put so much effort into it and to have it taken away so cruelly after what was a fantastic stage time from Seb this morning. I think we could have had a comfortable lead to be honest.”

Sebastien Loeb, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Millener also confirmed that entries for Loeb and Serderidis won’t return for Sunday’s final three stages to ease the pressure on the team, as it bids to prepare for Pumas next week for the trip to New Zealand (29 September-2 October).

“It is difficult for them [Seb and Jourdan] to achieve so much tomorrow. Again we have a very tight turnaround to New Zealand so the guys and girls will only have three or four days in the workshop so I think we have got to take the priority for Seb.

“Unfortunately when you can’t win the rally which is what we were trying to achieve it is not quite the same. And for Jourdan, as a privateer opening the road is tricky and he decided for three stages, and after a tough weekend, not to restart.

“The option was there for both of them, but with little to fight for it made sense to go with that.”

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