The Frenchman led the rally after winning Friday’s opening stage although drama struck at the of stage three when his Ford Puma developed a fire.
At the time Loubet and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul detected a burning smell but were initially unable to locate the issue. A frustrated Loubet thought his rally was over at this point.
However, Loubet was able to get the issue under control to reach the midday tyre fitting zone where two M-Sport mechanics were able to investigate the problem. It was determined that the car’s exhaust had moved out of alignment and was touching the bodywork which triggered the fire.
Under the regulations the team could only fix the problem with items carried inside the car. Incredibly, the problem was able to be fixed after mechanics resorted to brute force to move the exhaust back into place, allowing Loubet to end Friday sitting fourth, 0.9s adrift of third-placed Thierry Neuville.
“It has been a tough day and bit of emotion I would say with the fire, and I was pretty sure it was the end of the rally,” Loubet told Motorsport.com.
“We were lucky to be able to go back to the small service and the guys did a fantastic job just the two of them.
“They pushed quite hard but it is a bit of a shame that in rallying today we don’t have many services on such a long day like this.»
Pierre-Louis Loubet, Nicolas Gilsoul, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: M-Sport
M-Sport team principal Richard Millener added: “It looked a bit more dramatic than it was but when you can’t see where the burning smell is coming from you are a little bit concerned.
“Luckily the guys were able to get it back in alignment at the tyre fitting zone. We can’t bring anything and use only what is in the car so that was really good as he ended up in a good position.
“I think there was some very precision kicking from what I heard, it was as simple as that. You can’t get to it [the exhaust], you can see the front and you can see the back. They lined the front up and kicked the back as hard as they could to get it straight again. That’s rallying.”
It proved to be a challenging day for M-Sport as Ott Tanak, who led the rally after three stages suffered a tyre issue which dropped him down the order in stage four, ending the day in sixth, 1m04.6s adrift.
“Leading the rally after three stages he was relatively comfortable but then a puncture affected his whole day,” said Millener.
“That was a shame as we are quite a way off. We are not a million miles off so I think a podium would be a fantastic result and that is what we will aim for.”