Pierre-Louis Loubet retired from his first competitive start alongside potential World Rally Championship co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul.
Contesting Rallye National Hivernal du Dévoluy in France, Ford Fiesta Rally2 pilot Loubet ran into mechanical problems on the event won by Nikolay Gryazin’s Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.
Gryazin’s win, by a commanding 4m05.9s over Jonathan Hirschi’s Volkswagen, ensured Škoda’s all-new Rally2 machine remains unbeaten in global competition, following Andreas Mikkelsen’s winning debut on Lausitz Rallye.
Following long-term co-driver Vincent Landais’ decision to partner Sébastien Ogier at Toyota in next season’s World Rally Championship, M-Sport driver Loubet is in need of a new co-driver.
Nicolas Gilsoul, a 13-time WRC winner alongside Thierry Neuville, has been earmarked as a candidate and so he and Loubet contested this weekend’s event to get acclimatized to each other, on stages just north of where this year’s Monte Carlo Rally will be held.
Driving a Fiesta Rally2 for the first time in competition, Loubet led after two of 10 stages as he and Gryazin showed their WRC class in wintry conditions, but Gryazin stretched clear over the remaining two Saturday stages to lead by a shave over one minute overnight.
That theme continued into Sunday morning as Gryazin won the first three of the day’s tests to extend his lead to 1m28.7s.
SS8, the second running of the Les Gillardes stage, would however prove decisive as Loubet was forced to park his Fiesta with mechanical trouble.
His exit left Gryazin and co-driver Konstantin Aleksandrov unopposed as they romped to a clear victory, clocking up useful miles ahead of next month’s WRC season-opener.
Although it is yet to be confirmed, Loubet is set to remain with M-Sport Ford as part of its WRC lineup next year.
Ott Tänak will lead the team’s charge after signing a deal to return to the squad he left in 2017 earlier this week.