M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson has revealed that an O-ring was to blame for Sébastien Loeb’s engine fire on the first day of Safari Rally Kenya – a part he reckons “cost about 10p”.
Loeb had been in the thick of the fight for the lead with the Toyotas of Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans on Friday morning, but after completing SS4 Kedong a small engine fire broke out in his Ford Puma Rally1.
Loeb attempted to bring the car back to service but was restricted to EV-only mode given his engine wouldn’t restart, and he soon ran out of battery to be able to make it, forcing his retirement.
It turns out an O-ring – used to seal joints to prevent any liquid leaking – was the culprit that forced Loeb out for the day.
“Unfortunately the piece that failed cost about 10p,” said Wilson.
“It was a small O-ring which failed, which caused a leak and then the thing caught fire and burned some of the wiring. But it’s OK for tomorrow so he’ll be out tomorrow.”
Loeb’s was the first Puma to retire but both Adrien Fourmaux and Craig Breen also exited the contest during the day, meaning none of the manufacturer-registered M-Sport cars made it to the end of the leg.
Gus Greensmith’s was the only works car to complete all of Friday’s mileage, but not without his own dramas as he lost three minutes changing a puncture on the first pass of Kedong.
“I can’t remember when we lost all three points-scoring cars on a day, I have to say,” Wilson admitted. “Honestly I cannot remember the last time that happened.”
Fourmaux had been running eighth but dropped over four minutes on the first stage of the afternoon with what has now been diagnosed as a rear-left differential problem.
He told DirtFish there was “no warning, no rock, no impact” that led to the component failing.
“You know, even when you follow your approach, your line, sometimes something can happen and this time it was a mechanical,” Fourmaux said.
“I think we were quite gentle – gentle, it’s still really rough – but we were trying to care about the car in the rougher sections but it wasn’t enough.
“Anyway, we tried. I think we were doing well but these are things that can happen in Safari Rally and it’s probably a bit too early, but it’s like that.”
Breen meanwhile had been playing himself in steadily, but was forced out of the running on the final stage of the day after something in his steering broke.
He described it as “cruel” given he’d essentially bided his time earlier in the day for nothing.
“Disaster, to be honest,” he said.
“Unfortunately I felt something not quite right at the start of the stage on the front-right, I picked up a front-right puncture which was strange, we had to stop and change that.
“Unfortunately with all the fesh-fesh and everything I couldn’t get the car on the jack, it kept falling so, yeah, I lost a bit of time there but I was trying to just manage it and bring it home to the end of the stage.
“[Then] unfortunately on a straight line we had a failure on one of the steering components and that was the end of that.
“I had it in my head to just try absolutely everything today to try and protect the car and not do anything silly, not make any mistakes and we did that,” Breen added.
“It’s just cruel the way it’s worked out for us now because I think we probably paid a big price during the day with trying to protect the car and dropping time here and there. I was hoping we could take some time back there but it’s not to be.”
Loeb, Fourmaux and Breen will all restart on Saturday in 26th, 17th and ninth places respectively.
Wilson is remaining optimistic that the team can still score some solid points from the weekend given the brutal nature of the rally.
“I think was it last year Kalle [Rovanperä] retired on the last stage of day one and he ended up finishing the rally in sixth position, so to be honest the target is to get all the cars back out because we can see what’s happened today – anything can happen,” he said.