Three of M-Sport Ford’s five Puma Rally1s has been beset by dust making its way into the cockpit on Friday morning of Rally Portugal, leaving the team scrambling to fix it in the remote tire fitting zone.
Craig Breen described the dust that infiltrated his car as “unbelievable” on Friday morning of Rally Portugal, but his visibility issue runs deeper than you might expect.
The problem first arose on Friday’s second stage, Góis, and continued throughout the rest of the three-stage loop, costing Breen valuable seconds.
He told DirtFish the feeling in the car “was honestly really good” but the lingering dust is not only a distraction but it’s sticking to his glasses as well, further impeding his vision.
As a result, Breen is seventh overall.
“The dust in the car was unbelievable,” he said. “The problem is it starts to stick to my glasses and stuff as it goes on, just fighting a bit.
“So it’s horrible. The boys are trying to bodge as best they can with what they have, so let’s see.”
Asked if he could wipe his glasses, Breen admitted: “I tried it once and it smudged everything. So yeah, it doesn’t help.”
Breen’s Puma hasn’t been the only car affected either as both M-Sport team-mates Sébastien Loeb and Gus Greensmith found the same problem on SS3.
Loeb, who leads the rally by 0.5 seconds over Elfyn Evans, however believes his experience was self-inflicted.
“We had a lot of dust in stage three, so the second stage of the day. But the door was not really correctly closed and Isabelle [Galmiche, co-driver] was struggling to reach it before the start,” he told DirtFish.
“With that, it was very difficult in the stage. The next one was OK. We had some dust in some places, so in the afternoon when it’s more rough, it can be a problem.”
Loeb’s engineer Tim Jackson told DirtFish that there is “good sealing” but “they could see from the onboards there was a gap between the door and the outside and that’s where “we think the dust was coming in”.
“We’re limited in the remote services, we can only use the tools we’re carrying in the car so we’ll make do with what we can do but we hope this afternoon will be better,” Jackson said of a potential fix.
“You do a lot [of testing] but like everyone says you get to the rally and you find things that you never found from testing.”
Loeb’s theory about the doors – which require a thorough slam to be fully closed – being slightly ajar was put to Breen, but he didn’t believe he needed to be shutting the door harder.
“I don’t think it’s that. It’s closed as much as it closes,” he affirmed.
“I can’t do anything more, so let’s see.”
Greensmith meanwhile, who was a strong second fastest on the day’s opener before slipping to 10th because of the infiltrating dust, said the dust “leaks in the car in quite a few places, so there’s just constant dust in the car”.
He added: “In the second stage it was a big problem. From the start of the stage it was constant hanging dust in the car, so hard to find the rhythm.
“But on the last one I felt like I had a really good run, similar to the first one but time was nowhere, so we need to find out why that is.”
Loeb does of course lead the event so all is not lost for the team.
“Obviously I didn’t expect so much but it was going well in the stages,” he said.
“I had two hard tires in the last stage and I think most of the others had soft. I think it helped a little bit, so I could push really hard on the last [stage] and it went well. Nothing more to say at the moment.
“Like you say, we are leading, so we need to continue to push enough.”
Team principal Richard Millener added: “It’s great to see the car’s there, competitive and where we want it to be this morning. A lot of this championship – the majority – is on gravel, so having a car that works here is what we need.
“It’s been a good morning. The dust’s been a bit of a pain, but the pace is there from the car.”