M-Sport Ford managing director Malcolm Wilson is still speaking to Sébastien Loeb about possible World Rally Championship outings this season, but Ott Tänak is his main priority.
Tänak rejoined M-Sport Ford from Hyundai this season, replacing outgoing lead driver Craig Breen who went in the opposite direction.
The entire team has been geared towards the 2019 world champion Tänak this season in order to help him secure a second world title.
Loeb, who won all nine of his WRC titles for Citroën, with Wilson’s M-Sport squad as a direct rival, made his debut for M-Sport on last year’s Monte Carlo Rally and secured a dream victory.
He entered three further rallies throughout the season in a Puma Rally1 – Portugal, Sardinia and Acropolis – and was competitive on all three only for mechanical trouble to rob him of a good result.
A deal couldn’t be struck to bring Loeb back for this year’s Monte and, so far, nothing is in place for him to partner Tänak or Pierre-Louis Loubet at any point this year.
But dialogue is still open between Wilson and Loeb.
“Yeah, we’re talking to him,” Wilson told DirtFish.
“I would like to see him [back] certainly if we could find a way to do some rallies.
“[But] my main emphasis is getting Ott into a position where he’s 100% happy.”
Unlike in 2022 where M-Sport’s lineup only included a rally winner and world champion for 30% of the season, the team is benefiting from Tänak’s presence full-time in 2023.
It therefore has a much more realistic chance of winning a championship than it did 12 months ago, and as a result it is important that any deal to sign Loeb does not obstruct Tänak in any way.
After a fifth place on the Monte, Tänak said “it’s too early to say” how confident he is for the season ahead but is pleased to have made his best start to a year since his title-winning campaign with Toyota.
“At least we grabbed some points from Monte,” he told DirtFish, “which is a good start for the season I guess, anyway.
“Fourteen points is more than the last three years’ total.”