If team management at M-Sport Ford decided to sit down one day and choose which event has been the low point of the ongoing World Rally Championship season, Ypres Rally Belgium would surely have to come up trumps.
But what about the race for second? Estonia was pretty grizzly, where just one Puma Rally1 made it to the end without retiring and was over five minutes down. Rally Finland and New Zealand didn’t pan out too well either.
However at least on those events the car, and drivers, appeared to have pace at points. On the recent Rally Spain, aside from one top three time from Pierre-Louis Loubet, the Puma was nowhere.
The problem? Overheating front tires. And what did that mean? Understeer.
“We were struggling a bit with setup all weekend,” Craig Breen, who was a distant ninth – not helped when a dislodged manhole cover caused a puncture – told DirtFish.
“We started to get it better and better as the weekend went on but unfortunately again on Sunday morning, complete bad luck.”
What was most worrying was that all the noises about M-Sport’s pre-event test were positive. But deep down Breen had identified there was an issue.
“I wouldn’t say I was over the moon after the test; I had identified that I thought it was going to be an issue and yeah, in the rally it was,” he said.
“So we spent pretty much all the weekend trying to rectify that, make it a bit better. For sure we’ve made steps but we needed to be where we are now on Friday morning.
“C’est la vie.”
On his first rally in two months, Adrien Fourmaux was the highest placed M-Sport driver in eighth spot – a mere 4.6 seconds up the road from Breen.
“Yeah,” Fourmaux said when asked if he suffered the same overheating tire problem as Breen.
“For example in the powerstage, I really tried to manage the tires because it’s definitely the key.
“We can be fast for three kilometers and then after you completely disappear, so we have to work on that.
“But I’m sure we found a solution for that.”
Intriguingly Loubet, who was on average the fastest Puma pilot over the weekend but was beset by a puncture and then an exhaust problem on the first morning, didn’t appear to struggle with the same problem.
But team-mate Gus Greensmith was another in the understeer boat, but he did at least have a theory as to why it was happening. And it revolved around the hybrid unit.
“I think really the reason is this year, with the extra weight and extra power we have in the car, we’re working the tires to a much harder rate, and really the tire was overworked,” he told DirtFish.
“And I needed to be a bit more gentle on the tire through the last section [of the stage I crashed on]. So I think that was it. I think I should have recognized it.”
And as for that positive test that translated into a far from positive rally?
“When you’re on a test you’re driving so cleanly, you know the roads and you’re driving to like tenths of a second,” Greensmith explained. “You’re not really driving in particularly the same way you do on a rally.
“So perhaps we weren’t working the tires as much as we do during a rally because everything obviously the first pass, second pass, you don’t see it much. So there’s more general steering inputs coming out the car.
“It’s something we need to recognize – it’s a bit disappointing but that’s the way it is. In Japan, much colder temperatures, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Trying to remain positive for a step into the unknown in Japan is about all M-Sport can do right now – it certainly isn’t in a mood to reflect on Spain for too long with no post-event press release issued by the team.
But given all of the Toyotas and all of the Hyundais finished ahead of all of the M-Sports, that’s perhaps no surprise. To put it mildly, there was very little to shout about.