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M-Sport: No immediate plans to expand 2023 WRC Rally1 entries

M-Sport will only consider adding another part-time driver to its World Rally Championship roster if taking points off its opposition is required towards the end of the season.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

M-Sport

Nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb joined the team to contest four WRC events last year to help boost the squad’s championship hopes.

The move proved successful with Loeb and co-driver Isabelle Galmiche winning the 2022 season opener in Monte Carlo. The pair also led in Portugal before a crash halted their progress, while mechanical issues robbed them of a chance to challenge for a podium in Kenya and Greece.

Loeb featured among an expanded M-Sport line-up last year that included three full-time entries and as many as five Pumas at selected events.

However, this year the team has elected to scale back its efforts to two-full-time WRC entries for Ott Tanak and Pierre-Louis Loubet, with privateer Jourdan Serderidis contesting outings in Monte Carlo, Mexico, Sardinia and Kenya.

M-Sport has’t ruled out the prospect of a Loeb return but has indicated it’s not a top priority at this point in the season.

“Certainly if we do use anyone else, it will be later in the season when we potentially we need to take points off our conceptions,” team principal Richard Millener told Autosport when asked about the likelihood of a Loeb return.

“But at the moment all of the resources are going into Ott to make things as good as possible for him.”

New signing Tanak has enjoyed a strong start to his second spell at the Ford squad headlined by a victory in Sweden in February. The 2019 world champion is yet to fully gel with the Ford Puma, though, which led the Estonian stating that he and the car were a “mismatch” in Mexico, where he recovered from a turbo failure to finish ninth.

WRC Mexico: The Good, the Bad and a legend at his peak

Reflecting on Tanak’s Mexico frustrations, Millener says development is ongoing behind the scenes, but believes it will be a matter of tweaking the car throughout the year to find the sweet spot.

Ott Tänak, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Ott Tänak, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Photo by: M-Sport

“I don’t think he is super uncomfortable but there are some scenarios that he doesn’t feel totally confident in,” he added.

“The tricky thing for us is there is only limited date we can get from events and limited data we are allowed to record.

“Development is ongoing but it takes time and it is not something we can change overnight and ultimately it is hard for us when the car is still setting capable times. The powerstage was one of the hardest of the rally and we were very close to getting an overall victory on that and for most of the weekend we were doing close to fastest times.

“There is definitely some stuff he wants modified to make him more comfortable and we are working on that. But the base of the car seems to be not too bad as he wouldn’t be posting the times he is doing.

“I don’t think there is a set endpoint and I think it will be a case of tweaking all the way through the year because every rally you go to you get different conditions. He is still learning the ins and outs of the car and we are working on the feedback he is giving us.

“In some ways it might seem from the outside that it is big things but realistically it is tweaking of what we already have. There is no easy big fix but we have just got to keep working on it.”

Tanak is set for more seat time behind the wheel of the Puma before the WRC heads to Croatia next month, with an outing at Rally Ardennes from 31 March to 1 April.

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