On his first FIA World Rally Championship event with the Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1, Ott Tänak set respectable pace to achieve a strong result of fifth overall combined with four Power Stage points on Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Tänak made a strong debut in his Puma, consistently on par with his championship rivals as he claimed top-five times throughout the weekend. The 2019 World Champion gave a faultless performance on an event that has been difficult for him over the last few years, choosing to use the event to find his footing with the car while navigating the twisty technical Tarmac of Monte Carlo's notoriously difficult mountain passes.
Despite his main focus being to address the set-up of the car to his liking, Tänak was not short of pace by any means and gives M-Sport a tremendous influx of confidence for 2023. The Estonian has been working with the team to adjust the balance and improve the feel, identifying the inevitable teething problems that come with a new drive. Considerable experience has been earned from the weekend in Monte-Carlo, enabling Tänak to explore a variety of options in pursuit of pushing the Puma to its limit as the season goes on. Tänak's second-fastest time on the Power Stage, only 0.5 seconds off a win, proves the speed of car and driver and ends the weekend on a strong note.
Competing in his first ever Rallye Monte-Carlo with M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, Pierre-Louis Loubet delivered a commendable performance that will come to form a crucial element of his learning throughout 2023.
After a small off on SS5 on Friday morning, Loubet lost all the assistance of his power steering just before the remote tyre-fitting zone. Unable to make the necessary repairs, the young Frenchman chose to battle on through the afternoon, putting in a heroic performance to preserve his tyre allocation and avoid super-rally penalties.
However, Saturday would bring more misfortune, unfixable damage to the rear corner of the car after going wide on the final corner of the first stage of the day. With no mid-day service either on this day, he and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were forced to retire for the day.
A final issue with a water leak on Sunday morning unfortunately meant the crew would not get to the end of the event.
However, Loubet's persistence and determination throughout the weekend, combined with some very impressive speed on the stages he completed, cements his deserving of a full-time drive in a Puma Hybrid Rally1.
Learning being the key theme of the weekend, the WRC2 category was no different. Adrien Fourmaux gained confidence and pace over the weekend in his Fiesta Rally2 to set some top-five times in his return to the feeder category for the first time since 2021.
Gregoire Munster spent the weekend adjusting to the latest evolution of the Fiesta Rally2 on his first WRC2 outing with M-Sport, setting respectable top-ten times amongst a very competitive field.
Fourmaux would finish fifth overall in WRC2 with Munster a credible eighth, a solid start to the championship for both crews.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said: "Of course it would have been nice to have got a podium here this weekend, but the intermittent issue that Ott suffered on Saturday meant it wasn't to be. But we can be very happy with the feedback and the performance we saw. The final power stage was a great sign of the potential that is to come. Pierre has had a difficult weekend and it was a shame to see him not finish the event, but we can all be happy with what we saw on the stages he did complete. After all, it is only the start of a very long season."
Ott Tänak, Fifth overall, said: "Generally, it was a good weekend, we have learnt plenty and got some good mileage as well. There are things we need to improve, and just look to be more consistent and gain some speed. The Power Stage definitely shows that it could be possible to be competitive in this car, but we need to find a better balance so we can drive fast."
Pierre-Louis Loubet, Retired Sunday, said: "I think the pace during the rally was strong, even on Sunday morning after restarting. We have shown that we have the pace to keep up with the guys at the front, so we have to keep that confidence and not give up.
"From my side, the car was fantastic to drive. On dry Tarmac in Monte-Carlo, the car is incredible and it felt really good. There are some points for improvement, but in general it was a great experience. I think the pace is better than last year, we have seen some progress and we can look to fight for a podium on gravel later in the yea