Stage 3, the first of the day’s eight tests, was halted after the third M-Sport Ford Puma driven by privateer Jourdan Serderidis blocked the narrow El Chocolate road and was stuck facing in the opposite direction.

It is unclear exactly how the Greek driver ended up stranded on the stage. Former M-Sport driver Gus Greensmith was the first driver to reach the Puma and was forced to stop before the red flags were thrown.

The incident was the third issue to strike M-Sport on the eventful test. Overnight rally leader and Ott Tanak suffered a turbo failure 15.8km into the 29.07km stage, which forced the 2019 world champion to limp to the finish.

The championship leader climbed out of the car and attempted to fix the issue in the stage which resulted in Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera passing the stranded Puma.

Tanak was able to get going again but had to pull over and let Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville through.

Tanak in the end reached the stage end 7m47.7s adrift of stage winner and new rally leader Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi. The Finn now leads Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier by 1.2s with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo third.

To make matters worse for M-Sport, Tanak’s team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet was forced to retire from the day after clipping a rock with the front right of his Puma.

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Nicolas Gilsoul, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

The Frenchman, competing in his first rally outside of Europe, misjudged an entry into a tight right hander that resulted in his damaged Puma coming to a halt on the edge of the road.

"It couldn't get worse than that for us," said M-Sport team principal Richard Millener.

"This is one of the toughest rallies there is, and we haven't been here for a few years. It looks like a technical issue for Ott and two issues for the other cars, maybe from hitting rocks or damaging the cars. A bit of a disaster really, but there's not much we can do.”

"The intention is for Ott to try and continue, but it's difficult to know where we're at at the moment. It's survival of the fittest in this rally and we're only one gravel stage in.

"With the championship in mind, we'll try and get back to the best position we can, but it's very difficult to make these decisions when we've not got much information other than what we've seen on TV.”

Tanak started the delayed Stage 4 but continued to battle with a lack of turbo, in the hope of reaching the midday service to repair the problem.

2023-03-17T16:20:35Z dg43tfdfdgfd