Fords get lift as Loeb has issues

With the Citroens of series leader Sebastien Loeb and his teammate Sebastien Ogier both having issues, the Abu Dhabi Ford team sense an opportunity to draw closer in the championship chase.

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With the Citroens of the series leader Sebastien Loeb and teammate Sebastien Ogier both having mechanical problems, the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's world title aspirations took yet another unexpected twist on the winding asphalt roads at Friday's opening leg of Rallye de France.

Both Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila and teammates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen went off the road en route to fifth and sixth places respectively.

"There was so much mud in the wheel, the whole car was vibrating so much that I couldn't see outside," Hirvonen said.

"I am really far behind now. I have to step on it to get some points."

But with two days still remaining of this 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Finnish duo are in a position to enhance Ford's title challenge after the retirement of championship leader Loeb with engine problems.

Loeb, who won the opening stage of his home rally in his native Alsace and led after the first two stages before his car ground to a halt during special stage three. The French driver, who is on the cusp of an eighth world rally title, conceded that he could be forced out of this 11th leg of the 13-rally season.

"For the moment, the engineers aren't saying much," Loeb said.

His teammate, Ogier, won stages two and three to take a five-second advantage on privateer Petter Solberg after the first four stages but then ran into a recurrence of a power issue that slowed his efforts.

Team Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is 16th, more than five minutes back of the race leader, Dani Sordo and his Mini, and said it was difficult to maintain confidence when many places were damp and covered in dirt and loose gravel that had been dragged onto the road by the cars ahead.