Mikko Hirvonen says his engine problem in Argentina could have put paid to his World Rally Championship title hopes just five rounds into the 2009 season.
Sebastien Loeb is currently on course to win the Rally Argentina, which would maintain his 100 percent victory rate in this year's series, and potentially put him 20 points clear of Hirvonen in the standings with seven rallies to go.
The Finn had been running second behind Loeb when the problem struck on SS15 yesterday afternoon.
"The temperature gauge rose from normal to 140 degrees very quickly and the engine switched into safe mode," said Hirvonen. "I finished the stage slowly and thought the radiator was perhaps blocked, but when I stopped to take a look I couldn't find a blockage so I knew it was a bigger problem.
"I saw there was no water in the cooling system and spoke with my engineer on the telephone. It became clear that nothing could be done and the team told me to retire."
The Finn, who had to retire from the lead in Argentina last year, felt he still had a chance to beat Loeb to the rally win before the failure.
"I'm disappointed because I had gained time on the previous stage and I think the fight would have gone right down to the finish tomorrow," he said.
"I had the chance to win but even second would still have given me a chance in the drivers' championship. That's looking very difficult now. Argentina hasn't been kind to me."
Hirvonen was still classified eighth under superally rules at the end of leg two, but team boss Malcolm Wilson said Ford would not risk re-entering the car for today's final loop.
"Because of the excessive temperature that the engine reached, we don't want to risk running the car tomorrow," he said last night.
"We want to take it back to the UK and analyse the engine properly, especially as this is the first event of an engine link."