With two stage wins secured by Craig Breen, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT was in impressive form on Friday’s opening leg. With Breen – Martin fourth this evening and Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen fifth overall, the team is still fighting for at least one podium spot, whilst Kris Meeke – Paul Nagle, hampered by their road position, ended the day in tenth place.
With 140 kilometres of stages contested near the border between Sweden and Norway, making it the longest day of the weekend, today’s first proper leg promised to be particularly difficult. Especially as today’s stages were among those located furthest to the north, meaning they were covered with a lot of snow and much narrower than in previous years. The crews were thus forced to scrupulously review and revise their pace notes beforehand. And to top it all, the roads were covered with a layer of fresh snow overnight.
In conditions like these, the crews high up the starting order had the unenviable task of acting as snowplough for the later runners, and Kris Meeke – fourth on the road after his performance in Monaco – was one of those to suffer this painful and frustrating experience. However, the Ulsterman concentrated on his target, which is to take away some good points from Sweden. He ended the leg in tenth position after a focused and committed performance.
Normally in Sweden, the drivers tend to take six tyres for both loops, in order to be able to mix their set-up and have the most effective set of studs possible, even when lines and the gravel begin to appear on the roads. But the fresh snowfall meant the studs were less worn than usual on the first loop, which led to the crews deciding to head back out in the afternoon with only five tyres. It was then a question of finding the right balance between pushing and looking after their spikes, which bite into the ice.
Craig Breen and Mads Østberg proved to be quite adept at this task. They took full advantage of their favourable starting order (9th and 12th respectively) to end the day fourth and fifth overall, with Craig just five tenths off the podium and Mads 1.1s back! Both are therefore very well placed, within striking distance of the frontrunners. And their performance today also means that they are guaranteed to get a good road position for tomorrow’s leg. Perfectly at one with his C3 WRC, Craig Breen even managed to claim two consecutive stage wins (SS6 and SS7), whilst Mads Østberg, still getting to grips with his car, enjoyed an impressive return with the Red Army as he collected three third fastest times (SS2, SS4 and SS7).
Tomorrow’s leg features eight new stages and a competitive distance of 120.31 kilometres.
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“I’d like to congratulate Craig for his fine performance today. Obviously, he made the most of his road position, but he still had to go out there and set the times! It shows that he was confident with the C3 WRC, and I hope he can maintain this pace tomorrow. Mads also did very well, given the limited time he has had in the car. We’re going to keep working together so that his confidence grows even more. Kris, on the other hand, was hampered by his position in the starting order. Short of confidence, he didn’t tempt fate by pushing. Instead, he stuck to his plan and he hopes to make it to the end of the rally and collect some good points.”
“It was a very difficult day for us, but we made it to the end. We weren’t very far off the pace of Tänak and Latvala, but I wasn’t comfortable enough nor prepared to risk everything, so I didn’t try to overcompensate. We won’t have a great road position tomorrow either, but we’ll try and adopt a sensible approach and keep any eye on what happens ahead of us. We’ll be ready to take advantage, if an opportunity to move up the leaderboard presents itself.”
“I knew that I had a good road position today, but I’m really pleased that it went so well for me. My C3 WRC worked really well. Tomorrow will be an interesting day! We’ll have to see what happens with the weather, because there was already quite a lot of gravel showing through the ice this afternoon. When we did recce, tomorrow’s stages were in poorer condition than those we did today, so the conditions may be more difficult on the second pass.”
“It wasn’t an easy day, but I’m very happy. When we got here, I didn’t expect to be on the pace so quickly. This afternoon, the road conditions were really different to those we had in testing, and my set-up wasn’t ideal. But I fought hard and I also learned a lot about the C3 WRC. I have high hopes that this will help me to be more competitive for the rest of the rally. Especially as I have always been more comfortable on the Swedish stages than the ones in Norway, so I can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow!”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Neuville/Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 1:16:13’’1
Mikkelsen/Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 4.9
Paddon/Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 12.1
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 12.6
Ostberg/Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) + 13.2
Suninen/Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 29.6
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 38.5
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 1:06.2
Tänak/Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 1:29.0
Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) + 1:43.6