Craig Breen and Scott Martin produced a superb performance – including another stage win – to end today’s leg in second place, very much in contention to secure the first podium of the year for Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT! Mads Østberg and Torstein Eriksen still have a firm hold on fifth place, whilst Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle were forced to retire for the day after suffering a turbo issue as a result of hitting a snow bank.
The second full day of action, featuring the classic Rally Sweden stages Hagfors and Vargasen, saw Craig Breen produce one of the finest performances of his career to date, on his sixth appearance at this atypical event. Benefiting from a good position in the starting order, like his main rivals for the podium places, the Irishman started the day fourth overall, but a second fastest time on SS9 along with a good time on the next stage saw him move up into second position, just 4.2s behind the leader.
Although the roads were covered in less snow today, Craig – based on good advice from the technical team – gambled by only taking five tyres for the second loop, whilst most of his rivals, undoubtedly concerned about their studs becoming worn as gravel appeared through the ice, opted to take six. However, it was the Irishman’s decision that paid off: full of confidence in his C3 WRC, he topped the timesheets on Torntop (SS12), his third stage win of the weekend. After then claiming two more third fastest times, he consolidated his second position and made it to the end of the leg with a 9.3s lead over his closest rival.
Meanwhile, Mads Østberg – despite still learning about the C3 WRC – remained consistently close to the leading times to hold onto his fifth place. He also produced the day’s longest jump over the famous Colin’s Crest, with a leap of forty-two metres on the first pass!
Finally enjoying more consistent grip conditions, despite still having to contend with a less than ideal road position (fourth), Kris Meeke was setting times more in keeping with his status when a fairly innocuous impact with a snow bank damaged the turbo of his C3 WRC, meaning he had no choice but to retire for the day. He will back in action tomorrow under Rally 2 rules.
In contention for a first podium in Sweden since 2014, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT must still negotiate three stages tomorrow (51.94km) before hoping to turn the team’s strong performance this weekend into a good result.
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“It has been a very positive day for us, with Craig moving up into second place after a solid performance, which confirms why we rate him so highly. We have to also congratulate Mads on his performance. He has managed to hold onto fifth place despite his lack of experience in the car. I’m disappointed, however, for Kris who didn’t deserve such an outcome, given the focused and committed performance he had produced up to that point. We must now keep going and bring home the result tomorrow, because the gaps remain very small between the top five.”
“Initially, I thought I was only going to lose about twenty seconds in this snow bank, but when I got going again, the car had no power. Snow had got into the engine and damaged the turbo. We had been focusing on getting tenth place up to that point and it seems like a heavy price to pay for such a minor mistake. Fresh snow forecast for tomorrow and we’ll be opening the road, so unfortunately, we don’t even have a realistic chance of getting any points on the Power Stage.”
“I’m over the moon with my day and delighted with the pace we’ve shown. It’s something new for me to be fighting at the front in the world championship but you quickly get a taste for it! The afternoon was incredible for us, even though I couldn’t keep pace with Thierry right to the end. You can count on me to fight every step of the way to hold onto this second place.”
“Given that I’m still working out how best to set up the C3 WRC, I have to be pleased with what we have done so far. Rather than attempting to change everything in the middle of the race, which is always risky, we kept to the basic set-up defined in testing. I’m now trying to improve in my handling of the car as we complete more stages.”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 3
Neuville/Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 2:23:23.8
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 22.7
Mikkelsen/Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 32.0
Paddon/Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 48.6
Ostberg/Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) + 56.8
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 1:05.8
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 2:03.3
Suninen/Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 2:20.5
Tänak/Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 3:41.3
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 4:24.9