Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT has come away from Wales with clear proof that the C3 WRC is competitive once again. On a surface where you need to adapt to the constantly changing levels of grip, both drivers showed great pace with Craig Breen only narrowly missing out on a spot on the podium.
THE STORY OF THE RACE
Wales Rally GB is fairly unusual for a gravel event: due to the saturated state of the ground, it is often preferable to start high up the running order before the roads turn into a mudbath. Starting at the back of the running order in tenth and eleventh respectively throughout Friday, Mads Østberg and Craig Breen were immediately at a slight disadvantage. However, armed with confidence from the traction and handling of his C3 WRC, Breen managed to pull off the impressive feat of staying in touch with the leaders, ending the day within 13s of the fourth-placed driver. Mads Østberg, who struggled slightly more with the conditions, finished day one eighth overall.
Craig Breen confirmed his excellent form on Saturday finishing within two seconds of the podium by the end of the leg, having set a couple of second fastest times in the afternoon (SS15 and SS18).
Mads Østberg completed a strong team performance as he also fought back powerfully to end the day in fifth place, claiming a stage win and three consecutive second fastest times (SS12, SS13 and SS14) in the process.
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT drivers were clearly determined to rally among the frontrunners right to the end. They went on the attack early on Sunday morning even though the roads were still incredibly slippery. Unfortunately, a minor mistake meant Breen dropped out of contention for a podium finish, but he held on to secure a strong fourth place. Mads Østberg, who also had a spin in his C3 WRC, finished eighth overall.
QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
What is your analysis of this year’s Wales Rally GB?
Firstly, I’d like to highlight the performance of our team, who once again did a fantastic job, and our car. Not only was it perfectly reliable, especially on Saturday’s leg where the crews had to complete more than 150 kilometres of timed stages with no midday service, but it was also very competitive on these roads, which are always difficult to read. On day two, for example, on six occasions (out of a possible nine) at least one of our C3 WRCs was in the top three.
Whilst our rivals fight it out for the titles at the end of this season, this weekend shows that we are right in the mix, regardless of the racing conditions. As the level of grip was pretty low on Saturday morning before the roads dried out more in the afternoon, it’s certainly positive that we were so competitive.
You were very close to the podium this weekend?
Yes, having closed to just 1.7s of third place on Saturday, we had to roll the dice and go for it on the final day and that is precisely what Craig did. When you are pushing hard and committed at that level, it’s easy to make a minor mistake, especially on such a slippery road surface.
In any case, I’m pleased that our crews showed a lot of fighting spirit throughout the weekend, never giving up despite having a road position on day one that could easily have ruined their chances of a good result. We’ll now focus on Spain, driven by this fighting spirit. We’ll continue to work hard again to do even better there.
Having witnessed Craig Breen’s performance first hand this weekend, Thomas Breton, his race engineer, analysed the way in which the Irishman managed to stay in touch with the leaders on Friday (sixth, 48.8s off the pace); despite a less than ideal road position (11th), before going on the attack on Saturday.
“Craig was very motivated and relaxed at the start of the rally, focused purely on driving. Pretty quickly, he found that he was relatively close to the pace, without forcing it and in turn realised that if he picked up his speed a little bit, he could really do something here. Wales is a rally that Craig knows better than some of the others and he’s often at his best when the conditions are consistent like they were here, even if they’re still very tricky.”
“Craig was determined throughout, even when he set a time that wasn’t quite so good, because each time he was able to work out why. He has in fact been stronger mentally for the last few rounds, but unfortunately that hasn’t been reflected in his results, because there’s always been something that has derailed his weekend. I think having been involved in a rally where he was fighting at the front will have significantly boosted his confidence. Since Rally Sweden, his hopes of achieving a strong points finish have often been dashed by minor incidents and disappointments on the Friday leg. This time, he can head for Spain in a more confident and relaxed mood.”