C3 WRCS COMPETITIVE IN CORSICA BUT SHORT ON LUCK
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT crews produced performances entirely in keeping with the ambitious goals set for them, but were unable to turn their clear speed into results on some of the most demanding roads in the world championship.
THE STORY OF THE RACE
A true tarmac specialist, Sébastien Loeb had already produced exceptional performances in Corsica, like in 2005 when he topped the timesheets on every stage throughout the weekend. Ten years after his last appearance here, he produced another incredible feat on Friday morning when he finished just 9.7s behind the leader on the formidable opening stage of La Porta – Valle di Rostino (49.03km). Whilst his rivals could use their experience of the stage, having faced its seemingly never-ending series of bends since 2016, the nine-time world champions had to rely solely on pace notes. Their ninth position in the running order was no help to their cause, with more gravel and mud being pulled onto the road as cars ahead completed the stage. Unfortunately, "more fired up than my own tyres", the nine-time world rally champion was caught cold at the start of the next stage. Kris Meeke then took up the baton to perform superbly on behalf of Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT. The Northern Irishman made it to the end of day one in third overall, just 5.1s behind the second-placed driver, picking up a second fastest and a third fastest time in the process. Whilst Sébastien Loeb produced a masterful display the next day on his return to action under Rally 2 rules, his three stage wins demonstrating the performance level of the C3 WRC on this surface, Kris Meeke also confirmed his good form by moving into a tie for second place. Unfortunately, a pace note error ended up in the Ulsterman going off the road on Saturday's final stage. After securing the second fastest time on Sunday on his return under Rally 2 rules, before finishing third on the Power Stage, Kris Meeke nonetheless demonstrated the array of qualities of his car right to the end. The same was true of Sébastien Loeb, who came second on the final speed test – hotly contested as ever – just 2.2s off the stage-winning time.
QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
How would you assess this first rally of the season on tarmac?
Obviously, the final result is disappointing and we were clearly aiming for a different outcome at out our home event, but it doesn't really reflect the performance level we had this weekend. Although the gaps became narrower on this surface, we managed to claim three stage wins in the heat of the battle thanks to Sébastien and Daniel, whilst Kris and Paul had just moved into a tie for second place with Neuville when they had their unfortunate off. The C3 WRC is clearly also very competitive on tarmac. We therefore had the potential to do well here, which makes our two crews' incidents all the more frustrating. We are already focused on Argentina, where we will be determined to get some big points on the board.
Were you expecting Sébastien and Daniel to be in such good form again?
After their performance in Mexico, we were undoubtedly expecting them to be more or less on the pace on their favoured surface, but they were still at a significant disadvantage compared with their rivals, tackling several stages for the first time, including a few very long ones, that the others were already familiar with. So, I think it's fair to say they were amazing once again, despite lacking a bit of match fitness. I was probably most impressed by the way in which they returned to action on Saturday under Rally 2 rules. When there's nothing really at stake from a sporting point of view, you really need a champion's mindset to produce the kind of times they set on the second leg!
The team also showed great commitment and dedication on Saturday evening in repairing Kris and Paul's car so they could return to action on Sunday…
Yes, that's true. I'd like to pay tribute to the entire team for their hard work. They didn't hesitate to work until very late on Saturday night and into the early hours of Sunday morning, first of all to recover our C3 WRC from the maquis and then repair it in record time. It was tough going, but it was a fine example of great teamwork and commitment! Especially as it was important for Kris and Paul to get back into the saddle quickly and put the previous day's misfortune behind them. Their good times on Sunday show that they have already put the incident to bed and that they managed to pick up the pace again, looking ahead to the forthcoming events where I'm sure they will be determined to put things right.
In securing the second fastest time, just 9.7s off the pace on the fifty or so kilometres of La Porta – Valle di Rostino, despite contesting the stage for the first time – unlike his rivals – Sébastien Loeb managed to impress "Patou" Magaud, his former safety crew driver…
"His performance on this stage is comparable with what he achieved with Danos in Mexico – they just keep on surprising us! And yet it was a stage where knowledge was important, given the constant changes in pace, grip and road surface. And with all the streams of water running across the road from the fifteen kilometre point onwards, running ninth on the road wasn't really an advantage. That reflects his professionalism, and his commitment too because he worked on the on-board camera footage taken during recce. In conditions like these, his incredibly precise pace notes also help make a difference, because they are unerringly consistent. Every single corner is noted faithfully, even though it is extremely complicated to be so precise on such a long stage. In any case, it's when the going gets tough that his ability to adapt comes to the fore and he is the best!"