THE C3 WRCs MOVE UP THE STANDINGS
Kris Meeke – Paul Nagle and Craig Breen – Scott Martin successfully negotiated the day's snow-covered roads, as they moved up to fifth and ninth place respectively in their C3 WRCs ahead of tomorrow's final leg, where racing conditions may be well-suited to the qualities of their machines.
There was a mix of tension and excitement in the air early this morning: Champsaur, the setting for today's third leg, had been covered with a blanket of fresh snow overnight. Unlike yesterday, however, tyre choice proved to be rather straightforward: studded tyres would be needed to get through the forty-five or so kilometres of the first two stages, and both Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT crews opted to take six tyres for the loop.
First on the stages after ending day two tenth overall, Craig Breen acted as something of a snow plough for the crews behind him, and had no chance of setting good times in the conditions. This was especially true given by the time the stages got underway, a combination of rising temperatures and light rainfall meant the snow had melted and turned into treacherous slush. Fifth in the running order, Kris Meeke enjoyed clearer roads, but the grip was much better for those coming after him. Both Citroën drivers nonetheless performed admirably, moving up into ninth and fifth places respectively.
For the second pass on this loop of stages, this time a mix of four winter tyres and two studded tyres was required. Although the snow and slush on the road – of which there was still plenty – prevented Craig Breen from producing any fast times, Kris Meeke showed his pace in the tarmac lines that appeared as more cars completed the stages. The Northern Irishman was third fastest at the second split on SS11, pointing to the potential of the C3 WRC, but then dropped eight seconds by running straight on into a field.
After briefly moving into fourth overall, Kris Meeke – who is determined to score good points this weekend and get his season off to a strong start – was unable to hold off Lappi's comeback on the day's final stage. Craig Breen, finally enjoying decent conditions, then reminded everyone of his pace, setting a fine third fastest time on SS13, just 2.2s behind the stage winner.
Everyone decamps to Monaco and the Alpes Maritimes department for tomorrow's final four stages. Although the drivers will have to watch out for patches of ice left by the overnight frost, the stages are expected to be contested mostly on dry tarmac roads. Conditions in which the C3 WRC has already proven its worth, whilst Kris Meeke is only 1.6s off fourth place…
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"Hats off to Craig for having got the car back in one piece this evening despite opening the road today, which meant he had to cope with very low-grip conditions for most of the leg. Especially as he finished the day in style on SS13. Meanwhile, Kris held his position well until Lappi picked up a puncture, which then put him into a fight for fourth place. Our target, however, is above all that he scores big points tomorrow and that he keeps growing in confidence behind the wheel."
"On the first pass this morning, the grip was bound to improve as time went by, but on the second loop, there were two narrow lines of tarmac visible. Of course, when you're driving at close to 170kph, you absolutely cannot afford to step out of the lines, or else you're off. I don't know if we'll be able to fight for fourth place, but getting to the end in fifth position would be a good start to the season in itself, given our misfortune on Thursday evening."
"The first two loops proved to be very difficult for us, due to our road position. But I'm pleased to have shown our pace on the day's final stage, which was drier, and I hope the conditions are like this tomorrow."
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 3
- Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3:30:30.9
- Tänak / Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 33.5
- Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 1:32.7
- Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 4:38.5
- Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) + 4:40.1
- Evans/Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 5:00.2
- Neuville/Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 5:33.6
- Bouffier/Panseri (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 5:43.4
- Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 8:49.0
- Kopecky/Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) + 14:04.4