THE C3 WRCs WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE
Hampered by their road positions, Craig Breen – Scott Martin and Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen made the best of the tricky, slippery conditions, finishing sixth and eighth overall at the end of day one.
With two runs on the longest stage of the weekend (Brenig – 29.13km), known for its frequent surface changes, and two on Penmachno (16.95km), a brand new, highly technical stage, today's opening leg served up a serious challenge to the crews. The task was made all the more difficult by the typically Welsh weather, with rain, fog and mud almost everywhere you looked.
In conditions like these, the local gravel roads and the sections on tarmac introduced this year became increasingly – and irreversibly – muddy and slippery as more cars completed the stages. The tenth and eleventh starting positions of Mads Østberg and Craig Breen this morning therefore represented no advantage whatsoever. However, Mads nonetheless showed some good early form in setting the third fastest time on the day's opening stage (SS2), just 1.1s off the pace. Craig Breen then joined his team-mate among the front-runners after the first pass on Brenig (SS3), moving up from eighth to fifth overall.
Their position in the running order was even more of a handicap in the afternoon, as the grip level fell off further still between the first and last WRCs to tackle the stages. Craig Breen, cheered on by the many Irish fans who had come over the water to see him race, nonetheless kept up his good form to end the day in a very respectable sixth place. Within 13s of the fourth-placed driver, the Irishman is very much in contention for one of the minor places, especially as he will have a significantly better starting position (4th) tomorrow.
Struggling slightly more than his team-mate in these low-grip conditions, Mads Østberg nonetheless managed to keep out of trouble and make it to the end of the leg. He ended the day eighth overall. He will be determined to be more comfortable tomorrow and particularly make the most of running second on the road.
Saturday sees the crews tackle the longest leg of the weekend, over a competitive distance of 150.24 kilometres. It also has the potential to throw up plenty of incidents… With the traditional midday service replaced by a mere tyre and light fitting zone, there will be no room for error for the competitors.
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"First and foremost, I'm pleased that we made it through this really difficult opening leg without incident. In the conditions our drivers had due their road position, Craig especially more than held his own on a very slippery road surface. The C3 WRC gave him the confidence to drive well. We'll now try and up the pace tomorrow to get closer to the podium places."
"I'm pleased with our day. We didn't make any mistakes at all and we managed to be quick even though it was extremely muddy and greasy when we were on stage, especially on the second runs. We're not too far away from the podium places so we're going to keep fighting. I have high hopes that tomorrow will be an even better day for us."
"We struggled a bit in starting so far down in the running order, but we've already put it behind us and are thinking about the rest of the rally. The gaps are reasonably small and there is still a long way to go, so we'll push tomorrow and try to make up some places."
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
- Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:06:04.3
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +28.8
- Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +31.3
- Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 35.9
- Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +38.2
- Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 48.8
- Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:06.4
- Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:08.4
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:24.3