LESSONS LEARNED FOR THE FUTURE
Despite once again being competitive, unfortunately the C3 WRC – like many of its rivals – suffered in this weekend's brutal conditions, its habitual strength sorely tested by the constant damage caused by the incredibly rough stages.
THE STORY OF THE RACE
This was a weekend of firsts: the first Rally Turkey to be held at the new Marmaris hub in the championship and the first time that Craig Breen had led a WRC round. The Irishman was the quickest out of the blocks on Friday on the opening stage's thirty-eight kilometres plus. His calm and measured approach ensured he then made it to the end of the morning loop in second place, just 6.3s behind the leader, closely followed by Mads Østberg in third, 8.2s off the pace and who had also made a fine start. The Norwegian had in particular set the second fastest time on SS3, just 2.1s behind the championship leader over almost twenty-two kilometres. However, despite taking great care to avoid the most substantial obstacles, both crews then suffered the misfortune of picking up punctures during the afternoon loop. Whilst Breen fell back to eighth position after two punctures, Østberg, still running fifth at the time, retired for the day when the rough conditions ended up breaking a suspension arm and a turbo failure meant Khalid Al Qassimi also had to call it a day. However, the roads proved to be even harder on Saturday's leg for the new generation WRCs, the endurance of which had never been tested to this extent since their introduction last year. Unfortunately, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT did not escape unscathed. It has to be said that the roads broke up very quickly, unable to withstand the power of the WRCs, with sharp stones and other embedded rocks appearing on the surface. Mads Østberg had to stop with a turbo issue whilst Craig Breen, who had climbed back up to sixth overall despite his unfavourable road position (2nd), had to retire from the rally after his car burst into flames and burned out. The rally ended on a more positive note on Sunday, however, with three consecutive second fastest times for Mads Østberg, whilst Khalid Al Qassimi secured a few manufacturers' championship points.
QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
How would you assess this first outing in Turkey for the C3 WRC?
Well, it is certainly positive that the C3 WRC was fast again, despite the unprecedented nature of the stages. Right from the word go, both Mads and Craig were fighting for a podium place, with Craig even managing to win the longest and hardest stage of the rally. We were also right on the pace on Sunday, so clearly, the car has the performance level. Having said that, we nonetheless discovered during the weekend that the level of endurance demanded by this race was a lot greater than usual. The stresses placed on the cars were especially extreme and the roads, which were pretty rough to start with, broke up very quickly, something that our C3 WRC had not previously encountered. In these tough conditions, we also had to contend with some technical issues, which we had not had before. It's true that we haven't had a rally like this one, which is so hard on the cars, on the championship calendar for many years. However, we gathered a lot of information throughout the weekend. Using what we learned about the road surface here, added to the brand's previous experience on events such as the Acropolis Rally or Safari Rally in Kenya, we already know how we can come back better prepared next time.
How would you assess the performance of the team?
I would like to pay tribute to the mechanics for the excellent work they did during each service, managing to fully repair and rebuild the cars in the very limited time available. They weren't content to just work on the C3 WRC to which they had been assigned. They guys chipped in on the next car as soon as they had finished work on their assigned C3 WRC and an armband became available (limiting the number of people working on a car in service). I think that really shows just how united and together this group is.
A new rally obviously means new pace notes must be taken in just two runs in recce, at a much reduced pace. With the longest stage of the rally (Çetibeli, 38.10km) – also regarded as the most formidable, daunting test – scheduled as the opener on Friday morning, it would become apparent very quickly who had worked well in recce…
And it was Craig Breen that produced a stunning drive to win the stage, confirming from the outset the very strong pace of the C3 WRC on this surface and the Irishman's ability to adapt to new stages. Craig's stage win also meant he led a WRC round for the first time in his short career. It was an almighty performance given the conditions, with constant changes in pace and road profiles, on perhaps the roughest surfaces seen in the WRC for a long time. The crews were not only forced to avoid the sharpest stones, but also contend with poor visibility caused by hanging dust on the stage.