ON THE PACE OF THE LEADERS
After Craig Breen spent long periods fighting for a podium spot, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT come away from Wales with the satisfaction of having seen the C3 WRC prove it is competitive once again, on a surface where you need to adapt to the constantly changing levels of grip.
THE STORY OF THE RACE
Wales Rally GB is fairly unusual for a gravel event: for once, due to the saturated state of the ground, it is invariably preferable to start high up the running order before the roads turn into a mudbath. Running tenth and eleventh on the road respectively throughout Friday, i.e. the last of the WRCs, Mads Østberg and Craig Breen were therefore by no means at an advantage. However, armed with confidence from the traction and handling of his C3 WRC, Breen managed nonetheless to pull off the impressive feat of staying in touch with the leaders, ending the day within 13s of the fourth-placed driver. Østberg, who struggled slightly more with the conditions, finished day one eighth overall. Craig Breen confirmed his very good form on Saturday by closing to within two seconds of the podium by the end of the leg, after 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 strongly to end the day in fifth place, claiming a stage win and setting an impressive series of three consecutive second fastest times (SS12, SS13 and SS14) in the process. The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT drivers were clearly determined to get – and stay – among the frontrunners right to the end! They therefore went on the attack early on Sunday morning, with the roads 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, had to settle for eighth overall.
TWO QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
What is your analysis of this year's Wales Rally GB?
Above all, 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 really difficult to read. On day two, for example, out of a total of nine stages, at least one of our C3 WRCs – if not both – finished in the top three on six occasions, winning one of the tests. Whilst our rivals fight it out for the titles at the end of this season, that shows that we are right in the mix, regardless of the racing conditions. The fact is the level of grip was pretty low on Saturday morning, before the roads dried out more in the afternoon, so it's really pleasing we were so competitive.
You were very close to the podium this weekend…
Yes, having closed to just 1.7s of third placed on Saturday, we had to roll the dice and go for it on the final day and that is precisely what Craig did. The truth is that when you are pushing 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 work harder again to do even better there.
Having witnessed Craig Breen's performance at 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 motived 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. He therefore realised that if he picked up his speed a little bit, he could really do something here. It's a rally that he knows better than some of the others and to be honest, he's just pretty good when the conditions are consistent like they were here, even if they're very tricky! He never lost faith either, even when he set a time that wasn't quite so good, because he tended to know why. Having said that, he has 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 it'll have done him the world of good to have been involved in a rally where he was fighting at the front. 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!"