Following a difficult start to this year's Monte, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team showed great strength of character and determination to move up the standings and score important points in the drivers' and manufacturers' championships.
THE STORY OF THE RACE
The strength of all great teams is the ability to stick together and grind out results, even when the going is tough. With the seventeen points scored by Kris Meeke in the drivers' championship, the eighteen points added to the team's tally in the manufacturers' championship and the Power Stage win, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT proved its strength of character this weekend in Monaco, after a frustrating start to the race. Unfortunately, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle ran into trouble on Thursday evening's opening leg – held after nightfall – on the daunting Thoard-Sisteron stage (36.69km), where the snow covering a three-kilometre section near the top of the Col de Fontbelle caught out many of the crews. After dropping just under two minutes on this first stage, their rally was already set to head in a different direction to that planned. Worse was to come for the team, as Craig Breen and Scott Martin were also hit by poor luck on Friday morning. A stone lodged itself in one of their C3 WRC's wheel rims and damaged the brake calliper's bleed nipple. This meant that they gradually lost the brakes on the next three stages of the loop and despite their attempts to perform repairs, they fell back from seventh to tenth place with the rapid loss of three minutes.
This stroke of bad luck was all the more harsh on them because it left them forced to open the road on Saturday, literally tracing a line in the snow for the crews behind to follow. In conditions like these, it’s difficult not to lose momentum. Especially as this edition of the Rallye Monte-Carlo turned out to be one of the toughest in recent years, with a wide variety of grip conditions on the roads used in all four legs. But Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT remain focused on the job in hand and on its targets. The Red Army was never wrong-footed when it came to tyre choice. Similarly, the set-up of Kris Meeke's C3 WRC was gradually fine-tuned, allowing him to grow in confidence and move back up into fifth overall, whilst Craig Breen took advantage of any opportunities to remind everyone of his talent and pace. For example, he set a third fastest time, just 2.2s off the leading pace, on Saturday's final stage, and another on the second pass over the iconic Col de Turini. The team eventually saw its persistence and determination rewarded when Kris Meeke's claimed victory on the final stage and moved up to fourth overall, successfully holding off repeated attacks from those behind him.
QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
What did you think of the team's frame of mind during your first rally in charge?
With its unpredictable weather and the resulting difficulties in making the right call on tyre choice, you have to say that Monte-Carlo is no easy introduction to the WRC! Having said that, I was very impressed by the way in which information was shared in the team, between the engineers, weather reporters, Michelin's technician and so on. Communication was good and there was a constructive working atmosphere, and that augurs well for the future. Similarly, I'd like to pay tribute to the performance and unity of our mechanics, especially on Saturday evening, when they worked together to change the gearbox on Kris Meeke's C3 WRC, whilst also adjusting the chassis settings, in good time.
How would you assess the performance of your drivers?
With the misfortune Craig and Kris suffered in the early stages, unfortunately they both found themselves a long way off the pace very quickly, but they show exemplary strength of character to not get discouraged. Craig set some good times when the conditions were kinder to him again. As for Kris, after lacking confidence in the set-up at the start, he refrained from throwing himself recklessly into a fight that he knew from the outset would be difficult to win. He waited for his opportunity to come, showing great race management and experience. This approach shows just how much he has grown into his role as team leader. His has made a good start to the drivers' championship, although we are well aware that we need to keep working in order to become even more effective on all surfaces.
What areas do you intend to work on for the future?
I think we got a clear idea of what was working well on the C3 WRC in some conditions and what worked less well. But Kris' fastest time on the Power Stage showed once again that the car has the speed. When everyone is going for the bonus points, you can't say it's a second-rate win!
A maiden win on the Power Stage!
With twenty-six stage wins secured in 2017, at nine of the thirteen rounds on the World Championship calendar, the Citroën C3 WRC has already shown it possesses genuine pace on several occasions. However, it had never previously won the Power Stage, the closing speed test at each rally for which bonus points are awarded (five for first place, four for second, and so on until one point for fifth place). So that's another milestone that be crossed off the list! The result also shows that real progress has been made during the winter, because there are many drivers who really go for it in the Power Stage in attempt to pick up extra points, especially those who have nothing left to race for in the overall standings. Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle proved to be the quickest between La Cabanette and the Col de Braus, on fourteen kilometres of uneven, technical and narrow roads. With fourth place overall taken on the final stage, and the championship points they claimed as a result, the two men were able to secure a richly-deserved result, just rewards for the team that had not hesitated to redouble their efforts during the off-season.