TWO DAYS IN ONE FOR THE CITROËN C3 WRCs
Largely determined by the weather, the standings at the end of the first leg of Rally Poland did not make great reading for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT. However, the error-free performance of Stéphane Lefebvre and the times of Andreas Mikkelsen when the poor weather let up provided some genuinely positive signs.
- The 74th Rally Poland kicked off on Thursday evening with the first run on the Mikolajki Arena super special stage. Stéphane Lefebvre was sixth fastest, the highest ranked of the Citroën C3 WRC drivers.
- As expected, incessant rain fell from dawn this morning. After service, the competitors set off on a loop of four stages held on roads in the Mazury countryside.
- As more cars completed the stages, roads conditions rapidly deteriorated: ruts formed and the surface became covered with a layer of greasy, slippery mud. Given their starting positions, the Citroën drivers knew from the outset that they had no chance of being among the frontrunners.
- Craig Breen was also let down by a mechanical issue: on SS2, a transmission problem cost him over half a minute. The Irishman was forced to contest the next three stages in a car with… three-wheel drive. He dropped more than seven minutes during the morning loop.
- Of the team's three drivers, Stéphane Lefebvre was the one who coped best with the conditions. Throughout the morning, the young Frenchman fought with Suninen and Evans for eighth place.
- In touch with his team-mate for most of the loop, despite no knowledge whatsoever of the C3 WRC in damp conditions, Andreas Mikkelsen dropped back on SS5. The Norwegian broke part of the left rear suspension after hitting a tree stump when pushing on a fast right-hander. He managed to complete the stage, got back to service and was therefore able to stay in the race, but was more than two minutes adrift of the leader by that point.
- During the mid-leg service, the mechanics repaired the cars of Andreas and Craig. Despite the team's efforts, repair work overran, meaning the Irishman was late leaving service and was given a 1m 10s penalty.
- After SS6 was cancelled (spectator safety), the race continued with the loop's three remaining speed tests and a second run on the Mikolajki Arena super special stage. This time, the conditions were more consistent for all the drivers.
- On SS7, Andreas Mikkelsen showed some form as he set the fourth fastest time. Despite a puncture on SS9, he produced a solid performance throughout the afternoon.
- Given that he had not contested the first loop at full racing speed, Craig Breen found himself off the pace of his rivals. He struggled to find any confidence and was forced to adopt a controlled pace in order to avoid making any mistakes.
- By the end of the opening leg, Stéphane Lefebvre remained the highest ranked of the Citroën drivers. Reducing the gap to the leaders substantially between the morning and afternoon loops, he completed the day in ninth place.
- Tomorrow, day two of Rally Poland will be the longest leg of the weekend, with nine stages covering some 150.82km.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "As soon as we saw the weather forecast yesterday, we knew that we would struggle to fight with the drivers near the top of the running order. The issue that Craig had in the morning only served to reduce the chances of the team even further. We also knew that the information gathered in the morning loop would help us to improve on the second runs. When the conditions were more consistent, Andreas and Stéphane set some encouraging times. You also have to remember that Andreas had never driven the car on muddy roads like these. Despite the tricky conditions, Stéphane managed to do what I expected of him today. He is fighting in the chasing group."
Stéphane Lefebvre: "It was a very difficult leg in terms of the conditions, but we managed to avoid making any major mistakes. It wasn't all plain sailing this afternoon: I got my pace wrong on SS7 and the ride height was too low on SS8. But above all, I'm pleased to have matched Andreas' times throughout the day and to be fighting for seventh place. If the weather is drier tomorrow, I think we can make up a place or two."
Andreas Mikkelsen: "It was my first time in the car on muddy roads this morning and it was very difficult to get a sense of the handling. We made a few changes during the mid-leg service and that gave me more feeling for the level of grip. The conditions were also more even and that was reflected in the times. I'm very pleased with the progress we've made today."
Craig Breen: "It's been a miserable day. I was really motivated to have a good weekend, but we were let down by a mechanical issue on SS2. On the second pass, I just couldn't find any confidence in the car. We're going to press the ‘reset’ button now and let's face it, tomorrow can only get better!"
PROVISIONAL STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 56:21.2
2. Tänak / Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1.3
3. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6.6
4. Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +35.1
5. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +39.6
6. Sordo / Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +51.7
7. Suninen / (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:11.0
8. Hänninen / Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:28.9
9. Lefebvre / Moreau (Citroën C3 WRC) 1:37.0
10. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:42.7
11. Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2:02.3
12. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:48.5
26. Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) 9:26.0