THE WEATHER MUDDIES THE WATERS IN SARDINIA
Although Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT's two crews had their fair share of misfortune, Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen and Craig Breen – Scott Martin made it to the end of day one in their C3 WRCs. They hold fifth and seventh positions respectively, after an opening leg made difficult by the particularly unstable weather. Meanwhile, Stéphane Lefebvre and Gabin Moreau lead the WRC2 class in their C3 R5, having scooped three stage wins during the day.
Sardinia was hit by heavy localised storms in the last twenty-four hours, making conditions on the island highly uncharacteristic for today's opening leg. With some stages as muddy as the Welsh forest roads, others merely wet and some even totally dry, the day's eight speed tests provided a serious challenge for the crews, who had to contend with constantly changing levels of grip.
In conditions like these, not only do you need to anticipate potential shifts in the weather but you also need to be able to read the changes in grip from inside the cabin. Mads Østberg showed he had the required skills as he claimed the second fastest time on the opening test, before then suffering slightly from the consequences of a minor impact with a rock (SS4) and an ill-judged tyre choice for each of his runs on the formidable Tergu – Osilo stage. However, he finished the day on a positive note with another second fastest time, just 1.1s off the pace, on the day's final stage. Fifth overall overnight – within striking distance of the frontrunners – the Norwegian is very experienced at this event and knows very well that there is still a long way to go…
Despite an overshoot on the day's opening stage, Craig Breen quickly got back into the swing of things with a fine fourth fastest time, just 3.3s off the stage-winning time, on SS3. Unfortunately, he then stalled the car three times on SS6, losing precious time, and then made another minor mistake towards the end of the next stage, just as he was showing very strong pace judging by the splits. He might well have ended the day higher up than his seventh place had it not been for these minor setbacks.
Meanwhile, Citroën Racing's third representative in Sardinia, Stéphane Lefebvre demonstrated the array of qualities of the new C3 R5 as he ended the leg with the WRC2 category lead and also claimed three stage wins.
Although the unseasonable weather is forecast to let up tomorrow, there will still be plenty of difficulties. Almost 150 kilometres of timed stages await the crews, including two passes on the long stages Monti Di Ala (28.52km) and Monte Lerno (29.11km)…
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"It's hard to feel anything other than frustrated this evening, because we have made a series of minor mistakes today that have proved costly in terms of time.Both cars have nonetheless made it back to service intact and Mads in particular remains in contention for one of the minor places. We're also hoping that Stéphane can keep up his superb performance."
"It hasn't been a very good day for us, especially due to the problems we had with the handbrake. On twisty stages like those we had today, we tend to use the handbrake a lot. I stalled three times on one of the stages and lost quite a bit of time. I'm going to be running second on the road tomorrow, which will probably be difficult, but I'll do everything I can to try and make up the time lost."
"This rally has never been easy, but today's crazy weather undoubtedly made it even more difficult. We were a bit unlucky, especially with two mistakes on tyre choice for the Tergu-Osilo stage, but I'd rather focus on the second fastest time on the final stage, which means that we will have a pretty good road position for tomorrow."
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
- Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:35:56.9
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +18.9
- Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 37.2
- Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 41.6
- Østberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) + 58.3
- Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 1:01.5
- Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 1:26.0
- Lefebvre / Moreau (Citroën C3 R5) + 4:02.9 (1st WRC2)