At the end of this evening’s short but very difficult opening leg, during which almost all the drivers ran into trouble of some kind, Craig Breen – Scott Martin and Kris Meeke – Paul Nagle made it to the Gap service park in seventh and ninth places respectively. Their positions were not a fair reflection of the pace of the cars, as once again, Monte lived up to its reputation for unpredictability.
Only 62.18 kilometres of timed stages, i.e. barely 16% of the total competitive distance, were contested this evening. However, these first two stages came with the difficulty of being held after nightfall, with only the lamp pods to guide the cars. First up, a genuine test of guts and bravery: contested this year for the first time in the opposite direction, the opening stage between Thoard and Sisteron has made plenty of rallying history over the years, due to the snow that is ever present around the Col de Fontbelle.
Covering the tarmac over almost three kilometres on this opening stage, and mostly on the downhill section, the snow provided the teams with a real headache in terms of tyre choice in service before the start in Digne-les-Bains. Although feedback from the safety crews suggested that that the loop was predominantly dry, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT crews decided to play it safe in opting to take six Michelin super soft slicks (SS6).
However, Craig Breen and Kris Meeke needed all of their acrobatic talents to get through this critical section, where they both lost time, after briefly getting stuck in ditches like many of their WRC rivals. In setting the fifth fastest time, just 24.6s off the leader, Breen got off the lightest, whilst the cost was heavier for Meeke, who finished tenth, some 1:44.7 off the pace.
The trouble encountered on the first stage then made it difficult for them to be completely relaxed on the second, especially as Craig Breen – who had trouble contacting his safety crews – arrived late at time control and set off on stage without the correct pressure in his front tyres.
Featuring six stages in the Hautes-Alpes, Drôme and Alpes de Haute Provence departments and covering a competitive distance of 144.88 kilometres, i.e. 37% of the total distance, tomorrow’s leg will be the longest day of the rally for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT. The team is determined for its crews to show what they can do, especially as the weather looks set to shake things up…
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“Obviously, this wasn’t the start we were hoping for, especially as we had made the right call on tyre choice. There was a difficult section on the first stage, which proved more costly for us than many of the others. Inevitably, our crews were then on the back foot on the next stage. I nonetheless note the positive feedback from the drivers about the handling of the C3 WRC, and I have high hopes that we’ll back able to show that over the course of remaining three long legs.”
“On the snow, I understeered slightly, so I pulled the handbrake and ended up spinning in the middle of the road. Most of the time, you’d just turn round with the handbrake and set off again. This time, I decided to stay calm and just reverse to get the car facing the right way but, unfortunately, we slipped into a ditch. It was a stupid and very frustrating mistake. The feeling wasn’t great on the next stage either. But there’s still a long way to go in the rally.”
“On the first stage, we got stuck on a verge for almost thirty seconds, and we needed help from the spectators to get going again. Without that minor error, we’d have grabbed the stage win. And then on the road section to the next stage, we lost time getting corrections from our safety crew and arrived late at time control, which meant we picked up a ten-second penalty, and we didn’t have the correct pressure in the tyres because we didn’t have time to adjust them before the start. It’s not been a dream start, but I’m really pleased with our pace when everything was going well.”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 38’09’’8
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 17’’3
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 25’’6
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 37’’4
Tänak / Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 42’’4
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 55’’4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 1’02’’3
Bouffier/Panseri (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1’51’’0
Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) + 2’12’’7
Camilli-Veillas (Ford Fiesta R5) + 2’42’’2