Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT combined speed and reliability to make it through one of the hardest legs in the championship. Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle ended the day second overall, once again in contention for a final podium spot. Meanwhile, Craig Breen and Scott Martin lie sixth, more than holding their own on their first proper experience of this unusual event, whilst Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson completed day one in fifteenth place, thus meeting their target, which was to amass experience with the C3 WRC.
Held on roads around Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, to the south of Villa Carlos Paz, this first full day of racing was a daunting challenge for the drivers. This was due to its length, obviously – covering more than forty-three percent of the total competitive distance – and the high temperatures too, but above all, this was due to the nature of the stages contested. Extremely quick and littered with embedded rocks, the stages promised to provide the cars with a very serious examination of their reliability, as they took quite a battering from the roads.
In these demanding conditions, the C3 WRCs displayed all of their qualities: after having been hampered by hanging dust on the opening stage and then had difficulties finding the right pace on the next test (SS3), Kris Meeke finished the morning loop in style. With two consecutive second fastest times, he made it to midday service in third place. He picked up where had left off in the afternoon, with another second fastest time on the first stage after lunch, enabling to move up into second overall, and end this opening leg 22.7s behind the leader, despite a puncture on the day’s final stage.
Craig Breen was not to be left out: set back by a ten-second penalty for arriving late at the time control yesterday evening, he gradually made up the time, notably grabbing the third fastest time on the morning loop’s longest stage (33.58km) and setting several top-five times, despite his limited knowledge of the stages. Third fastest again on the day’s final stage, he end the leg sixth overall, just 4.8s behind the driver ahead. It has been a remarkable performance so far for the Irishman after his appearance here was cut short last year.
Meanwhile, Khalid Al Qassimi focused on improving as he completed more stages, trying to accumulate miles behind the wheel of the C3 WRC. He ended the day in fifteenth position.
Tomorrow’s leg features seven more stages, including two runs on Cuchilla Nevada – Rio Pintos (40.48km), the longest test of the week-end. The action promises to be very exciting again. Especially as conditions may be more difficult, with fog and rain forecast for Saturday…
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“Given the difficulties of today’s leg, we can obviously be pleased that Kris end the day in second place. He managed to be get the balance right between being competitive whilst avoiding any mistakes. That was the right approach to adopt. On his return to competitive action, on a rally where he still has a lot to learn, Craig not only set some encouraging times, but he also upped his pace as he completed more stages. As such, he also had a fine day. Meanwhile, Khalid stuck to his plan, which was to get his bearings again and gradually up his pace when he felt comfortable.”
“Although our day got off to a difficult start, with some visibility issues on the first stage and some problems finding the right pace on the next one, we worked things out after that. This was a daunting leg so we’re pleased to have been both smart and consistent. I felt confident behind the wheel, which just goes to show that the changes made to the car are going the right way and that we have to keep it up. If there is fog tomorrow, then that blows the whole thing wide open again because the gaps will end up being minutes rather than seconds. So it’ll be up to us to perform!”
“It was a pretty good leg for us, given our lack of knowledge of the stages. I think I made a real breakthrough in the afternoon, in trying to adapt my driving style to the handling of the C3 WRC. My time on the final stage shows this and that augurs well for the rest of the rally.”
Khalid Al Qassimi
“With the fog we experienced in recce, my pace notes weren’t perfect but we made it to the end of this leg whilst making steady progress. Although the first loop was difficult, I felt more confident on the afternoon loop thanks to the adjustments to my C3 WRC’ set-up by the technical team.”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
- Tänak / Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:30:38.6
- Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) + 22.7
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 28.6
- Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 29.5
- Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 36.4
- Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) + 41.2
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 58.5
- Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 1:07.9
- Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:10.3
- Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:33.7
- Al Qassimi / Patterson (Citroën C3 WRC) + 8:03.8