Citroën: After the gravel, time for tarmac
A unique event on the World Championship calendar, Rally Catalunya calls for specific preparations. On Thursday morning and throughout Friday’s leg, the crews focused on managing the tyres provided by Michelin.
This strategy would go a long way to determining the standings at the end of the first part of the rally, contested on gravel. It was vital for drivers to keep their tyres in good condition during the morning and afternoon sessions on Friday so as to remain competitive on Terra Alta, a 35-kilometre test that concluded each loop.
Mads Østberg proved to be especially committed and focused. Sixth in Barcelona, he began the gravel leg with a stage win and grabbed second place overall on SS3 (Caseres). However, on the longest stage, he picked up a slow puncture when on course to move into the overall lead and dropped 28 seconds, falling back to fifth place. In the afternoon, the Norwegian was among the frontrunners again and moved closer to the podium places with a stage win on SS7. He ended the day in fifth, 29.7 seconds behind the leader.
Less experienced on these roads, Kris Meeke adopted a more measured pace. Fourth on Thursday’s test, he ended this morning’s loop in ninth position. The Ulsterman used the afternoon’s second runs to close the gap to the leaders. He held eighth position after SS9, less than thirty seconds adrift of his team-mate.
In the third DS 3 WRC, Khalid Al Qassimi was held up by a handbrake problem at the end of SS7. Forced to disconnect the system between stages, the Abu Dhabi Racing driver picked up a three-minute penalty for arriving late at the time control. He finished the opening leg on gravel down in 22nd position.
In another DS 3 WRC, Stéphane Lefebvre continued to accumulate more experience. He was thirteenth overall as the WRCs headed for service to convert to tarmac-spec. In the FIA Junior WRC, the championship leader held the advantage after day one: Quentin Gilbert led by three seconds from Simone Tempestini, with Terry Folb third over two minutes back.
A long service is set to take place this evening in Salou. In 1 hour 15 minutes, the technical team will convert the DS 3 WRCs from gravel to tarmac configuration. When they make it to parc ferme, all the cars will be ready to tackle the 200 kilometres of tarmac stages spread over the next two days.
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “Mads was very quick today. He was in confident mood and won two stages. He would have been better placed in the standings had it not been for the puncture. He was already shown he can be competitive on tarmac in Spain, so the rest of the rally may also suit him. It was a more difficult day for Kris, who didn’t contest these stages last year. He was more on the pace this afternoon on the second runs. We all know how good he is on tarmac in the DS 3 WRC, so he has a chance to move up the standings starting tomorrow.”
Mads Østberg: “I’m very pleased with our performance today! It really was a great day. Obviously, the puncture on the longest stage lost us time, but these things happen. This afternoon, we managed to be on the pace again. The nature of the rally is now going to change. It will be a totally different challenge on tarmac and I want to keep fighting at the front.”
Kris Meeke: “I couldn’t call upon my knowledge of these stages, because I made a mistake last year. Without that experience, the roads are genuinely difficult and have lots of tricky sections. I’m fairly happy with my pace on the second runs. I hope I can find the right rhythm on tarmac and climb a few places. That’s the aim for tomorrow: move up the standings.”
Khalid Al Qassimi: “We found the right balance between driving fast and staying on the road. Having put soft tyres on the rear for the first three gravel stages, there was a lot of movement and we went off the line a few times, without any dramatic consequences. On the second loop, on hard tyres, the car’s handling was better. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the handbrake at the end of SS7. We had to perform repairs and it took us about twenty minutes to disconnect the system. Although I had to pump on the brake pedal to slow the car on the last two stages, I think that this was the right decision in order to be able to finish the day.”
HOW THE ACTION UNFOLDED
SS1 – Barcelona (3.20km) – The crews set off on Thursday afternoon for 222 kilometre road section in order to contest the opening stage on tarmac, in gravel configuration, in the streets of Barcelona. Sébastien Ogier set the fastest time, ahead of Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Kris Meeke. Mads Østberg was sixth fastest, whilst Stéphane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi finished outside the top 10.
SS2 – Móra d’Ebre – Ascó 1 (9.62km) – The first gravel stage of the rally and first stage win for Mads Østberg, shared with Hayden Paddon. Sébastien Ogier held onto first position, just ahead of Robert Kubica. Kris Meeke set the eighth fastest time. Stéphane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi lost 15 and 29 seconds respectively. Lorenzo Bertelli retired on this, the day’s first stage.
SS3 – Caseres 1 (12.50km) – Stage win for Robert Kubica, who grabbed the overall lead. He finished ahead of Mads Østberg and Hayden Paddon on this stage. Kris Meeke was eleventh fastest, Stéphane Lefebvre was thirteenth and Khalid Al Qassimi ended in twenty-fifth place.
SS4 – Bot 1 (6.50km) – Ott Tanak set the fastest time on the day’s shortest stage, just ahead of Mads Østberg who closed to within 3.2 seconds of overall leader Robert Kubica. Kris Meeke set the ninth fastest time. Stéphane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi lost 10 and 14.8 seconds respectively.
SS5 – Terra Alta 1 (35.68 km) – Featuring a mix of gravel and tarmac, the day’s longest test proved to be a costly experience for Mads Østberg. The Norwegian picked up a slow puncture whilst on his way to grabbing the overall lead, losing almost thirty seconds. Jari-Matti Latvala claimed the stage win, ahead of Sébastien Ogier. The World Championship leader reclaimed the overall lead before the regroup that marked the mid-way point of the day. Kris Meeke set the ninth fastest time, whilst Khalid Al Qassimi and Stéphane Lefebvre dropped more than a minute. Robert Kubica lost over five minutes after picking up a puncture.
SS6 – Móra d’Ebre – Ascó 2 (9.62km) – After stopping in Ascó to change tyres, Ott Tanak and Robert Kubica shared the joint stage win, just ahead of Mads Østberg. Jari-Matti Latvala became the new overall leader ahead of Tanak, Ogier, Sordo and Østberg. Kris Meeke was eighth fastest, climbing up to eighth overall. Lefebvre was seventeenth on the stage whilst Al Qassimi was 21st.
SS7 – Caseres 2 (12.50km) – Second stage win of the day for Mads Østberg, followed by the leader Jari-Matti Latvala and Thierry Neuville. Kris Meeke finished tenth fastest, just ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre in twelfth. Khalid Al Qassimi stopped after the stage with locked-on handbrake.
SS8 – Bot 2 (6.50km) – On the second on the shortest stage of the day, Ott Tanak finished in front of Jari-Matti Latvala and Dani Sordo. The DS 3 WRCs were all bunched together, with Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke finishing in eighth and ninth positions, ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre, who was twelfth. After checking into time control eighteen minutes later in order to disconnect the handbrake, Khalid Al Qassimi managed to get away again.
SS9 – Terra Alta 2 (35.68km) – Sébastien Ogier won the final stage of the day and reclaimed the overall lead ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo and Mads Østberg. Kris Meeke ended the leg in eighth position and Stéphane Lefebvre made it back to service in thirteenth. After being handed a three-minute penalty, Khalid Al Qassimi fell out of the top 20.
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