Citroën: Evening kick-off in Wales
"Given our lack of testing, it went fairly well"
Day one of the Wales Rally GB was packed with action, featuring free practice and the qualifying stage, followed by the opening stages held under cover of darkness. With the first three, short stages completed, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie fourth overall, 16.2s behind the leader. After making a cautious start to the rally, Robert Kubica and Michele Ferrara hold seventh position in the DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT.
Following two rounds on tarmac, the WRC competitors were once again faced with the thrills and spills of the qualifying stage, which is used to determine the running order for the first leg of the gravel rallies. Mikko Hirvonen, Robert Kubica and Dani Sordo finished this first timed test bunched together in sixth, seventh and eighth places respectively.
Ahead of his first rally behind the wheel of the DS3 WRC, Kubica reiterated the long list of challenges facing him this weekend: “The greatest challenge involves changing the language of my pace notes. As regards the car, the DS3 WRC is more powerful than the RRC. The aerodynamics are also more effective, although they only play a marginal role in this category. At the end of the day, the car is easier to drive but it’s still difficult to find the final few tenths. The rally itself is interesting. You have to feel for the changes in grip from one corner to the next. I’m particularly apprehensive about the night stages that we are driving on today.”
When it came to choosing starting positions, Dani Sordo already knew that it would be difficult for him to secure a good result in Wales. As the no.3 DS3 WRC was found to be using a ninth chassis for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT this season, the Spaniard was handed a five-minute penalty. Despite this error, the Spaniard stood united with the team: “We can all make mistakes: drivers, mechanics and engineers. There’s nothing I can do about it now and I’m here to drive the car. That’s what I’m focussing on at this final round of the season.”
After heading off from Llandudno, the crews completed three stages, together adding up to less than 25 kilometres. Mikko Hirvonen ended the day as the highest-placed Citroën driver. Fourth overall, he was pleased to have stayed in touch with the leaders: “Given our lack of testing, it went fairly well. I made a few minor changes to the set-up before SS3 and it seemed better. We’re going to keep working on it.”
Despite already matching the pace of considerably more experienced drivers, Robert Kubica was above all satisfied to have kept out of trouble. “It was dark and slippery,” summarised the Pole on his return to the service park. “I didn’t take any risks in the sections where I felt less comfortable. I really lack experience in these conditions; the braking distances are more difficult to estimate. I need to rack up as many miles as possible this weekend!”
After struggling to drive with freedom due to a temperamental lamp pod, Dani Sordo ended the first leg looking rather long-faced: “I just couldn’t push with the headlamps – first, they were too high and then, they were too low… I’m looking forward to getting on with tomorrow’s stages!”
In the Citroën Top Driver series, Bryan Bouffier leads the standings by just 2.5s from Quentin Gilbert. The championship’s two title contenders, Sébastien Chardonnet and Keith Cronin hold fourth and fifth positions respectively. The Irishman is 45s adrift of his rival, however, after picking up a puncture.
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