Citroën: Unpredictable conditions ahead
Experience is key
With Craig Breen – Scott Martin and Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen still representing the team, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT heads to Wales, the venue for round eleven of the championship, expecting some of most unpredictable, slippery conditions of the season.
EXPERIENCE IS KEY
Although the Welsh forest stages encourage the drivers to go for it behind the wheel, experience is needed if you are to avoid getting caught by one of the countless changes in grip. The roads are very greasy in places, kept damp by the invariably heavy rain in the thick, gloomy forests. The local gravel stages are reputed for harbouring many tricky sections that thick fog can sometimes make it almost impossible to make out properly! Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT’s drivers, Mads Østberg and Craig Breen, are not exactly newcomers to the rally. With twelve and seven appearances in Wales respectively, they have a very good idea of what to expect and the challenge that lies ahead. Mads has also finished on the podium on two occasions here (runner-up in 2011 and third in 2014), the latter outing when competing for Citroën. He therefore comes into the event aiming to produce a similar performance this year. Buoyed by the proximity of his native Ireland – and the large number of Irish fans likely to make the trip – Craig Breen will also be determined to build on the speed he showed in the C3 WRC last year and get among the leaders in Wales. It is equally true that the drivers are even more comfortable in the car, which has had several significant upgrades (rear sub-frame and front axle geometry) since then.
WEATHER INVARIABLY PLAYS CRUCIAL ROLE
The weather is once again likely to play a vital role in proceedings. If it rains, Mads and Craig’s starting positions for Friday’s leg (tenth and eleventh respectively) would prove to be a major handicap, with the roads liable to become increasingly slippery as more cars complete the stages. If however the roads remain dry, there will still be plenty of difficulties to contend with. Average speeds would increase dramatically, but the damp, tricky sections on the forest roads are unlikely to dry out completely! The other challenge stems from the fact that the crews will have to tackle the 150.24 kilometre-long leg on Saturday – the weekend’s longest day – without a proper service period, which means that any mistake or technical issue can quickly become fatal for their chances. The rally retains most of its iconic stages, but a few new speed tests are nonetheless introduced, such as Penmachno (16.95km) and Slate Mountain (1.63km) on Friday, Elsi (10.06km) on Sunday and some revised portions on Brenig, Sweet Lamb Hafren and Gwydir.
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"Although the weather may affect our performance on the opening leg, we have done all we can to get the best performance possible, particularly by holding some good test sessions in Wales. Both Craig and Mads really like this unusual event and know it very well, so although you need to make sure you don’t get caught out by the slippery conditions, even when it’s dry, I think we can have legitimate hopes of doing well here."
"This is as near as it gets to a home rally for me, so it’s obviously a special event, especially as I have some very good memories here. I know the roads well and I had a very good feeling during our pre-event test. So I’m very keen to get a good result here. The real difficulty here is trying to assess the level of grip as quickly as possible. You have to trust your feeling, look at the colour of the dirt and gravel, and also rely on your experience from previous years. If the stages are dry, then the ground tends to be pretty rough and you need to look after your tyres."
"It’s an event that I really like. I’ve had quite a few good experiences here. The C3 WRC was comfortable on these roads last year and our pre-event test here last week was very productive. So I’m feeling confident before the start. At a rally like this, where you are pushing really hard, you need to be at one with your car and completely spot on with your pace notes. You then you have to try and not get caught out by one of the very slippery sections where there is a sudden change in grip."
A RALLY, A CHALLENGE
A very tricky road surface
Wales Rally GB’s reputation as a particularly demanding event largely stems from its harsh weather, with rain, mud and fog often making for treacherous conditions, and the highly changeable level of grip. Most crews describe it as an unpredictable event: some sections provide more grip than expected, whilst others are like driving on black ice. It is therefore important to know the roads well and be able to assess the changing surface conditions. Held three weeks earlier than usual this year, for once the rally may be contested on dry roads. This is unlikely to stop it from being tricky, however, especially on the second passes, as the road surface becomes increasingly muddy – and therefore extremely slippery – in places…
2009 Wales GB Rally
Trailing championship leader Mikko Hirvonen by one point before the rally, which at the time was the final round, Sébastien Loeb won that year what he has admitted was one of his most closely contested world titles (the sixth). Despite leading the rally from start to finish, he held only a slender 5.3s advantage over his Finnish rival at the end of the opening leg. However, during Saturday’s leg, Loeb and Elena conjured up the kind of performance that only they were capable of producing. Pushing hard all the way in the rain, they extended their lead to 25s in the space of just two stages. An absolute hammer blow. Although the pair had a minor technical alert on Sunday, they held on to the end of the rally, whilst Hirvonen lost time after his bonnet came loose on the penultimate stage.
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