Citroën wants to finish on a high note in Australia
"We can also take advantage of our position"
Following its recent victory last time out at Rally Catalunya, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT’s line-up for the final event of the year ’down under’ features Craig Breen – Scott Martin and Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen. The crews will be aiming to maintain the improving form shown by the team in the second half of the season.
A TOTAL CHANGE OF SCENERY
With a ten-hour time difference, unusual wildlife, a wide variety of road surfaces, partly held on gravel tracks in the Australian jungle, partly on smooth, flowing roads that look remarkably like those in New Zealand, the final round of the season signals a total change of scenery. In this rather unusual context, Craig Breen – Scott Martin and Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen, the Red Army’s works crews for this round, will nevertheless not be venturing completely into the unknown. They will have the bearings they have acquired throughout the year in the C3 WRC, which was not only in contention for long periods for a podium place here in 2017 but has also proved its competitiveness this season. This was certainly the case during the car’s recent victory at Rally Catalunya, which, as the only mixed-surface round on the calendar, is considered to be the year’s ultimate all-round test. This year’s edition also provided the additional challenge of highly varied weather conditions. Although Craig has only contested this rally once before, last year, he had shown his undoubted ability to adapt quickly as he held fourth place with just four stages to go. His Norwegian team-mate, despite missing last year’s rally, is pretty familiar with the specifics of the event, having made three previous appearances down under. Back in the team line-up after having made way for Sébastien Loeb in Spain, Mads knows how important it will be to get on the pace straight away. This will allow him to take full advantage of his eleventh position in the running order on day one and therefore of the ’cleaned’ roads, provided of course the weather remains dry. If that is not the case, however, we have already seen in the past that the roads can turn into a bit of an ice rink, where it is preferable to be among the early starters. Eighth on the road on Friday’s leg, Craig Breen also has a great chance and will be determined to confirm the very strong pace he has shown recently on gravel.
MINOR ADJUSTMENTS TO THE ITINERARY
With the exception of Coldwater (SS2/SS5), which has not been used since 2014, this year’s itinerary features relatively minor changes – tests contested in the opposite direction and various sections of stages pieced together – and will be familiar to the championship regulars. Saturday’s leg, the longest of the rally with ten stages and a competitive distance of 133 kilometres, includes the former Nambucca stage, noted for its smooth, flowing surface somewhat similar to the roads in New Zealand, which has this year been split into two tests: first of all, Argents Hill Reverse, then Welshs Creek Reverse. Longer than most Sunday legs (83.96km of timed stages), the final day of racing will see the crews tackle roads to the north of Coffs Harbour, reputed for their bumpy nature, which will be hard on the suspension and dampers. No letting up, right to the end of the season!
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
"After being rewarded for our constant efforts by our recent win in Catalonia, the entire team is determined to finish the season on a high on this overseas round. This is especially true given that last year we were pretty competitive on the first appearance of the C3 WRC in Australia. We’ll be hoping that the weather is kind to us on the opening leg and that we can also take advantage of our position in the running order to make the most of our opportunity."
"Although I missed this round last season, I’m delighted to be competing here again, especially as I know the stages well, given that they don’t change that much from year to year. It’s a fast event, really enjoyable to drive. I’ve always been quick here, even though a bit of bad luck on occasions has meant that results haven’t always reflected my speed. I haven’t driven my C3 WRC for a little while now but I hope that I’ll adjust to it again as quickly as possible. With our road position, in theory, we have a very good chance to do something here. It’s up to us now to make the most of the opportunity."
"Although last year was my first appearance here in Australia, I had good speed on the stages, until unfortunately I got caught out by a heavy downpour on Sunday’s leg. This year, some older sections from 2014 to 2016 have been brought back into the itinerary, but I love this rally and I’ll be doing everything possible to compensate for my lack of knowledge of the stages. I have high hopes that I’ll be on the pace, as I was during the opening leg on gravel in Spain! Given that it includes parts of stages used in the rally, the shakedown is really representative, so it should help us get our bearings."
A RALLY, A CHALLENGE
The ground itself
Covered with a fine layer of tiny round stones before the cars tackle the stages at full speed, the hard local roads are especially slippery for the first drivers in the running order. When the WRCs, with their powerful engines and considerable traction, begin to mark the lines on the road, the challenge for the crews involves using them as effectively as possible, whilst taking great care not to drift outside of these lines. Otherwise, chances are that the driver will be caught out by a sudden loss of control of the car, such is the difference in grip between being inside – or outside – of the racing lines. You therefore need to know how to slide around corners in controlled fashion. Make a mistake and at best, you lose time and at worst, you end up off the road!
Since the rally moved base from Perth to New South Wales (Kingscliff in 2009 and then Coffs Harbour since 2011), Citroën has always been competitive, with no fewer than four podiums (2ndand 3rdin 2009, 3rdin 2013 and 3rdin 2015) in seven years, but it has never quite managed to win the event. In 2011, Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier were the quickest off the mark, but they both went off, caught out by dreadful conditions caused by torrential rain. In Perth, however, where legend has it that you needed to touch the statue of a Kangaroo in the city centre in order to win the rally, Citroën prevailed at the event on two occasions. It was also there that Sébastien Loeb, according to Didier Clément, his long-time engineer, made an important step forward in his career. At the 2003 rally, he finished as runner-up, twenty seconds behind Petter Solberg after having fought with the Norwegian for long periods for the win. After a difficult Rally Finland, the French ace had made good use of a test session held after the race. Something clicked into place for him, whilst the team also made a few minor but key adjustments to the set-up of his Xsara WRC...