Difficult start for Citroën at Rally Poland
— The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s crews made it to the end of the daunting opening leg of Rally Poland.
— Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle finished day one in eighth place overall in the first DS 3 WRC.
— Their team-mates Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson lie tenth after today’s 155 kilometres of timed stages.
The hard work of the technical team was quickly rewarded, after Kris Meeke went off in yesterday’s shakedown. Fully repaired after rolling four times on Thursday morning, the DS 3 WRC lined up at the start of yesterday evening’s opening stage. After making a good start to the rally on the Mikołajki Arena track, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team set off this Friday morning to tackle the long opening leg.
The crews had eight stages to complete. In the middle of two asymmetric loops, the drivers and co-drivers had to make changes to the set-up of their cars and put on tyres for the second half of the day’s itinerary.
At average speeds of over 130kph, Kris Meeke made a fine start to the day with a third-fastest time. Looking to find the right feeling in the car whilst running second on the road, Mads Østberg adopted a more measured pace to slot into the top 10. By the end of SS5, after a run on one stage of almost 40 kilometres, Kris Meeke held fifth place, whilst Mads Østberg was just a few seconds behind.
At Goldap, the crews chose their tyres for the next loop. Kris opted for five Michelin LTX Force S4 soft tyres. Meanwhile, Mads mixed the compounds, with four soft S4s and two hard H4s.
In the very high temperatures, the soft compound tyres reached their limits on the second run on the 39km-long Stanczyki stage. Kris Meeke lost around twenty seconds before spinning on SS8. He ended the day in eighth position. Meanwhile, Mads Østberg’s decision to opt for two hard tyres paid dividends. Despite being handed a penalty for jumping the start on Goldap, the Norwegian moved up the standings and closed to within ten seconds of his team-mate.
Competing in the WRC2 category, Stéphane Lefebvre spent the morning in the top three. After going off on SS8 in his DS 3 RRC, however, he was forced to retire for the day.
In the FIA Junior WRC, British driver Osian Pryce leads the standings from the Frenchman Quentin Gilbert and the Italian Simone Tempestini. The top five DS 3 R3-MAXs also dominated the WRC3 category.
Saturday’s leg features eight stages on gravel roads between Mikołajki and Suwalki. The cars are due to leave parc ferme at 6.40am for two loops, separated by a midday service. The crews will complete 130 kilometres of timed sections before returning to Mikołajki from 8.38pm onwards.
Mads Østberg: “It was tricky running second on the road and sweeping the loose gravel off the racing line. I think I did a good job at the start of the rally, even though the times didn’t necessarily reflect my feeling in the car. At the end of the day, the times improved significantly. This is not the easiest event to get to grips with. Our second fastest time on SS8 is a good starting point for the second leg.”
Kris Meeke: “It’s always difficult to get the pace right at the start of rallies that are as quick as this. I was nonetheless fairly pleased with my performance this morning when we were fifth. For the second loop, we didn’t make the right tyre choice and we lost a lot of time as a result.”
HOW THE ACTION UNFOLDED
SS1 – Mikołajki Arena (2.50km) – The super special stage held close to the service park served up a number of spectacular head-to-head battles for the many fans gathered. Sébastien Ogier set the fastest time, ahead of local hero Robert Kubica. In his DS 3 RRC, Stéphane Lefebvre managed to beat Mads Østberg, who was eleventh, and Kris Meeke, who finished seventeenth after stalling at the start.
SS2 – Gorklo (13.00km) – The cars lined up for the day’s first stage at 8 o’clock this morning. Andreas Mikkelsen won the stage, at an average speed of 131.1kph. He thus became the new overall leader. Kris Meeke was third fastest to move up to fifth overall. Mads Østberg was still trying to get his bearings in tenth position.
SS3 – Goldap 1 (14.75km) – The stage was won by Ott Tanak, who also claimed the overall lead. Kris Meeke held on with the eighth fastest time, just ahead of Mads Østberg in eleventh. In the WRC2, Stéphane Lefebvre held a top-three position in the category.
SS4 – Babki 1 (14.65km) – Ott Tanak maintained his pace. He claimed another stage win, adding slight to his overall rally lead. Kris Meeke continued to fight for a top 5 spot, as Mads Østberg scrapped to get into the top 10.
SS5 – Stanczyki 1 (39.12km) – Another test driven at average speeds of over 120kph, the first run on the longest stage of the day provided Ott Tanak with another chance to shine. Kris Meeke also produced a strong performance to retake fifth position. Mads Østberg remained in eleventh position. Forced to plug his leaking radiator, Stéphane Lefebvre continued to drive at a frenetic pace. However, with a 50-second penalty, he dropped to seventh position in the WRC2.
SS6 – Babki 2 (14.65km) – After changing tyres at Goldap, the crews set off again for another four stages. Sébastien Ogier claimed the stage win on Babki. Kris Meeke grabbed the fourth fastest time, whilst Mads Østberg was tenth.
SS7 – Stanczyki 2 (39.12km) – As temperatures rose, the crews had to manage tyre wear on this long stage of almost 40 kilometres. Sébastien Ogier went fastest to retake the overall lead. Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke followed one another in eighth and ninth positions. The Norwegian moved up two places in the overall standings.
SS8 – Goldap 2 (14.75km) – With two hard tyres, Mads Østberg produced his best performance since the start of the rally with the second fastest time, just 0.8 seconds adrift of Jari-Matti Latvala’s stage-winning time. Fighting with his worn tyres, Kris Meeke was unable to avoid going off and dropped 24.6 seconds on the leaders.
SS9 – Mikołajki Arena (2.50km) – The second run on the Mikołajki Arena super special stage saw Martin Prokop take the honours. Mads Østberg produced a good performance in fifth, ahead of Kris Meeke, who finished ninth.
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