Citroën determined to end the 2019 season like it started
To get back on the podium at least
The Citroën Total World Rally Team will be aiming to get back on the podium at the conclusion of the WRC season in Australia and with Sébastien Ogier – Julien Ingrassia and Esapekka Lappi – Janne Ferm leading the charge, it has every chance of doing just that.
Having held the overall lead during eight stages at last year’s rally before ultimately finishing third, the C3 WRC has already shown that it is perfectly at home down under. Now placed in the expert hands of Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, three-time winners of this event (2013, 2014 and 2015), it is expecting to get back among the frontrunners, especially as the car has consistently improved on gravel throughout the season.
It won’t however be plain sailing for the Citroën Total World Rally Team’s French crew from third on the road on Friday’s leg. Whilst their starting position means they should have the beginnings of a line to follow – as long as the weather stays dry – the thick layer of loose gravel will certainly not have been entirely swept off the roads by the time they come through the stages. However, the team knows it can rely upon the six-time world champions to show plenty of panache and fighting spirit to try and overcome the disadvantage of their road position.
Meanwhile, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm should enjoy better and more consistent grip from ninth position in the running order on day one, once again provided that the weather remains dry. The Finns are certainly determined to try and make the most of their position to conclude their first season with Citroën with the best possible result, adding to the three runner-up spots they have secured in the C3 WRC (Sweden, Finland and Turkey).
Esapekka and Janne have already shown that they are capable of producing genuine speed on these roads, where you need to be fully committed. They were joint leaders last year with the C3 WRC of Mads Østberg and Torstein Eriksen after SS2, before issues caused by a watersplash dropped them out of contention for overall victory.
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“We have learned the lessons from Spain and everyone on the team is totally committed to the goal of getting back on the podium in Australia, as well as continuing to plan for 2020 so that we can start the new season in the best possible shape. If the weather stays dry, then Esapekka and Janne will have a great chance here. It’s an event they really like. Meanwhile, although Sébastien and Julien aren’t as well placed in the running order, they have already proven in the past that they are capable of producing very strong performances from that kind of position.”
“The target is now to finish the season on a high and try to secure another win. We know, however, that this is a rally where it’s always very tough to be high up the running order if the weather stays dry. I hope the fact two cars will be running ahead of us means we’ll be in better shape to do something, especially as overall, the stages are pretty nice to drive, even though there are a few changes to the itinerary this year. We’ll need to limit the time lost on Friday so that we have a better road position for the rest of the weekend.”
“Obviously, this is a rally that I like. We made a great start last year but then an issue prevented us from having a decent position in the running order for the rest of the rally. Nevertheless, I still have some very good memories. The stages are pretty quick. The roads are narrow in places and lined with trees, which means they are unforgiving if you make the slightest mistake. So you need to be brave in the car if you want to post competitive times here! In any case, the C3 WRC has already proven itself to be very fast on both slow and fast gravel rounds, so I’m going to try and fight for the win here.”
With some stages set against magnificent, picture postcard backdrops and others held on roads in unwelcoming jungle terrain where you might come across snakes and poisonous spiders, the final round of the season marks a radical change in scenery for the WRC. Based in Coffs Harbour since 2011, located on the east coast of Australia halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, the itinerary of the 2019 event is generally familiar with a few minor changes.
Following an appetiser consisting of two runs over a revamped Super Special stage on Thursday evening, the crews tuck into the main course on Friday, the longest leg of the weekend, featuring some 123.22 kilometres of timed stages. Day one differs from last year in that the Coldwater test has been lengthened (+ 2.66km) and a new stage has been added, Kookaburra Road, blending sections from a number of tests used in 2017 and 2018. As usual, a thick layer of loose gravel sits on top of the hard-based roads that will be swept clear as cars come through the stages, providing the weather stays dry. As such, the running order will have a major influence on the outcome. One of the main challenges for the crews will therefore be to end Friday’s leg as high up the standings as possible in order to have a decent road position on Saturday, from which they can continue to fight. This is made all the more important by the fact that Saturday’s leg is pretty long with a competitive distance of 116.99 kilometres, including the Northbank and Utungun stages that were last contested in 2016 in the opposite direction.
For a change, Sunday’s final leg will not be a sprint finish, with some 81.66km still left to tackle. Once again, a few modifications have been made to spice up proceedings right to the end. New stages have been added in Mount Coramba and Lower Bucca, consisting of sections previously used in 2017 and 2018, some that were contested before in the opposite direction, whilst the popular Wedding Bells Power Stage has been lengthened by more than three kilometres.
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