THE CITROËN CREWS MAKE THEIR PRESENCE FELT
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT crews all produced solid performances on day one of Rally Australia, meeting the targets set by Yves Matton. Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle ended the day third overall and in contention for the win, whilst Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau set a series of impressively quick times. All three C3 WRCs held top 10 positions at the end of the opening leg.
- Day one began with a loop of three stages held in the forests to the north of Coffs Harbour: Pilbara, Eastbank and Sherwood. In order to have the best possible traction on the roads' dusty, loose gravel surface, the Citroën opted to run with soft compound Michelin LTX Force tyres.
- Second on SS1 and SS2, Kris Meeke took up the same position in the overall standings behind the early leader, Andreas Mikkelsen. On the next stage, however, the Briton lost a dozen seconds or so after briefly running wide and off the road. At the mid-leg point, the no.9 C3 WRC driver remained in second place, 16.6s behind the leader.
- At this point, Craig Breen was third, just 1.1s behind his team-mate. On his competitive debut in Australia, the Irishman gradually picked up his pace: he finished seventh on SS1, fifth on SS2 and was then third on SS3!
- The start of Stéphane Lefebvre's rally was compromised by a puncture that he picked up barely two kilometres into SS1. The Frenchman remained committed and managed to set the second fastest time on SS3. At the mid-leg point, he was ninth overall, 33.9s behind Mikkelsen.
- For the afternoon loop, tyre choice proved to be trickier than in the morning. The Citroën drivers decided to run with four hard tyres and one soft. Consistently finishing in the top four on the forest stages, Kris Meeke stayed in second place and held off Neuville, who had chosen to fit soft tyres for the loop.
- Still third after SS4 despite one of his tyres coming off the wheel rim, Craig Breen lost two places on the stages that followed. After minor errors led to the loss of the front splitter and the rear diffuser, he had to contend with reduced aerodynamic efficiency on his C3 WRC.
- Just like on the first pass, Stéphane Lefebvre picked up a puncture on Pilbara. With no spare wheel, he then had to drive more cautiously to avoid the risk of getting another puncture, which would have meant having to retire. He held onto ninth place, a few seconds behind Ogier.
- Following a regroup in the service park, the day concluded with two runs on the Coffs Harbour Super Special Stage. Thierry Neuville sneaked ahead of Kris Meeke on the final two stages by just 0.7s, meaning the C3 WRCs ended the day in third, fifth and ninth positions.
- Tomorrow's second leg gets underway early in the morning with the 48.89km-long and treacherous Nambucca stage!
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "I'm pleased with the performances of our three crews today. Kris took advantage of his road position to challenge for the lead. Although he lost time after a minor mistake, he did all the important things right. There is still a very long way to go on this rally and the gaps between the cars remain pretty narrow. Craig and Stéphane were also on top of their game today, adopting a higher pace than they have done in the last few rallies. The odd minor incident also cost them a few seconds, but it's still been a positive day overall given their lack of experience on this rally. The technical team also had a very good day, giving the crews fast cars and making the right calls on tyre choice."
Kris Meeke: "I enjoyed it today, although I'm a bit frustrated to lose time with my little mistake on SS3. I had too much speed coming into a corner and we ran wide off the road and into bushes. I had to stop, reverse, turn and go again and lost a dozen seconds or so. Apart from that, everything went well and I felt very comfortable in the car. The second loop was interesting, because there was little to choose between us despite tyre choices varying considerably from one team to another. We'll have a good road position again tomorrow, and perhaps that's the most important thing!"
Craig Breen: "It wasn't all plain sailing, but it was still a good day for my debut appearance here. This morning, I was really very happy and I felt totally at one with the C3 WRC. The afternoon was harder going, with several little problems that prevented me from making the most of the potential of the car. I'm back in my happy place in fifth, but I'm not too far off the podium!"
Stéphane Lefebvre: "It wasn't quite the day I was hoping for. My two punctures – that I don't entirely understand – lost me close to half a minute. I can take nevertheless some positives from today's leg. When everything is going well, my times are similar to those of Craig and I'm managing to get into the top five. I hope to have a bit more luck tomorrow!"
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
1. Mikkelsen / Jæger (Hyundai i20 WRC) 57:51.9
2. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +20.1
3. Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +20.8
4. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +29.9
5. Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +30.8
6. Tänak / Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +33.0
7. Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +38.2
8. Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.9
9. Lefebvre / Moreau (Citroën C3 WRC) +57.3
10. Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:13.8