CRAIG BREEN, THE FLYING IRISHMAN!
The long and demanding opening leg of Rally Finland was littered with drama and incidents. All three of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT's C3 WRCs came through unscathed, with Craig Breen leading the way in fourth overall… and ‘first of the non-Finnish drivers’!
- The rally got underway on Thursday evening with a first run on the Harju street stage. Craig Breen was the highest ranked of the Citroën C3 WRC drivers, finishing in fourth position.
- Today's long leg adopted a rather unusual format for the WRC. In the morning, the crews started the day by completing two passes on Halinen, Urria and Jukojärvi, i.e. six stages covering a total distance of 83km.
- Kris Meeke began the loop with a fine performance to grab second place on SS2, just a tenth slower than the stage-winning time. Afterwards, the Northern Irishman fell off the pace slightly, as he struggled to feel completely comfortable on the Finnish stages.
- SS4 (Jukojärvi 1) saw a series of incidents, as Ogier and Paddon retired for the day and Tänak ran into problems. Following a heavy landing after a jump, Craig Breen had to cope with some handling issues on his car. But they didn't prevent the Irishman from running just outside the podium places in the overall standings.
- At the mid-leg service, Craig was fourth overall, 14.2s behind the leader and just 4/10ths off third place. Kris Meeke was seventh overall, 20.2s off the pace, and continued to report that he did not feel fully confident in the car.
- After a half-hour service in Jyväskylä, the race resumed with another six stages: two runs on Äänekoski and Laukaa, interspersed with a pass on Lankamaa, and then a second run on the Harju street stage.
- Overtaken in the standings by Østberg on SS8, Craig Breen reclaimed fourth place on the following speed test. Craig then found himself battling with Hänninen, who made the most of his local knowledge to move ahead of the Irishman.
- Still struggling with a lack of feeling in the car, Kris Meeke lost time after damaging the steering when he hit a rock on his racing line. After straightening the steering tie-rod, he returned to action, with Thierry Neuville's eighth place in his sights.
- Craig Breen ended the leg in fourth position. The only non-Finnish driver in the top five, he could be pleased to remain in contention for a podium place. At the halfway point, he is only 14.9s off third place.
- In the third C3 WRC entered by Citroën Total Abu Dhabi, Khalid Al Qassimi made it to the end of what proved to be a particularly difficult leg. After working on the set-up throughout the day, the Abu Dhabi driver arrived back in Jyväskylä in twentieth position.
- Tomorrow's second leg will be a considerably shorter affair. The crews will nonetheless need to complete eight stages, including two runs on Ouninpohja.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "Overall, it has been a fairly positive opening leg. Throughout the day, Craig Breen managed to set times that were within a few tenths of the leading drivers and he tops the entirely unofficial ‘non-Finnish driver’ standings. That demonstrates the performance level of the Citroën C3 WRC and shows that the work undertaken in the last few months has been effective. Kris Meeke had a bit more difficulty in letting go and the minor impact with a rock forced him to lift off the throttle at the end of the day. In any event, he has driven intelligently and sensibly today. We can't afford to let up tomorrow, because the second leg will bring further difficulties."
Craig Breen: "It's been a good day, even if everything wasn't perfect. This morning, after a bit of a 'big' landing over a jump, I had the feeling that there was something wrong with the handling and it was getting worse as we progressed. The team did their magic in service and the C3 WRC they handed me back was like new, but I had a few minor problems on the second loop. My pace notes weren't always perfect and I was a little too careful in places. Every tenth you give away is hard to get back, but there's still a long way to go – we haven't even reached halfway as yet."
Kris Meeke: "Obviously, it wasn't quite the day I was hoping for. I just couldn't find the feeling that I had here last year when I won the rally. Despite our efforts and the work done in service, I couldn't place the car like I wanted to and I was struggling to feel the grip. And clearly, it wasn't ideal to contest the last few stages with the damaged steering."
Khalid Al Qassimi: "It was a tough day, during which I lost a lot of time. I was constantly looking for traction and struggled to keep the car on the right line. We made a lot of changes to the set-up – the differential, the throttle, the springs – but I think there is still a lot we can improve."
UNOFFICIAL STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
1. Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:11:36.4
2. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.4
3. Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +19.0
4. Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +33.0
5. Hänninen / Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +39.1
6. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.0
7. Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.1
8. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +58.0
9. Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:07.6
10. Tänak / Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:50.2
20. Al Qassimi / Patterson (Citroën C3 WRC) +7:04.9