KRIS MEEKE GOES FLAT OUT!
Day one of Rally de España saw an intense battle develop at the front between half a dozen crews. Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle were among them, ending the day in third place, just three seconds behind the leaders. Meanwhile, Stéphane Lefebvre and Gabin Moreau grew in confidence as the day progressed, finishing the gravel leg in ninth position overall.
- Contested predominantly on gravel, the opening leg of Rally de España was made up of two runs on a loop of three stages: Caseres, Bot and the treacherous Terra Alta stage, a 39km-long gravel test also featuring a tarmac section that proved especially hard on the tyres.
- Indeed, for the morning loop, tyre selection was the hot topic in the service park. In the Citroën camp, the crews went with a mix of four soft and two hard Michelin Latitude Cross tyres.
- Fourth on SS1, Kris Meeke showed his hand – and pace – in setting the fastest time on Bot 1. The Briton's charge was slowed on Terra Alta: in looking after his tyres in the heat, he had to concede a few seconds in order to avoid picking up a puncture. At the midday service, Kris held fifth place, just 7.6s behind the leader.
- Stéphane Lefebvre's morning was a bit more difficult. Lacking experience at this event, the young Frenchman struggled to find the necessary confidence. As he headed back to Salou for the midday service in eleventh position, 40s off the pace.
- For the second pass on the stages, all the crews opted to go with hard tyres. The Citroën C3 WRC crews adopted an aggressive strategy, taking just one spare tyre.
- After losing a few seconds with a spin on Caseres 2, Kris Meeke then grabbed another stage win on Bot 2. Managing the wear of his tyres perfectly on Terra Alta 2, he set the second fastest time, just 8/10the off the stage-winning time. At the end of the first leg, the no.7 C3 WRC held third place, 3s behind the leader, Andreas Mikkelsen.
- This second pass was also positive for Stéphane Lefebvre, who produced a fine performance on Bot 2 in setting the fourth fastest time. Reducing the gap to the leading drivers on all of the stages, he moved up into ninth position.
- At the end of a trouble-free day, Khalid Al Qassimi held 19th position in the third Citroën C3 WRC. For the Abu Dhabi driver and his team-mates, it is now time to switch to tarmac mode. After a long 75-minute service, during which the mechanics will convert the cars to tarmac configuration, the rest of the rally will be held on the smooth, flowing asphalt roads of Catalonia.
- Tomorrow, the cars will set off from Salou at 6.45am for the longest day of the rally. The leg features seven stages, covering a total competitive distance of 121.86km.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "The major unknown today was about how much of an influence cleaning would be. In the end, it didn't produce any huge gaps and the leading crews remain fairly closely bunched together. Which is very interesting from a competitive point of view! Kris had a very good day, which has left him well placed among the leaders. He'll now be able to make the most of the potential of the C3 WRC on tarmac to stay in the fight. Stéphane had a tougher day, but there are positives to be taken from the progress he made. At an event that he doesn't know very well, he managed to improve between the two passes and he certainly has the potential to move further up the standings in the next two legs."
Kris Meeke: "This morning, we didn’t make the right tyre choice. The soft tyres went off on Terra Alta, so I had to manage my pace a little and drop some time. It didn't matter that much, because the gaps remained pretty small. On hard tyres, I was able to push almost from start to finish and I really enjoyed driving the C3 WRC. It's a bit frustrating to have made a mistake on SS4; if it weren't for that, I'd be leading. But in any case, I'm in a good position and am pleased with the day."
Stéphane Lefebvre: "After a long break, it was difficult to come back and compete at event that is almost unknown to me. I took it easy in the trickier sections and pushed when I felt more confident. We didn't make any mistakes and I managed to add to my experience. The two passes on Terra Alta showed that you really need time to understand this type of stage. We'll have to reset in order to tackle tomorrow's leg on tarmac in the best possible shape."
Khalid Al Qassimi: "I had a good feeling this morning, although I felt the car lacked precision on occasions. I was cautious, especially on the tarmac section on Terra Alta. We made quite a lot of progress with the set-up during service and I was happy with the handling. I think the upgrades on the dampers are a definite improvement."
1. Mikkelsen / Jæger (Hyundai i20 WRC) 1:11:56.3
2. Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1.4
3. Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +3.0
4. Tänak / Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +6.3
5. Østberg / Eriksen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +7.1
6. Sordo / Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +10.8
7. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +12.8
8. Hänninen / Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +33.6
9. Lefebvre / Moreau (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:02.2
10. Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:05.5
… 19. Al Qassimi / Patterson (Citroën C3 WRC) +5:05.4