UNPREDICTABLE CONDITIONS AHEAD
This weekend Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT heads to Wales, the venue for round eleven of the championship, which will see some of the most unpredictable, slippery conditions of the season. With Craig Breen / Scott Martin and Mads Østberg / Torstein Eriksen still representing the team, Citroën has high hopes for a rally where historically the team has performed well.
EXPERIENCE IS KEY
Although the Welsh forest stages encourage the drivers to push their cars to the limit, experience is needed if you are to avoid getting caught out by one of the countless changes in grip. The roads are often greasy in places, kept damp by the invariably heavy rain in the thick forest sections. The local gravel stages are reputed for harbouring many challenging sections where thick fog can make it almost impossible to see properly at times.
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT's drivers, Mads Østberg and Craig Breen, are certainly not newcomers to this rally. With twelve and seven appearances in Wales respectively, they have a solid idea of what to expect and the challenge that lies ahead. Mads has finished on the podium on two occasions here (runner-up in 2011 and third in 2014), the latter outing when competing for Citroën. He will therefore be aiming to produce a similar performance this year.
Bolstered by the large number of Irish fans likely to make the trip due to its proximity to Wales, Craig Breen will also be determined to build on the speed he demonstrated in the C3 WRC last year and be among the leaders in Wales. The drivers will feel even more comfortable in the car this year as it has had several significant upgrades (rear sub-frame and front axle geometry) since they were last in Wales.
WEATHER INVARIABLY PLAYS CRUCIAL ROLE
The weather is once again likely to play a vital role in proceedings. If it rains, Mads and Craig's starting positions for Friday's leg (tenth and eleventh respectively) could prove to be a major obstacle, with the roads likely to become increasingly slippery as more cars complete the stages. Even if the roads remain dry, there will still be plenty of difficulties to contend with.
Average speeds would increase dramatically in the dry, but it is unlikely that the damp, tricky sections on the forest roads will dry out completely. The other challenge stems from the fact that the crews will have to tackle the 150.24 kilometre-long leg on Saturday, the weekend's longest day, without a proper service period, which means that any mistake or technical issue can quickly become fatal to their chances.
The rally retains most of its iconic stages, but a few new speed tests have been introduced, such as Penmachno (16.95km) and Slate Mountain (1.63km) on Friday, Elsi (10.06km) on Sunday and some revised portions on Brenig, Sweet Lamb Hafren and Gwydir.
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "Although the weather may affect our performance on the opening leg, we have done all we can to get the best performance possible out of the car, particularly by holding some good test sessions in Wales. Both Craig and Mads enjoy this unusual event and know it very well, so although you need to make sure you don't get caught out by the slippery conditions, even when it's dry, I think we have a good chance of doing well here."
Craig Breen: "This is as near as it gets to a home rally for me, so it's obviously a special event, especially as I have some very good memories here. I know the roads well and I had a very good feeling during our pre-event test so I'm keen to get a good result here. The real difficulty here is trying to assess the level of grip as quickly as possible. You have to trust your feeling, look at the colour of the dirt and gravel, and also rely on your experience from previous years. If the stages are dry, then the ground tends to be pretty rough and you need to look after your tyres."
Number of appearances at the event: 7
Best result: 12th (2010)
Mads Østberg: "I really like the Welsh rally as I've had a few good experiences here. The C3 WRC was comfortable on these roads last year and our pre-event test here last week was very productive so I'm feeling confident ahead of this weekend. At a rally like this, where you are pushing really hard, you need to be completely comfortable with your car and extremely careful with your pace notes. You then have to try and not get caught out by one of the slippery sections where there is a sudden change in grip."
Number of appearances at the event: 12
Best result: 2nd (2011)
- 23 timed stages covering a total of 34 km
- 24 km of timed stages on Saturday with no service period
- 28 Michelin tyres to be selected from among 28 mediums and 16 softs
- Three overall wins secured by Citroën at Wales Rally GB: Sébastien Loeb from 2008 to 2010 (C4 WRC)
A RALLY, A CHALLENGE
A very tricky road surface
Wales Rally GB's reputation as a particularly demanding event largely stems from its harsh weather, with rain, mud and fog often making for treacherous conditions and the highly changeable level of grip. Most crews describe it as an unpredictable event: some sections provide more grip than expected, whilst others are like driving on black ice. It is therefore important to know the roads well and to be able to assess the changing surface conditions.
As it is being held three weeks earlier than usual this year, the rally may for once be contested on dry roads. This is unlikely to stop it from being tricky, however, especially on the second passes, as the road surface becomes increasingly muddy and as a result extremely slippery in places.
2009 Wales GB Rally
Despite trailing championship leader Mikko Hirvonen by one point before the rally, which at the time was the final round, Sébastien Loeb won his sixth world title that year, in what he has previously admitted was one of his most closely contested world titles.
While he led the rally from start to finish, he held only a slender 5.3s advantage over his Finnish rival at the end of the opening leg. However, during Saturday's leg, Loeb and Elena delivered the kind of exceptional performance that only they were capable of producing. Pushing hard all the way in the rain, they extended their lead to 25s in the space of just two stages. Although the pair had a minor technical alert on Sunday, they held on to the end of the rally, whilst Hirvonen lost time after his bonnet came loose on the penultimate stage.
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Citroën is an international automotive brand with a full range of cars and light commercial vehicles at the heart of the mainstream market. Founded in 1919, Citroën has made its mark through its bold and creative approach to automotive design. These values are harnessed in the pursuit of well-being, with fresh solutions to the changing demands of customers in each era. Today, Citroën is reinventing itself with models such as C3 and the New C3 Aircross compact SUV that place an emphasis on design, comfort and intelligent technology, bringing a breath of fresh air to the automotive landscape. As a people-minded brand, Citroën is proud to offer products that take inspiration directly from its customers, the spirit of which is highlighted in its brand signature ‘Inspired By You’. The brand also offers a unique customer experience with its city store concept ‘La Maison Citroën’ and its online opinion site ‘Citroën Advisor’. With 10,000 customer contact points in almost 80 countries worldwide, Citroën sold more than 1.1 million vehicles in 2016. Citroën has also amassed eight Manufacturers’ titles in the FIA World Rally Championship and three consecutive Manufacturers’ titles in the World Touring Car Championship in 2014, 2015 and 2016.