Rally d’Argentine (27-30 avril 2017)
Frustrating on many levels, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT’s weekend in Argentina ended with both cars retiring. The team remains confident in its potential and must now turn its attention to the next few events where, as ever, it will be looking to get back to winning ways.
The story of the race
On Thursday evening, Rally Argentina began with a city centre stage, held in the streets of Córdoba. After spending a night in parc ferme, the cars set off on Friday for a long leg, featuring eight speed tests.
Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle immediately challenged for the lead. After SS3, the no.7 Citroën C3 WRC was second overall, less than ten seconds behind the leader. But on Santa Rosa – San Agustin, the British driver was caught out by a compression: the car was launched into the air, landing on a bank and rolling off the road. He managed to finish SS4, losing several minutes in the process.
Craig Breen also finished this stage at a crawl: on the same compression as his team-mate, the Irishman landed heavily and was unable to avoid the underbody hitting an exposed bedrock. The gearbox was damaged by the impact and became stuck in fifth gear.
Both cars were forced to retire for the day on the road section as the damage suffered was too substantial to allow them to complete the loop. In an attempt to ensure their crews could rejoin the race under Rally2 rules, Citroën Racing’s mechanics and engineers undertook some very extensive mechanical repairs.
On Saturday, both C3 WRCs drove out of parc ferme, but the mechanics spotted an oil leak on Craig Breen’s car in service. In order to avoid damaging the engine, the Irishman did not take part in the second leg. That meant the team had enough time to remove the powertrain so that a part damaged in the previous day’s impact could be replaced.
After checking that his car was working properly on the opening speed test of the day, Kris Meeke was back on the pace again: he grabbed two stage wins (SS11 and SS12) before the mid-leg service. Unfortunately, the second pass on the stages ended with the Northern Irishman going off the road again. After hitting a bank at high speed on SS14, the Citroën rolled an incredible eight times! This time, Kris’ rally was well and truly over.
On Sunday, Craig Breen was therefore the team’s sole representative for the final leg. On his first appearance at the rally, the Irishman was pleased to be able to get some experience on such a specific event. Fourth fastest on El Condor – Copina and third on Mina Clavero – Giulio Cesare, he showed his ability to adapt and progress quickly. At the final service, the team nonetheless decided to retire the car, in order to have the full quota of spare parts allowed by the regulations for the next few rallies.
Pace not converted into results
Obviously, the actual result is decidedly short of the expectations of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT, a ten-time winner of Rally Argentina. “We have the capacity to achieve our target, i.e. win the rally”, commented Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Kris recorded a series of fastest and second fastest times, which illustrates that the C3 WRC has the necessary pace. Similarly, Craig’s times on Sunday’s leg – right in the middle of the fight for the overall win – provide further confirmation of this. And yet, we haven’t managed to turn that pace into a good result here. Since the start of the season, we’ve paid a very heavy price each time there have been obstacles in our path. We are going to keep working hard and not give up, because we are convinced that our efforts will eventually start paying off. Our approach will remain aggressive: rather than aiming for a result in the World Championship, we want to win rallies and that means a certain level of risk-taking.”
Among the few pleasing aspects of the weekend, the great job done by the mechanics came top of the list. The repairs done to Kris Meeke’s C3 WRC after his off on Friday will go down as one of the great feats of the Red Army’s technical team. “Our mechanics have undoubtedly formed the best rally team for the last fifteen years,” emphasised Yves Matton. “They worked tirelessly to repair the car, which was obviously back in perfect condition since Kris scored two stage wins on Saturday. So it’s sad that their commitment and hard work weren’t more generously rewarded. It’s always a shame to lose a car that has restarted under Rally2 rules to another off.”
Next stop: Portugal
As soon as it returns from South America, the team will begin preparations for the next few rallies. A test session, scheduled to be held in Italy, will be used to prepare for Rally de Portugal and Rally Italia Sardegna. At the next round (18-21 May), four Citroën C3 WRCs will be entered for Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle, Craig Breen/Scott Martin, Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau and Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson.