C3 WRC SETS SAIL FOR CORSICA

62nd Tour de Corse (28-31 March) – Preview

The first rally to be contested on clean tarmac this season, round four of the 2019 WRC is also Citroën Total World Rally Team’s home event. Hopes are therefore high for the French outfit’s crews, Sébastien Ogier – Julien Ingrassia and Esapekka Lappi – Janne Ferm, especially as the major changes made to the route may well suit them.

Having won last year’s rally after leading from start to finish, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia spearhead the challenge of the Citroën Total World Rally Team on the Mediterranean island this season with the firm intention of claiming a third win in four races, following victories in Monte-Carlo and Mexico. The French crew, who also won the 2016 Tour de Corse on a route that had already undergone substantial changes, have shown in the past their ability to take good pace notes on the two runs allowed in recce, before then really going for it on the increasingly wide roads used on the island rally. Sunday’s leg in Monte-Carlo, contested on dry tarmac, equally confirmed that they were full of confidence when driving the C3 WRC on this surface.

Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm also stood out at the 2017 Tour de Corse, finishing as top performers with four stage wins (one tied), including the Power Stage, as the battle among the championship contenders for bonus points raged around them. They were even in contention for third place before a puncture put paid to their challenge on the penultimate stage. So the young Finnish driver comes into this round with genuine hopes of a strong result on a surface where he feels particularly at home, having competed in karting races between the ages of six and sixteen.

Long-time leader in 2017 and winner of three stages during last year’s rally, the C3 WRC has always been very competitive at this round, where its celebrated predecessors (Xsara Kit-Car, Xsara WRC and C4 WRC) have won the event a total of six times in the past. The new Citroën crews each had two days of testing in the car on the Corsican roads last week to review and fine-tune the set-up options.

REACTIONS FROM…

Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal

“Obviously, the French round of the WRC is a special event for us and in front of our home crowd, we’re determined to finish on the podium for the fourth time in as many races. Nevertheless, we know just how unforgiving these roads can be, especially as this year’s itinerary focuses on endurance. And at this time of year, the weather can also be fairly unpredictable. In any case, Sébastien and Esapekka have both shown undeniable speed on these types of road, as has the C3 WRC, and preparations in Corsica last week mean that we come into the rally in good shape.”

Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver

“The route has been changed quite a lot again this year, but that has already happened before here, which has meant that I have often had to get to grips with new stages and that tends to suit me. It adds a bit of stress and adrenaline to the race, and it can lead to there being bigger gaps than usual. When the stages are new for everyone, obviously the difference comes from who does a very good job during recce and then has sufficient confidence in their pace notes to push right from the word go. We also know about the qualities of the C3 WRC on tarmac. Our pre-event testing was really productive and the feeling was good in the car. Clearly, I’m also very keen to do well at our home round of the WRC and keep our good run of form going.”

Number of appearances at the event: 5
Number of wins: 2 (2016 and 2018)


Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver

“I have always really enjoyed this rally and I can’t wait to get started. I love driving on clean tarmac like here or in Catalonia. The challenge will be to take good pace notes from the word go. I think pace notes are even more important on asphalt than on gravel in order to get the line right and to know what speed you can carry through corners. With the revised itinerary, we’ll all be in the same boat as regards familiarity with the stages. Although it won’t be easy, it’s an opportunity for us, since we generally have a bit less knowledge of the roads on the other rallies. In any case, our tests went well and I feel confident. I hope I can be at least as competitive as last year.”

Number of appearances at the event: 3
Best result: 6th (2018)

KEY FIGURES

14 timed stages covering a total of 347.51 km
133.34 :the number of kilometres this year where crews will need to take new pace notes
47.18 km for Castigniccia, the weekend’s longest stage, held twice on Saturday’s leg
6 overall wins secured by Citroën at the Tour de Corse in the WRC: 1 with Xsara Kit-Car (1999), 3 with Xsara WRC (2001, 2005 and 2006), 2 with C4 WRC (2007 and 2008)
2: for the second year running, Citroën France is the lead official partner of the Tour de Corse.

TOUR DE CORSE SCHEDULE
(GMT+1 until 30/03, GMT+2 from 31/03)

With the opening leg taking the crews from Porto-Vecchio to Propriano, then heading north on day two towards Castagniccia, Cap Corse and the Désert des Agriates, before finishing next to Calvi, this year’s edition of the classic island rally remains faithful to the recently-restored tradition of touring the whole of Corsica.

In addition to the various regions covered, the 2019 Tour de Corse has plenty of other ingredients to make it a serious test. The total competitive distance is now close to 350km (compared with 333.48km in 2018), Friday’s leg only has a tyre-fitting zone at the midway point, Saturday features some 174.50km with two runs on the 47.18km-long and especially demanding Castagniccia stage, all rounded off with a longer Power Stage (19.34km) than usual, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Fango valley.

The other major difficulty stems from the fact that more than 62% of the itinerary has been revamped. Of the fourteen stages, only three – Valinco (SS2/SS5, 25.94km), last contested in 2015 , Cap Corse (SS7/SS10, 25.62km) and Désert des Agriates (SS8/SS11,14.45km), both contested last year –  are familiar to the current crop of world championship crews. This makes it all the more important for them to get to grips with and take good paces notes on the 133.34 new kilometres in just two passes during recce at a limited maximum speed (80kph). Recce looks set to be every more crucial than usual and will call for unremitting concentration throughout.

THURSDAY 28 MARCH

9.00am: Shakedown (Sorbo Ocagnano)

FRIDAY 29 MARCH

7.00am: Start Day 1 (Porto-Vecchio)
7.05am: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)
8.29am: SS 1 – Bavella 1 (17,60 km)
9.24am: SS 2 – Valinco 1 (25,94 km)
10.32am: SS 3 – Alta-Rocca 1 (17,37 km)
12.41pm: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)
2.05pm: SS 4 – Bavella 2 (17,60 km)
3.00pm: SS 5 – Valinco 2 (25,94 km)
4.08pm: SS 6 – Alta-Rocca 2 (17,37 km)
7.38pm: Flexi service A (Bastia airport– 45 mins)

SATURDAY 30 MARCH

6.05am: Start Day 2 & service B (Bastia airport – 15 mins)
7.38am: SS 7 – Cap Corse 1 (25,62 km)
9.08am: SS 8 – Désert des Agriates 1 (14,45 km)
10.14am: SS 9 – Castagniccia 1 (47,18 km)
12.32pm: Service C (Bastia airport – 40 mins)
2.38pm: SS 10 – Cap Corse 2 (25,62 km)
4.08pm: SS 11 – Désert des Agriates 2 (14,45 km)
5.14pm: SS 12 – Castagniccia 2 (47,18 km)
6.34pm: Flexi service D (Bastia airport – 45 mins)
8.24pm: Parc ferme (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)

SUNDAY 31 MARCH

7.30am: Parc ferme out (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)
8.10am: Service E (Bastia airport – 15 mins)
9.45am: SS 13 – Eaux de Zilia (31,85 km)
12.18pm: SS 14 – Calvi Power Stage (19,34 km)
1.18pm: Finish (Citadelle de Calvi)
3.00pm: Podium (Citadelle de Calvi)


DS TECHEETAH AND JEAN-ÉRIC VERGNE WINS THE SANYA E-PRIX

DS TECHEETAH driver celebrated his first race win of the 2018/2019 ABB FIA Formula E Season today at the Sanya E-Prix in China.

After a thrilling start to DS TECHEETAH’s home E-Prix, Jean-Éric who qualified second, made his move to take the lead and it kept all the way to the chequered flag with an extremely strong drive. Meanwhile, his team-mate, André Lotterer who qualified in P7 made his way up the grid to finish in P4 in the closely contested race.

Mark Preston, DS TECHEETAH Team Principal“What a day, our first race win as a new team and what a stellar drive from Jean-Éric to take the win at our home race. We had some homework to do after Hong Kong and we still have some left but Jean-Éric really pulled it all together today. André did a great job as well scoring some more valuable points and we’re now third in the Teams’ Championship, Jean-Éric is third as well in the Drivers’ Championship and André is in P9. We have two of the best drivers in the paddock and one incredible team. Today was a real team effort and I’d like to thank each and every team member for their efforts.

It’s incredibly tight at the top of the Teams’ championship now with the top two at 97 and 96 points respectively and we’re chasing right behind on 95. I don’t know how many times we say it but it’s true, anything can happen, and anything is possible in this championship, at every single race.

We couldn’t have had a better return to China for the championship and we’ve had a fantastic event not just on track, but also off-track with our new partner Atlantis Sanya. They’ve hosted our 150 guests in the incredible facilities as our guests were able to watch the whole race track and all the action from the hotel’s 48th floor suite. We’d like to extend a big thank you to them for their great hospitality and we look forward to coming back next year.”

Xavier Mestelan Pinon, DS Performance Director: “This victory is a fantastic outcome for Jean-Éric and the team and it puts us in a very promising position for the rest of the championship. We were extremely competitive in all areas for the team’s home race, in China, which is an important market for the DS AUTOMOBILES.

It is encouraging to get back in the title hunt and ahead of the next races in Rome and Paris, DS Performance will be running some development tests and further evolutions will be done to the DS E-TENSE FE19 in preparation for the first two races in Europe.”

Jean-Éric Vergne, #25 : “It was a pretty good race. Winning here in China as a Chinese team was something unbelievable, especially after the last 3 races that we had with no points. It’s always good to come back on top, it boosts the confidence of myself and the team, and puts us back in a good spot for the championship. I think this was the turning point of the season and now we need to just to keep on doing good work and have good races in the European half of the season.”

André Lotterer, #36 : “Congratulations to the team and Jean-Éric for winning the race. It’s great to win our home race! Obviously, I would have loved to have been on the podium too or even win the race as a comeback for Hong Kong. It was not a bad weekend for us, I started 7th, finished P4 and had some good overtakes and a good car. So now I look forward to going to Rome and scoring more points.”

Superbike World Championship – Thailand

Rea stays in reach

Facing a Bautista/Ducati tandem in great shape, Jonathan Rea managed to clock up three second places on the Buriram circuit. Results that allow the Kawasaki rider to keep the championship leader within reach.

Four-time world champion Jonathan Rea wasn’t born yesterday. With the arrival this year of the new Ducati Panigale and that of Alvaro Bautista behind the handlebars of the Italian bike, the Kawasaki rider knew he would have to grin and bear it at the start of the season. While waiting for the performance of the different machines to be rebalanced, Rea has had to limit the damage. That’s just what he did very well in Thailand, making it three times to the second step of the podium.

“It’s the best I could hope for this weekend,” said the Brit. “I stayed in Alvaro’s wake as long as I could, but as soon as I lost his slipstream I could do nothing else but let him go. Aside from a small stability problem on braking, I had a very good bike this weekend. The team, once again, did a great job.”

Suffering from a pinched nerve in his back, and lacking feeling with the big brake discs that the riders had to use this weekend in Buriram, Leon Haslam had to settle for three fifth places.

Toprak Razgatlioglu finished tenth on Saturday, thirteenth and ninth on Sunday. In Supersport, Hikari Okubo finished sixth, as he had done at Phillip Island for the opening of the championship.

“The difference is that this time I fought it out for a long time in the top three and I finished within five seconds from the winner,” said the Japanese. Having to start from the back of the grid because of low tire pressure during the practice test sessions, Lucas Mahias managed to take the checkered flag in eighth place.

The Championship

No change in the overall Superbike ranking for the two Kawasaki official riders. As in Australia, Jonathan Rea scored 49 points in Thailand, consolidating his second place, now 26 points behind Alvaro Bautista. Leon Haslam keeps his sixth position with 51 points on the clock. Toprak Razgatlioglu has gained two places, and is now ninth with 24 points. In Supersport, Hikari Okubo has climbed to fifth place with 20 points while Lucas Mahias is in ninth place with 12 points.

Signatech Alpine Matmut still up front!

  • At Sebring (United States), Signatech Alpine Matmut scores its sixth consecutive podium in the LMP2 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
  • With their runner-up finish, André Negrão, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet reclaim the lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
  • The n°36 Alpine A470 is now five points from the lead of the general classification before returning to Europe for the 6 Hours of Spa (May 2-4) and 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 15-16).

Last week the Signatech Alpine Matmut team arrived in Florida to begin its discovery of the Sebring International Raceway.

Following two days spent learning the Michelin tyres and the challenges posed by the atypical and bumpy legendary track, the n°36 Alpine A470 finished second in the three free-practice sessions prior to Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet qualified third in LMP2 Thursday evening.

The race began in sweltering conditions Friday at 4pm. First in the car, Nicolas Lapierre held position before picking up a place on lap four with a classic overtake move at the inside of turn one.

Pierre Thiriet took over for his double stint. After some time in third place, the Frenchman regained his spot as the skies became more and more threatening. 

After the first quarter of the race, an incident involving an LMP1 car caused a full-course yellow. The team chose to put André Negrão in the car just prior to the intervention of the safety car. Like Pierre Thiriet, the Brazilian drove a double stint before another full-course yellow in the aftermath of his stop. 

While night fell over Sebring, it became clear the race would conclude once the eight-hour mark was reached. In parallel, Pierre Thiriet was back in action before leaving Nicolas Lapierre to go for it. His two stints and the next two of André Negrāo allowed the French squad to consolidate second place as the race entered the final hour.

It began to rain in the final 20 minutes and the team made the perfect call in switching to full wets. Nicolas Lapierre’s efforts were annihilated by the incident involving Loïc Duval and the safety car period just until the chequered flag. 

Second in LMP2 and fifth overall, the Alpine A470 made it six podiums in a row while claiming a second top five in the 2018-2019 Super Season.

Quotes

Philippe Sinault, Team principal Signatech Alpine Matmut

“This atypical weekend concludes with a strong result. Sebring is a unique circuit on the calendar with the bumps, the huge grip differences, its extremely hot climate and large temperature variations. Nicolas put in an excellent start before our main rival – the n°38 Jackie Chan DC Racing – hit troubles. This quickly changed the way we raced and we chose to limit our risks. Our strategy called for Pierre to go out relatively early and he did a great job in his double stint in such conditions. This allowed us to stay in the top two and he did a good job in the evening despite a dirtied windscreen caused by another car. In parallel, André and Nicolas gave it their all to keep the leaders in their sight just until the final drama. When it began, to rain, we made the right decision in going to full wets in contrast to our rivals who opted for intermediates. If not for the accident of the TDS and the end of the race behind the safety car, our gamble would have paid off, but this sixth straight podium underscores our consistency and are place among the favourites for the title!”

Nicolas Lapierre

“There are a lot of positives to take from this weekend, notably when it comes to strategy, the pit stops, the team’s excellent adaptation to this unique track and the beginning of our partnership with Michelin. On the other hand, we might have lacked just a bit of performance in the cooler temperatures. I think we have identified the problem and we are ready to work on that aspect, but it was a strong weekend with this second place and our return to the top of the overall standings for the drivers.”

 

 

André Negrão 

“Right from the tests last weekend, we found several ways to be better in race conditions. Yet, we were not as good when it was colder, as was the case in qualifying. There was very little in it, but that does not detract from our result. We are still in contention in the Teams’ standings and we have reclaimed the lead in the Drivers’ classification. I am now looking forward to returning to Europe for our tests ahead of Spa and Le Mans.”

 

 

 

 

Pierre Thiriet

“The beginning of the race was tough with the pace of our rivals. During the night, we tried to maintain the gap and we managed to do so before this final portion of the race where the team made the right call with the tyres to seal this excellent second place. It wasn’t easy, especially for Nicolas who had to deal with the rain, but I want to congratulate the team for the fine job it has done during our two weeks in Sebring. The result is positive and promising as we head to the last two rounds of the season!”

 

 

 

1000 Miles of Sebring – LMP2
1. Jackie Chan DC Racing n°37 239 laps
2. Signatech Alpine Matmut n°36 +27:421s
3. DragonSpeed n°31 + 2 tours
4. Larbre Competition n°50 + 5 laps
5. Racing Team Nederland n°29 + 9 laps
6. Jackie Chan DC Racing n°38 + 30 laps
NC. TDS Racing n°28  

FIA Trophy LMP2 Drivers
1. Nicolas Lapierre / André Negrão / Pierre Thiriet – 125 points
2. Gabriel Aubry / Stéphane Richelmi / Ho-Pin Tung – 123 points
3. Jazeman Jaafar / Nabil Jeffri / Weiron Tan – 98 points
4. Roberto Gonzalez / Pastor Maldonado – 92 points
5. Erwin Creed / Romano Ricci – 61 points

 

FIA Trophy LMP2 Teams
1. Jackie Chan DC Racing n°37 – 130 points
2. Signatech Alpine Matmut n°36 – 125 points
3. Jackie Chan DC Racing n°38 – 123 points
4. DragonSpeed n°31 – 92 points
5. Larbre Competition n°50 – 61 points
6. Racing Team Nederland n°29 – 60 points
7. TDS Racing n°28 – 30 points

Citroën secures its second win of the season with Ogier-Ingrassia!

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia produced an incredibly calm and collected performance on Sunday’s final leg to claim their second win from three events in 2019, the C3 WRC retaining its record of finishing on the podium at every round since the start of the season in Monte-Carlo! Citroën Racing thus extended the record it holds for the most wins at Rally Mexico to eight.

Starting the day with a 27.0s lead over the second-placed crew, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia held their nerve despite the pressure applied by those behind. The pair’s controlled final day performance saw them secure victory with an extended winning margin after the final sixty or so final kilometres. They also collected five bonus points on the Power Stage with a seventh stage win, making them the weekend’s top performers. It was an excellent weekend in terms of points, as they climbed to second place in the world championship, just four points behind the leader. 

The six-time world champions had taken the lead on the second pass on El Chocolate (31.57km), the most technical stage on day one, before finishing the first leg with four stage wins and overall lead of 14.8s, despite running third on the road. Although they were briefly unseated from top spot the next day when SS10 was red flagged and they were awarded a notional time that took account of the slow puncture collected during the stage, the French pair – despite no longer having a spare tyre – went back on the attack and managed to retake the lead on the next test, Otates, with the second fastest time just 1.2s off the pace. They then went one better, finishing first on the final stage of the morning loop. The afternoon saw them claim their sixth stage win of the weekend, despite the handicap of being the only crew to carry two spares. Their performance enabled them to build up a substantial lead, allowing them to manage the final leg with the kind of control they are famous for.

Eleven years after making their world championship debut here in a Citroën C2 Super 1600, Sébastien and Julien completed their fifth win in Mexico, after those secured in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018. It’s also their second win of the season, after Monte-Carlo, and the third time in as many rounds in 2019 that Citroën Total World Rally Team has finished on one of the top two steps of the podium. Confirmation, if any was needed, of its competitiveness. 

In taking the honours for the second time in Central America after its maiden win in 2017, the C3 WRC has also made it mark at this event, despite its reputation as a particularly demanding rally due to the high temperatures and extreme altitudes, whilst Citroën Racing extended its record at this round to eight wins.

On only their second appearance in Mexico, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm quickly showed their undeniable potential. With a fourth fastest time, 6.2s behind their team-mates on El Chocolate (31.57km), and then a second fastest time (SS7), a mere two tenths off the stage-winning time on Friday afternoon, they ended the opening leg in a promising fifth position, just 2s behind fourth place. The pace set at the start of the next day confirmed that they were at one with their C3 WRC, but unfortunately a sudden change in grip caught them out and left them stranded by the side of the road. The final leg, during which they were first on the road, provided them with an opportunity to add to their experience, whilst preparing for the next few events on gravel. The point scored on the Power Stage, somewhat against the odds and as the championship contenders also battled for bonus points, served as a timely reminded that they will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season!

RÉACTIONS FROM…

Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver

“Mexico is definitely a special place for me and I’m especially pleased to secure this fifth win here and take maximum points for the championship! That was what we came for, and although it wasn’t a trouble-free weekend, we managed it well from start to finish. The potential I saw in the C3 WRC continues to be borne out. It enabled us to be top performers this weekend. It’s now up to us to keep working hard because the championship looks set to be even closer than ever before. In the meantime, I would like to thank the team for the great job done this weekend! We’ll now head for Corsica looking for a similar outcome.”

Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver

“I’m pleased to have learned how to drive on this specific surface with my C3 WRC and to have equally made progress in understanding the tyre strategy for these stages. We’re now going to concentrate on the Tour de Corse, with the intention of getting back among the frontrunners.”

TWO QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL

What can you say about Citroën Racing’s eighth win in Mexico, and the second this season?
We’re delighted with it, because it is the result of an excellent team effort! Winning here is no easy feat. The combination of high altitude and hot temperatures make it the ultimate challenge for man and machine alike. But everyone was on the ball throughout the weekend and this win is just deserts for our hard work. This event remains unusual, but it’s also always positive to win the championship’s first round on gravel because it’s the surface on which the majority of the rallies are held and although we can’t afford to rest on our laurels, it is confirmation that we are right in the mix with the C3 WRC. Three podiums in as many races – we really couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the season with our two new crews. Obviously, all of this wouldn’t have been possible without a magnificent performance by Sébastien and Julien. Every day, they showed off their full array of qualities: speed, race craft, ability to react and management skills too. We knew it already, but they really do have it all!

What did you make of Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm’s race?
They made a minor error that proved very costly, but I prefer to focus on the way in which they got to grips with the difficulties of the Mexican roads. They haven’t fully mastered them yet, but they gradually upped their game and managed to set a very respectable pace. They had a very good feeling in the C3 WRC on gravel and that augurs well for the rest of the championship.

THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEKEND

Thomas Breton, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia’s race engineer, looks back on the opening leg of the rally, perfectly negotiated by his crew.

“They really impressed me on Friday. Obviously, our road position was better than that of Tänak and Neuville, but there were others who tackled the stages on even cleaner roads. It’s also true that these sorts of conditions are always difficult to work on and reproduce in testing. We gave them an easy car to drive and they made very good use of it! They have this incredible ability to adapt their rhythm to the circumstances, to push a bit more whenever it’s necessary and to control their pace when it’s not the right moment to take any unnecessary risks.”

FINAL PROVISIONAL STANDINGS

1. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) 3:37:08.0
2. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +30.2
3. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +49.9
4. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:27.0
5. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +6:06.2
6. Guerra / Zapata (Skoda Fabia R5) +15:35.5
7. Bulacia Wilkinson / Cretu (Skoda Fabia R5) +18:51.5
8. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +18:55.9
9. Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 22:44.1
14. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1h03’40”5

DRIVER’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

1. Ott Tänak – 65 points
2. Sébastien Ogier – 61 points
3. Thierry Neuville – 55 points
4. Kris Meeke – 35 points
5.Elfyn Evans – 28 points
6. Esapekka Lappi – 20 points
7. Sébastien Loeb – 18 points
8. Jari-Matti Latvala – 14 points
9. Andreas Mikkelsen – 12 points 

MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

1. Toyota Gazoo Racing – 86 points
2. Citroën Total WRT – 78 points
3. Hyundai WRT – 77 points
4. M-Sport Ford WRT – 45 points

MotoGP World Championship

Qatar Motorcycle Grand Prix

Oliveira On the Up
Although he was not fully successful on the Losail circuit, Miguel Oliveira made a strong impression for his MotoGP debut. A rookie worth following!

From his first laps with the KTM RC16 of the Tech 3 Team, Miguel Oliveira impressed his peers with his speed, his ability to progress and his determination. The Portuguese rider, who starts this season in the premier-class category, confirmed his talent in Qatar by riding his first MotoGP Grand Prix as best he could. Starting in last position after stalling on the starting grid, Oliveira managed to get back into the pack to join the fight for tenth place with Nakagami and Espargaro. Unfortunately, the premature wear of his rear tire ruined the end of the race for him.

“I could feel the vibrations building at the back of the bike,” he said. “I felt like my tire was going to explode. I finally finished seventeenth and I was disappointed not to have scored my first points in MotoGP.”

There’s no doubt that it’s only a matter of time before he does. Lacking confidence, Hafizh Syahrin crossed the finish line in twentieth position. In Moto2, it was the Estrella Galicia 0.0 Marc VDS riders who came out on top by all making it to the top ten. Second on the starting grid, Xavi Vierge completed the first lap in the lead before downshifting to tenth place due to a lack of grip with his rear tyre in the middle of the bends. Álex Márquez finished seventh. On the side of the KTM Tech 3 riders, Marc Bezzecchi fell in the first lap and Philipp Oettl was ranked twenty-third.

The Championship

Only the two Estrella Galicia 0.0 Marc VDS riders managed to make it to the Moto2 championship standings at the finish of the first race of the season. Álex Márquez is in seventh place and Xavi Vierge tenth. The KTM Tech 3 riders will have to wait until the next Grand Prix in Argentina to try to score their first points of the season.

The Mexico notebook by… Sébastien Ogier

After coming onto the scene at a time when the French were often seen as tarmac specialists, the six-time world champion very quickly forged a reputation as an all-round driver. He answered a few question about his first experiences on gravel and his relationship with Rally Mexico.

When did you drive on gravel for the first time?

“In rallying, I think it was in the ‘Rallye Jeunes’ (Young Drivers) programme just before the start of the 2006 season, because at the time, the Peugeot 206 Cup started on gravel at the Terre de l’Auxerrois rally. Before that, when I was about eight years old, my dad got a hold of a little off-road go-kart and I had the chance to race in it on the Saint-Laurent-du-Cros track, not far from where we lived.”

What did you think of the feeling on this surface at the time?

“Well, it’s true that for many years, tarmac tended to be the preferred surface in France, but for as far as I’m concerned, the feeling on gravel came very quickly. I almost got used to it more quickly than tarmac. Perhaps it’s the sense of sliding, which is quite similar to skiing. In any case, I was lucky in that right from the start of my career I was able to compete in a mixed surface championship. It was the best thing that could have happened to me. Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer specialists on one surface or another. The Nordic drivers have become just as fast on tarmac, which also makes for even more competitive races, regardless of the rally.”

What is your best memory of Rally Mexico?

“Definitely the 2008 rally. It was my very first appearance in a WRC event and I ended up with a class win in the Junior world championship. Making your debut in this environment and it going so well straight away was like experiencing something of a waking dream!”

After hosting the ceremonial start in the centre of Mexico, on the famous Zócalo square in 2017, the organisation returned to the traditional start in Guanajuato last year. What do you think?

“It was an amazing, one-off experience to go to the centre of Mexico, even though it was a bit more complicated from a logistics point of view, but Guanajuato is a special place and one that we really enjoy coming back to every year. The atmosphere is truly unique and it’s the only ceremonial start where you get such huge, passionate crowds!”

What have you done with the cowboy boots usually given to the winner?

“I must admit that I haven’t worn them since the podium ceremony, other than on the motorbike to the airport immediately after winning last year ! But I have kept them as souvenirs, as I have kept all of my trophies. Funnily enough, the only exception to that is one from Rally Mexico, which was perhaps too beautiful and unfortunately went missing when travelling. I don’t as yet have a dedicated space for all these items in my home but it’s something I’m planning on doing at a later date. I hope to add a few more trophies to my collection, however, so I’m waiting to have a better idea of how much space I’ll need!”

CITROËN SECRETS

Spotted by Citroën during the 2007 season, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia joined the Junior World Championship a year later, after just two seasons in France. Julien recalls the crew’s first appearance in the WRC at the 2008 Rally Mexico:

“Emotionally, it really was something else to find ourselves on the other side of the world for our first international race! Especially as it is one of the most exotic, unusual rounds of the championship. So, I think it’s fair to say we were pretty stressed… Given the extensive support we had from Citroën and the FFSA, there was expectation and a bit of pressure on our shoulders. At the time, I only knew a few words in English and Seb knew even less. And we were also switching from a fairly basic 206 Cup to C2 Super 1600, which was a real racing car with a more powerful, expressive engine and a semi-automatic sequential gearbox. I can still see Seb on our first test run, forcing himself to get used to braking with his left foot, which was also completely new for him. In the end, it all worked out very well. We won the opening stage by quite a decent margin and went on to lead the race from start to finish. It was the perfect way to start our campaign. Obviously, we both have very fond memories of that weekend!”