Tour de Corse (6-9 april 2017)
Contested in glorious sunshine throughout, the Tour de Corse provided yet further evidence of how evenly matched the 2017 World Rally Championship field is, with victory secured by a different manufacturer for the fourth consecutive rally! Between Kris Meeke’s spectacular start and the growing confidence – and pace – of Craig Breen, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT confirmed the level of performance of the C3 WRC on tarmac.
The story of the race: (twists and) turns of the tour
Since its return to the WRC calendar, the Tour de Corse has become a genuine tour of the island once again. On Friday, the opening leg was held on roads around Ajaccio. Kris Meeke started in scintillating form, winning the morning’s first two stages to grab the early lead ahead of Sébastien Ogier. Craig Breen was sixth at that point, whilst Stéphane Lefebvre was ninth on his return to the event.
Kris Meeke extended his lead on the second loop, heading back to Bastia with a lead of around ten seconds over Ogier. Craig Breen moved up to fourth place, after getting the better of Dani Sordo. Stéphane Lefebvre’s performance was in keeping with his level of experience on these roads, as he improved to eighth.
After the brilliant opening leg, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT was then hit by two body blows on Saturday morning. On SS5, Stéphane Lefebvre broke part of the suspension when he hit a low wall. Despite managing to perform makeshift repairs, he was forced to retire after exceeding the time limit to check in at the start of the next stage. Meanwhile, Kris Meeke coasted across the finishing line of SS6. The leader’s engine had suffered damage, spelling the end of the rally for the Northern Irishman.
From that point onwards, the hopes of the team rested with Craig Breen. The Irishman had also experienced his fair share of bad luck, since he had been forced to drive SS6 blind, having lost the intercom with Scott Martin! Fighting with Jari-Matti Latvala throughout the afternoon, Craig ended the leg held around Bastia in fifth place overall, around fifteen seconds adrift of third position.
On Sunday, the Tour de Corse concluded in the south of the island. On the longest stage of the rally, Craig reclaimed fourth place from Jari-Matti Latvala. However, despite grabbing the third fastest time on the Power Stage, he had to settle for fifth, losing out on fourth overall by just a tenth of a second!
Stéphane Lefebvre continued to improve on his return to action under Rally2 rules, ending the event within 7/10ths of a second per kilometre of the pace of the leading drivers. He secured the team an additional six points for the Manufacturers World Championship.
No doubt that Citroën C3 WRC is a well-designed car!
With Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle’s win in Mexico, Citroën Racing sensed that its C3 WRC had serious potential on gravel. This feeling has been further confirmed after the performances recorded at the Tour de Corse, on a drastically different surface. “We have the potential to win,” asserted Yves Matton. “We didn’t do so on this occasion, but it augurs well for the rest of the season, in terms of the targets we have set ourselves. There can be no doubt that the Citroën C3 WRC is a well-designed car.”
“Before he retired, Kris Meeke was completely relaxed behind the wheel. His confidence in the car was such that he was in total control,” continued the Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Obviously, the black mark is that he had to retire due to an engine issue. We know that it was caused by a leak from the oil lubrication system. But we’ll need to wait until the car is completely dismantled to determine the root cause of the problem.”
“Craig Breen had a very good race,” commented further Yves Matton. “After altering his driving style, especially as regards braking, he made another good step forward this weekend. Throughout the rally, he worked with the engineers to improve the set-up, to the point whereby he had a car on Sunday that he described as ‘perfect’. He also set some very good times when fighting with Ogier, Sordo and Latvala. The situation is frustrating for Stéphane Lefebvre. Once again, it was a small mistake that has cost him the chance to rack up the miles and reduce his lack of experience. In any case, he’s more determined than ever to prove his value. And he made a very genuine contribution on this rally, since he made sure we scored points with both cars. That meant we moved a bit closer to our nearest rival in the standings.”
Eagerly-awaited next few rallies
As the championship returns to gravel, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT is very much looking forward to the next few rounds. And with good reason – Rally Argentina and Rally de Portugal are two events that Kris Meeke has already won! “After the first two rallies, where results didn’t really meet our expectations, I must congratulate the team for the work they have put in,” concluded Yves Matton. “The hard work done during testing and the rallies has helped us to understand the reactions of the car more effectively. We have identified the influence of the various parameters on overall performance, noting that the relationships between these aspects could differ from our previous World Rally Cars. The areas in which we need to improve have been clearly identified and we are not going to take our foot off the pedal, because the competition is closer than ever!”