45th Wales Rally GB (3 – 6 October 2019) – Finish
Wales Rally GB lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest events on the WRC calendar as Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia negotiated the unpredictable Welsh weather and muddy conditions to finish third overall. Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm made it to the end of the rally, having been forced to rejoin under Rally 2 rules, gathering considerable experience in the process.
With today’s final leg only covering 38.42 kilometres, and held on stages well known to the all the crews, it was asking a lot of Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia to make up the deficit to the top two crews. Matters were only made worse when the Great Orme stage (4.74km), where some big gaps appeared last year, was cancelled this year for safety reasons. At that point, the French pair focused on keeping clear of trouble in the many tricky sections, before going for it in the Power Stage. They were second fastest on the final stage, therefore adding four bonus points to those awarded for finishing third overall.
This result is Citroën Total World Rally Team’s eleventh podium in twelve rounds this season and the French crew’s eighth top-three finish, and ensures they remain in second position in the championship, twenty-eight points behind the leaders.
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia moved into the top three after the rally’s first proper stage, before driving really aggressively in the C3 WRC on Friday afternoon, claiming two stage wins and confirming their intention to try and secure a sixth win at this round. They ended the opening leg just 3.4s off the lead. Determined to pursue their push on Saturday, not only the longest leg of the weekend but also contested without a mid-leg service, the six-time world champions once again pushed as hard as they could in an exciting and closely-fought scrap at the front. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite able to match the pace of the other two championship contenders. They therefore began today’s final leg in third place, 17.3s behind the leaders and 6.3s off second place.
After driving somewhat cautiously on the first proper stage as they got to grips with the handling of the C3 WRC on the greasy Welsh roads, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm immediately upped their pace with a fourth fastest time, 4.0s off the pace on the following stage (Penmachno, 16.19km). A third fastest time, just 1.0s off the leading pace on Aberhirnant (SS5, 10.26km) meant they made it the mid-leg service on day one just 7.8s off the podium. However, they were then caught out by one of the stages’ many changes in grip, overestimating the grip available on a braking point at the start of the second loop. They went no further on the opening leg. Having rejoined the action under Rally 2 rules on Saturday, they focused on improving their knowledge of the subtleties of the event and learning what it is like to start first in the running order on muddy, slippery roads, sometimes flooded with standing water. They nonetheless showed impressive speed at certain points, scoring a third fastest time on the Power Stage, within a second of the stage-winning time.
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver
“The Power Stage sums up our weekend in many ways: we have been a couple of tenths back throughout the rally. We tried our best and gave it absolutely everything, but we were just a bit short of performance whilst Ott had a super weekend. It’s not a great result for us in terms of the championship with just two rounds to go, but we’re going to keep fighting tooth and nail for as long as it remains possible mathematically to win the title.”
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver
“For sure, it’s a shame to find yourself out of contention on the Friday. But there are some positives because learned a lot here. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of performance we managed to show in the C3 WRC despite having had totally dry conditions for our pre-event test.”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
What is your analysis of this slightly disappointing weekend?
Yes, I suppose we have slightly mixed feelings about our weekend. Obviously, there are many things we can be pleased about, not least securing the brand’s eleventh podium in twelve rounds this season. We also showed great reliability with the C3 WRC, especially on Saturday when we had to cover almost half of the total distance with no service period. On the other hand, we had hoped to be more competitive so that Sébastien and Julien could keep moving upwards in the championship standings, especially as they once again showed incredible fight at this rally. It’s an event where they excel, as can be seen in their performance on the Power Stage. Instead of making up ground, however, they have dropped a little further back. Similarly, we were hoping for better for Esapekka and Janne, but they were a little unlucky in drifting marginally off the line at the wrong place. We saw afterwards in the pace they showed that they obviously could have secured a strong result this weekend, but you need quite a bit of experience to read the grip on these muddy gravel roads, something that they are still in the process of gathering. They also learned a lot during the rest of the rally, by being consistent.
How do see the final two rounds?
Obviously, the situation in the championship is more difficult now and we’re going to need a bit of good luck to turn things in our favour. But we’re not about to give up. We now have to work hard to give Sébastien and Julien a car that enables them to fight for victory at these two remaining rounds. Last week, Sébastien spent a day testing on tarmac at our Satory test track. This week, we had another test there and next week, we’ll be holding a four-day test in Spain. We’re going to give it our very best shot, so we have no regrets at the end of the year.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEKEND
Until the end of the Power Stage, the Citroën Total World Rally Team tried everything to limit the points dropped in the championship, with a team strategy that was close to perfect.
Despite their misfortune on day one, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm constantly showed their competitiveness on the Welsh roads, whenever they weren’t too hampered by the conditions. This is why the team encouraged them to express their talent on the Power Stage, as part of a team strategy designed to nick as many points as possible from their rivals. The Finnish pair executed their part perfectly, topping the timesheets as many other crews completed, until Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia moved ahead of them by less than five tenths. Neuville tried and failed to dislodge the two Citroën crews, before Tänak finally managed to grab the top time by just over four tenths of a second.
FINAL PROVISIONAL STANDINGS
2. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3:00:58.0
3. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +10.9
4. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +23.8
5. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +35.6
6. Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +48.6
7. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) +58.2
8. Tidemand / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5:23.8
9. Breen / Nagle (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 9:25.0
27. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +35:53.7
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
1. Ott Tänak – 240 points
Sébastien Ogier – 212 points
1. Thierry Neuville – 199 points
2. Andreas Mikkelsen – 102 points
3. Kris Meeke – 98 points
4. Elfyn Evans – 90 points
5. Jari-Matti Latvala – 84 points
6. Esapekka Lappi – 83 points
7. Teemu Suninen – 83 points
8. Dani Sordo – 72 points
* Subject to publication of the official standings by the FIA
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
1. Hyundai WRT – 340 points
2. Toyota Gazoo Racing – 332 points
3. Citroën Total WRT – 278 points
4. M-Sport Ford WRT – 200 points
* Subject to publication of the official standings by the FIA