The final day then, and even though there were only two stages, we had the prospect of the longest stage of the whole weekend, the monster 55km stage!
The start list looked like this – Mikkelsen, Evans, Sordo, Lappi, Neuville, Tänak, Ogier, Meeke, Loeb.
Sadly, Latvala wouldn’t start. His Toyota was too damaged.
The stage start was slightly delayed, but once started, Andreas launched his car. He’d been battling understeer all weekend and was not able to show the pace that you’d expect from him. He set the benchmark at 34 minutes and 9 seconds. In the end, his time was beaten by several other drivers and our top three was Tanak, Meeke and Neuville. Ogier was fourth fastest and held a lead of 31 seconds over second placed Tanak going into the twelve and final stage.
The powerstage followed a couple of hours later. Who would top the times? Citroen and Toyota had provided the cars most likely since the start of Saturday.
It was Lappi who emerged fastest, with Loeb, Ogier, Meeke and Tanak completing the top five in the stage. Thierry suffered a mechanical problem with his Hyundai’s engine. He was not happy and didn’t even give an interview at the end of the stage.
Summing up the final day and the weekend as a whole.
Ogier had taken victory, thus extending his championship lead over the Belgian to 17 points. He’d been fast out of the blocks on Friday morning, building a lead whilst Thierry, Kris and Jari-Matti all struggled with their cars.
Loeb’s return to Corsica had promised so much and probably left more unanswered questions than before. If he returned to the championship, I believe he’d be right at the front. He’s lost none of his speed.
What of Thierry then? He had a frustrating weekend but finished on the podium. The consistency he craves is there, it’s just that the man he wants to beat is also getting good results.
Next up is Kris. He’d driven well on the whole with a car that wasn’t doing what he wanted and then on Saturday when the car was put back to the settings they used last year he was on the pace we expect from him. Such a shame then that he slid off on the final stage of Saturday and couldn’t get back on the road.
Finally, Jari-Matti. He won this event three years ago, but Toyota just didn’t have the right settings for any of its drivers to show their pace early on, but once they’d got the car where they wanted, we saw Lappi and Tanak both come forwards. Jari-Matti was starting to benefit from these settings when he had his off that led to his retirement. Hopefully this will lead to better things in Germany, the next all tarmac rally.
Looking ahead to the next event, Rally Argentina, later this month, a place that has seen first time winners in recent years. Perhaps we’ll see the Hyundai, Citroen and Toyota teams take the fight to M-Sport?
Let’s hear from the drivers then.
Sébastien Ogier (1st)
“It’s been a really good weekend for us and I am very happy with the performance. We had great pace on Friday and then just had to manage the gap after that.
“It was really satisfying to show this kind of speed – especially after last year where it was a bit more difficult. Now it seems like everything is going in the right direction – we have made some developments and I am feeling better and better in the car.”
Ott Tänak (2nd)
“Overall it has been a very nice weekend. Corsica has always been the event which I maybe enjoy the least: I have really struggled here in the past. This year I worked really hard to be consistently on the pace. We were never pushing to the maximum but we were always setting a good rhythm. On the penultimate stage, I had a really clean run and I tried to be close to the maximum all the time, and it looked like it paid off. On the Power Stage, I took no risks: I just wanted to make sure we finished in second position, which was very important. For my first time on proper asphalt with Toyota, I’m happy with that.”
Thierry Neuville (3rd)
“It’s good to finish on the podium but there has been a bit of frustration over the weekend. We haven’t been able to match the times of the front-runners, even if we tried really hard. We have to be content with the results we have achieved, securing a podium and important points for the manufacturers’ championship. In general, I am pleased with the final result but in terms of outright performance we were just not on the pace this weekend.”
Dani Sordo (4th)
“Our end result is not too bad considering the disappointing weekend we have had in Corsica. We have just not been able to find the speed and performance needed to tackle these roads. It was a similar story today; we have pushed as hard as we can but the times have not been there. Still, fourth place gives us important points for the championship so that’s something positive we can take away. Now we need to work together as a team to get more speed on tarmac for later in the season.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (7th)
“Absolutely not the result we wanted and a very difficult weekend overall. We made some more set-up changes for this morning’s two stages but unfortunately, we couldn’t find the breakthrough that we needed. It has been a challenging rally but we know that we have to do to gain more experience with this car on tarmac. We need more mileage to understand where we can find more performance from ourselves and from the car. We have some time before the next asphalt event in Germany, so we have to put in lots of effort to make the improvements we need. That’s the homework we are taking from this weekend.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
Elfyn Evans (5th)
“It was never going to be an easy weekend for us, but Phil has done an incredible job – jumping in at the last minute and getting us through without incident. We’ve collected some solid points which is what we came here to do. There is still a lot of work to do as far as the championship is concerned, but at least we can go to Argentina in a positive frame of mind and try to push for a strong result.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Esapekka Lappi (6th)
“I think we have learned a lot here both as drivers and as a team. We have been able to find a good setup for the car. Yesterday was really perfect, and the speed was good on the final day as well. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake, which I take full responsibility for. I guess the rear tyres were still a bit cold and I lost the rear a bit and hit a kerb on the outside. We broke part of the rim and the tyre started to come off so we had to stop and change it. After that it was good to win the Power Stage: there was actually more grip than I was expecting, so I just pushed harder and harder.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
Kris Meeke (9th)
“Obviously, it’s frustrating to have dropped out of contention yesterday when a top three place was clearly within our reach, but we had to get back at it today and I think we have proven our ability to do just that. We are already looking ahead and we’ll be trying and get back on the podium and turn our speed into good results at the next few races.”
Sébastien Loeb (14th)
“It’s a real shame that we went off on Friday. We would have undoubtedly been right in the mix otherwise. In any case, I’m delighted to have been on the pace again this weekend for our second one-off appearance of the season. I prefer to focus on the enjoyment we have had throughout the weekend in the C3 WRC. It is a really formidable car on tarmac and I really enjoyed driving it on these magnificent Corsican roads. It was also very nice to feel all the love and support from the French fans at our home event.”
Final Overall Classification – Tour de Corse
1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia 3:26:52.7
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja +36.1
3 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul +1:07.5
4 D. Sordo C. del Barrio +2:02.6
5 E. Evans P. Mills +2:06.1
6 E. Lappi J. Ferm +2:33.5
7 A. Mikkelsen A. Jæger +2:43.4
8 J. Kopecky P. Dresler +10:34.8
9 K. Meeke P. Nagle +10:40.5
10 Y. Bonato B. Boulloud +12:26.0
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 4
1 S. Ogier 84
2 T. Neuville 67
3 O. Tanak 45
4 A. Mikkelsen 41
5 K. Meeke 36
6 E. Lappi 36
7 J.M Latvala 31
8 D. Sordo 30
9 C. Breen 20
10 E. Evans 18
11 S. Loeb 15
12 H. Paddon 10
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
Well, what an amazing rally we were treated to! Here’s the story of how Seb Ogier won, and took the championship lead back from Thierry.
On Thursday, last year’s winner Kris topped shakedown with Thierry in his Hyundai also going very well, just a little behind the Northern Irishman, whilst Seb Loeb was getting his bearings back, going ninth fastest on his return to competitive action.
The first stage, run that evening, was won by Thierry.
Friday morning dawned bright, if a little cool. It would certainly warm up, for sure and not just the temperature, as the fight for the lead started in earnest! Nine stages faced the crews, including the longest of the rally, El Chocolate 31km test and as always, run twice!
Stage two saw Kris and Paul take the lead, whilst Thierry tumbled down to ninth as he was opening the road, courtesy of being the championship leader. Dani Sordo also had a great run jumping from eighth to second and Loeb went brilliantly to go third in the stage and move into fourth overall.
The following stage would see a big change around though! Kris found the balance of his car tricky and after being third fastest behind Elfyn and stage winner Dani, would fall to second overall, nine and a half seconds behind our new leader, Dani!
Stage four would see Elfyn and Dan roll multiple times, after losing control on a jump in sixth gear! The car wasn’t actually that damaged, but they were both taken to have medical checks done and Dan was found to have suffered concussion and they would withdraw from the event. A big shame after moving into third overall. Kris also had a big moment on a jump, but was still second overall, whilst Loeb had moved up to third after the demise of Elfyn and Dan.
The short street stage at Leon was won by Teemu in his M-Sport Fiesta, with Andreas and Loeb taking second and third. Thierry suffered from an engine issue in this stage, dropping twenty seconds as a result and dropping two places down to ninth, now more than a minute from his teammate Dani who was still leading.
Stage six started the afternoon loop, after the lunchtime service break and Kris fought back with a time four seconds faster than Dani who continued to lead the event, although it was now reduced to twelve seconds. Ott Tanak was faster than Loeb, and took third overall as a result, whilst Thierry moved back up one place after Hyundai fixed the problem with his car during service.
The second run of El Chocolate, stage seven, and the nine-time champion took it, and with Kris suffering a spin losing six or seven seconds he also moved into second overall! Further down the order, both Teemu and Esapekka went out of the event after sliding out and Andreas passed Ogier for fifth, after being almost three seconds faster.
The following stage saw Loeb and Ott set exactly the same time allowing the Estonian to pass Kris who spun again dropping to fourth and whilst that was happening, Loeb had closed to within eight seconds on the current leader, Dani. Sadly, Jari-Matti, who had been in seventh overall retired with alternator failure after this stage.
Stages nine and ten were run at the Autodromo de Leon, and honours were shared by Tanak and Ogier.
It had been a very interesting day, with Dani leading throughout and the Citroen duo of Meeke and Loeb being the closest challengers. Championship leader, Thierry was a full two minutes off the lead in seventh place whilst Seb Ogier lay just thirty seconds from the lead, fifth overall.
Here’s the thoughts of the drivers at the end of the day with the top three first.
Dani Sordo, Hyundai
“I have been happy with our pace and rhythm today, particularly on the morning loop when we could really set some good times, making the most of our road position. To be leading the rally at the end of the opening day is a great feeling but we know it is very close and we will have a fight on our hands tomorrow. I have to say thanks to the whole team for their hard work. They have given us the perfect car. The stage wins on Friday morning were very nice but we knew the repeat loop would be tricky. We thought the soft tyres might be a bit on the limit but it was a risk that did not really pay off; we didn’t generate enough lateral grip. We have been quick in Mexico before so we hoped to be in the fight, and we will do all we can to remain in the podium battle.”
Sébastien Loeb, Citroen
“Overall, clearly, it has been a very good opening leg! I didn’t know what to expect before coming but we are here in second, not far off the lead, so I’m delighted to be on the pace after six years away from Mexico. We’re now going to try and maintain the same pace, but I know it won’t be easy. Tänak is very close behind, in particular, and we know he’s very good in the quick stages!”
Ott Tanak, Toyota
“All in all, it has been a good day. It is my first time on gravel in this car, so there have been many new things to learn. The temperatures have been very high. This morning we had to manage it as best as we could but the team did an extremely good job during the service and made some good improvements. This afternoon I was pushing really hard. Our road position was not as good as the leaders but still we managed to close on them. It has been a nice start and we can definitely build on that tomorrow.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
“Without the less-than-perfect tyre choice this morning and my two silly mistakes this afternoon, we could have been right up there at the front, so it’s a bit frustrating. But that’s life. The main thing is that our speed is good and I really enjoyed driving my C3 WRC. There is still a long way to go. I’m certainly going to keep pushing and let’s see how things work out.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“We tried to push as hard as possible today. We had a small spin which cost us maybe six or seven seconds but, being second on the road, I think we can still be happy with our day. We made the best of it and were beating everyone around us. But for sure the guys starting further back were faster – as we expected.
“Tomorrow won’t be much better as we’ll still start very early on the road. It’s going to be difficult to catch the guys in front but you never know and we’ll try our best.”
“I was struggling a bit with the rhythm this morning and wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be. I had a good road position and was hoping to be closer to the guys around me. But I was comparing myself to Loeb, and I need to remember that he is a nine-time World Champion!
“In the first stage of the second loop we were pushing a bit more. There was one easy right that narrowed towards the end and we ran a bit wide. We touched the fence and damaged some of the suspension parts.
“After that the car was really difficult to drive – which is normal if you break it! It was difficult to set the car for the corners and I was braking all the time and overheating the brakes. I ran wide and hit the barrier which forced us to retire for the day.
“But it was really good to win the super special stage as this is an area I have been working to improve. There are a lot of these stages on this rally and if you lose a couple of seconds on every one then it can be a lot of time at the end of the rally. We worked hard to improve on these kind of stages, so it was good to see that hard work paying off.”
“We hit a series of bumps that were a lot worse than expected. We lost the rear – still in sixth gear – and didn’t have the power to pull out of the slide. We clipped the bank on the inside and rolled I don’t know how many times.
“I jumped out of the car immediately because I didn’t think there would be any way to continue. But when the dust settled we could see that the damage wasn’t too bad at all. We got our helmets back on and managed to finish the stage – which is incredible after a roll like that.
“We checked in with the medical team when we returned to service and Dan was advised to go for some further precautionary checks. We’re both okay, which is the main thing, and now we just need to focus on starting our season afresh in Corsica.
“We have tried to push as hard as we could today in the circumstances. I’ve been happy enough overall, but we know there is room for improvement. In the morning loop, our focus was on getting to grips with the car, and how to control it on the dusty mountain stages. In the afternoon, we opted for harder compound tyres, which felt very slippery at times. It was difficult to know where to push, and how hard, because you lose the line so easily. There were a few mistakes here and there but generally it’s been a solid first day. We’re involved in a close battle for the top-five, which gives us something to build on.”
“Not the most positive day for us. Our motivation level was quite high even if we knew it would be difficult as first on the road. We did our best not to lose too much time on the morning loop. Before the start of the short SS5 we were in seventh overall. Unfortunately, we had an unforeseen over-consumption of fuel, which caused a loss of fuel pressure in the stage. We lost around 20 seconds and two positions. It was really disappointing. The afternoon didn’t really improve and we struggled again in SS8 (Ortega 2) with some power steering trouble losing another 40 seconds of time. Tomorrow will be another hard day but we’ll keep pushing to get the best that we can out of the weekend.”
Toyota Gazoo WRT
“The car felt very good at the start of the first stage this morning but then we began to suffer from high engine temperatures. We were able to control it, but it affected our performance, and I was concentrating too much on the temperatures and not on the driving. The team worked on it during service and in the afternoon, it was getting better, so it was a shame that we had the problem with the alternator and had to retire. When we restart tomorrow, there is a good chance for some points so we just need to keep fighting.”
“It has been a really difficult day for me. This morning was quite disappointing and then I made a fairly stupid mistake this afternoon. On a 90-degree left-hander, I missed the line on entry and just slid wide and off the road. The car was not very badly damaged but we couldn’t get it back on the road. There were not so many positives for me from today but hopefully we can make something happen tomorrow.”
Saturday saw around 130km of stages. Loeb would draw first blood, winning stage 11 and with overnight leader Dani only fourth fastest and twelve seconds slower, Loeb moved into the lead, five seconds clear of the Spaniard in his Hyundai. Also, on the move was Kris, Ogier and Andreas who all passed Ott Tanak. He’d suffered turbo failure with seven km’s left of the stage, leaving him bereft of engine power. He retired after the stage.
The following stage saw Loeb and Sordo set pretty much the same pace for fourth and fifth fastest, whilst Kris won the stage closing the gap to the top two by some ten seconds! Also going well was Ogier who had benefitted from Ott retiring plus also he’d brought the gap down to the leaders a full ten seconds, to under twenty.
The final stage of the morning saw Dani close the gap to the leader, whilst stage winner Ogier drew himself level on time with Kris, after the Northern Irishman suffered a scrappy stage with a stall and also running wide near the end of the stage.
After service, stage 14 saw our leader suffer a puncture after his tyre caught a stone on the line which saw him plummet to fifth position. Dani also lost time dropping thirty seconds and falling behind our new top two of Ogier and Meeke who were separated by just 3.8 seconds.
The next stage saw Kris spin and lose thirty seconds, giving Ogier a big lead of the same amount! Loeb was Ogier’s closest challenger, just six seconds down on his fellow country-man.
The second run of El Brinco saw Kris much closer to Ogier’s pace, just 2.6 slower through the 10km stage, whilst Dani was a similar amount further back, consolidating his third place overall.
The last two stages of the day were won by Meeke and Sordo, whilst Ogier’s lead stood at a remarkable 35 seconds! We’d had a super Seb Saturday, turning a thirty-second-time deficit, into a thirty-five second lead! Just astonishing! Dani Sordo had also driven a very clever day, minimising mistakes, and was well placed to take a deserved third place with a 45 second lead over Andreas, his teammate.
Let’s hear then from the top three once more.
“I am very happy to be in the lead at the end of the day. Our starting position was a bit better this morning and, in the afternoon, there was no cleaning left to do which is where we were able to make the biggest difference. We wanted to push – and I was pretty much on the limit most of the time – but we had a good feeling in the car.
“We didn’t always have a perfect run, but I was really happy with the morning loop where I made very few mistakes – especially in the second and third stages [SS12 and SS13] which were almost perfect.
“It was a bit tougher in the afternoon – still very slippery and very hot inside the car and for the engine and the brakes as well. It wasn’t an easy loop, but everything worked well and we can be really happy with the job we have done so far.”
“It was a good day for us in terms of rhythm, especially this morning when we were really comfortable. I then benefited from Seb’s puncture, but that’s part and parcel of rallying, and this stage was particularly tricky, with a lot of loose stones on the road. We now have to finish off the job tomorrow by making sure of second place, but it won’t be an easy task. The power stage might also be interesting, with temperatures that will have risen by lunchtime, whereas we’ll have to decide on tyre choice when it’s much cooler, early in the morning.”
“A podium in Mexico this weekend would be a great result and I am determined to keep this important position for me and the team. Things haven’t gone according to plan today. I struggled with confidence on the opening stage and lost some time compared to my nearest rivals. The feeling was better for the rest of the morning loop, but it was in the first stage of the afternoon when we lost most time. I hit a small stone at the start of SS14, so had to drive the 31km stage with a front-left puncture. With no spare tyres to rely on, I took the rest of the loop quite steady, not pushing hard. We didn’t want to risk anything. Meeke is not so far in front, so we have to make sure we remain focused and see what happens on Sunday morning.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
“This morning, it was really nice to be able to confirm yesterday’s performance and hold the overall lead six years after my last Rally Mexico. To be honest, I hadn’t expected to be in this position before the start but it’s reassuring to know that I haven’t lost my driving skills! It was all set to be a good battle at the front until we got the puncture. There were two successive corners with stones on the inside of the bend. We went over them a little and one of them proved fatal. The mistake we made was to change the wheel. I wasn’t very familiar with how these tyres last and our instinct was the wrong one, probably from cross-country rallying, in fact! We would have lost a lot less time had we not stopped to change the tyre, but that’s just the way it goes. We’ll now try and make it to the finish and enjoy driving the car as much as possible.”
“The morning was tough and our stage times were not so impressive. We were really struggling when the grip levels were low. Things were better in the afternoon and we were more competitive. On the plus side, we are up to fourth, which is not so bad. There is a big gap to Dani in third and to Loeb in fifth, so we have to really concentrate on our own rally. It’s very easy to make a mistake here, so I want to keep a steady pace and rhythm. It’s impossible to do anything about our position based on pure driving but let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
“It has been another difficult day, but we’re still there and fighting. We have managed to gain one position today, and there are lots of things happening at the front of the pack. The morning didn’t get off to the best of starts after we got stuck in the water splash, losing over a minute of time. We also had two punctures during the day which made things very complicated. We learned a lot as first on the road, so we have to take some positives away despite the obvious frustrations. We have to look forward to Sunday and aim for some points to minimise the damage from this tough weekend.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“It’s been a bit difficult today. In the morning I was struggling to find the right rhythm and driving style. But in the end, it was getting better and the last few stages were okay. There is still some work to do, but the good thing is that I know where I can improve and be more precise with the driving.”
Toyota Gazoo WRT
“I don’t think it’s ever been as hot in Mexico as it was this afternoon. For sure, it was asking a lot from the cars and the tyres. But overall it was a consistent day with no problems. Step by step we were improving. I hope the final day will be good for us because it has faster, more flowing stages which suits me and the car. These are my favourite stages in the rally. We will try to get eighth as the points could be very valuable for the championship, and of course there is a chance in the Power Stage too, so we have to keep attacking.”
“Everything was looking quite good this morning. I could feel more grip than yesterday, and that was suiting our car really well. I missed a junction early on and we lost close to 10 seconds there, but we were still trying to do a good stage. Then seven kilometres before the end the turbo failed and we had to retire from the day. Unfortunately, this is part of rallying, but I can be happy that our pace was competitive on our first gravel event with the team. We will try to do our best tomorrow: it would be nice to get some points from the Power Stage if possible”
“In general, it has been quite OK today and much better than yesterday. The mechanics did a good job to fix the car last night, so a big thank you to them. I was able to enjoy the driving this morning and the times were better. We were delayed after service because my seatbelt was stuck underneath a box that the TV crews had moved, so I had to wait half an hour for them to come and fix it. Once we got going we had some good splits before we got a puncture, and then on the next one I thought I had another puncture, but the time was actually quite decent. The Power Stage tomorrow gives us a chance to get some points.”
Sunday dawned dry and hot. Seb had a very good lead over Kris, but the gap to Dani was just eleven seconds. First stage was won by Jari-Matti, but it was not so good for Kris. The car slid wide, with the result that the wheels popped into a gulley and putting the car on its’ side. He lost 47 seconds, and with it any hope of second place and now Dani was in second place!
Stage 21 was won by Ott, returning to the fray with a new turbo under rally 2 rules, and with this stage doubling up as the power stage later it was one way to find out what would work later. Latvala and Neuville completed the top three.
Ott certainly knew the way with this stage, as he won it and the five points, with Seb second and Latvala third. There would be drama later though, with the French ace being given a ten second penalty for not correctly negotiating the chicane in that stage. This would drop him out of the top five, down to eighth place in the stage. Those to benefit were, Latvala, Neuville, Mikkelsen and Loeb.
However, Seb Ogier had given the field something to think about, after his amazing drive on Saturday, which had given him, Julien and the M-Sport team a consummate victory, tempered slightly with Elfyn and Dan not making the finish.
Dani Sordo had driven very well all weekend, keeping errors to a minimum, and ultimately benefiting from Kris’ mistakes. A well deserved second place. Last year’s winner, certainly had the pace to win, but for those errors that came along. He’ll hope for better things in Corsica, for sure.
Pedro Heller / Pablo Olmos (Ford Fiesta R5) +24:18.1
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 3
1 S. Ogier 56
2 T. Neuville 52
3 A. Mikkelsen 35
4 K. Meeke 32
5 J.M Latvala 31
6 O. Tanak 26
7 E. Lappi 23
8 C. Breen 20
9 D. Sordo 18
10 H. Paddon 10
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 3
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 84
2 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 72
3 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 71
4 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 67
Ogier’s win put him back in the lead of the championship, four points ahead of Thierry.
Let’s hear then from the drivers!
“I’m super happy today and this win is a fantastic way for me and Julien to celebrate our tenth-year anniversary in the FIA World Rally Championship. It started in 2008 with a win in the Junior category and so many great things have happened here since then – this win, I think, being one of the best.
“This weekend we really gave it everything. Julien was perfect, and the team were so strong as well. The victory is great of course, but it’s the performance that was really good. We’ve made such a big improvement from last year, and that is a big positive for the rest of the season.
“I was pretty much on the limit all weekend. When you’re early on the road you’re trying your best but the time is still far away from those starting behind. There’s always some frustration coming with that, but you have to keep going and not give up.
“That’s what we did, and on the second day – when our road position was a bit better – we kept pushing and were able to take the lead in the afternoon.
“We can be very proud this weekend, and there’s not a lot we could have done better. We gave it everything – right up until the final stage.”
“I am very happy to score this podium after what has been an enjoyable, competitive but tough weekend. We have shown good pace here in previous seasons, so I was optimistic that we would be able to fight for the top-three this weekend. It wasn’t entirely straightforward; even in the Power Stage there was a scary moment when we picked up a rear right puncture. With stones in the middle of the road, it was so easy for something to happen so we backed off and took it carefully to the end. A podium result is so important and we made the most of our road position in these really tricky gravel stages. It’s been a good team effort and I am particularly pleased to see us increase our lead in the manufacturers’ championship. Thanks to Carlos and to the whole team for this result.”
“Obviously, there are positives to take away from this weekend, starting with the fact that I secured my first podium of the year and picked up good points for the championship. But I can’t help but feel disappointed, not least for the team. I had everything you need to win here in Mexico – the pace, the car and road position – but I didn’t do the job. I made too many silly mistakes and you just can’t get away with that at this level. I need to tidy my game up, starting in Corsica where we were very competitive last year.”
“It has not been an easy rally for us, and we haven’t really been able to find the optimum pace or performance that we needed here. We made some changes to the car in service on Saturday evening, and I felt more comfortable in this morning’s final stages. We weren’t really in a position to improve, so we simply tried to keep things clean and tidy. There were definitely areas where we could have attacked more but finishing fourth gives us important points. As a team we have increased our lead in the manufacturers’ table, and I have also moved up to third in the drivers’ classification, which is a positive to take away.”
“We approached the final morning of the rally determined to score as many points as possible for the drivers’ championship. I gave it all I could in the Power Stage, and I’m happy to take three extra points away from what has been a very tough weekend. Starting first on the road each day was far from ideal, but that’s part of the game. It was actually a useful experience to deal with those conditions, despite the obvious time disadvantage. We had some other issues over the weekend, so to come away with sixth place and to keep up the pressure in the championship is important. Thanks to everyone in the team. We have a never-give-up mentality, and Corsica will be another story.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
“Coming into the rally, I felt that testing had gone well, but I obviously had no certainty about my level, bearing in mind that everyone is fighting over tenths of a second, and that it doesn’t take much to find yourself left behind a little bit. So, it was a nice surprise to be on the pace! I’m just a bit frustrated that I wasn’t able to test myself properly against the others right to the end because of the puncture. In any case, it was a very good weekend and that was the initial aim of this comeback. I hope I can now go on to get a good result in Corsica, even though I’ll still have quite a few things to refamiliarise myself with.”
Toyota Gazoo WRT
“I had a fantastic feeling this morning and the car felt very good. We had a really big push and won the first stage. Then the second stage was also really good, even though we had to save the tyres a bit. In the Power Stage I gave it everything and I’m really happy to finish second fastest with my road position. It has been a difficult weekend but to retire from one day and still come back and score eight points is good. Overall, I know that the car performance is there, and now I am starting to find the performance in myself.”
“Today we were putting everything on the Power Stage. We had nothing to lose and just wanted to get these five points. The car was performing really well and I felt really comfortable in the car so I could give an extra push. Of course, I’m not happy with the overall result as we were in contention for the win, but we still have a long season ahead of us and the performance side has been good. It was my first time on gravel in the car, we learned a lot and we can see many places where we can improve.”
“Today we were concentrating on the Power Stage, so in the first two stages we just wanted to get through them, check the pace-notes and save the tyres. It has been a tough weekend for us. The highlight has actually been the spectator stages. In our pre-event test we did some work on a go-kart track and we managed to find some new things which seem to have worked, because last evening I almost did the fastest time on the street stage. Previously we had been losing a lot of time in those. We also gained a lot of experience and data, which we can use to improve next year.”
“It’s been a difficult rally for us, but we showed some improvement over the second loops and I was also fast on the city stages which is a big positive. These type of stages [city stages] had been my weakness and we worked really hard to improve, so that was a good.
“Of course, it would have been nicer to have been a bit faster on the gravel – and not to have made the mistakes on Friday – but we still learnt a lot and know where we can improve. I need to keep the car on the line and be a bit earlier on the throttle. It’s just some little things, but if you lose 0.1 seconds on every corner it will be a lot of time at the end of the rally!
“We need to analyse this event and then focus on our next one in Argentina. I did the recce there in 2016, so I know something about the stages but this will be my first time in a rally car. Because of this, we will need to prepare even more than normal.”
Gus Greensmith (2nd WRC 2) Fiesta R5
“I feel pretty good after this one. It’s a relief to get to the end to be honest as it was a rough rally – much rougher than I expected – so to walk away with second in WRC 2 and ninth overall is great.
“It was one of those rallies where you don’t want to drive conservatively but, with the attrition rate so high and the wise words of Malcolm and Dad, that’s what we did. I don’t want to have to do it again, but they’re a lot cleverer than me and we’re now fourth in the championship after just one rally.
“I also have to say a big thanks to the team as there wasn’t a single problem with the car all weekend. Everything was brilliant, just brilliant.”
Pedro Heller (3rd WRC 2) Fiesta R5
“I feel really, really happy after this rally. If you compare it to last year, it’s the complete opposite! Okay the gap to the winner was pretty big, but this is Mexico – it’s rough and we made it to the end with our first points in WRC 2 and also our first top-ten finish overall. Now, I’m looking forward to Argentina where we plan to do the same.”
The next round is on the weekend of the 5th to 8th of April on the Island of Corsica. Can Thierry get back winning ways, or will Seb prevail again? Perhaps Kris can follow up his speed from last year and take his first victory. Or will we see Jari-Matti follow up his victory from 2015 and take a win for Toyota?
The WRC heads for much warmer climes in Mexico after the snow and ice of Monte and Sweden! Thierry Neuville leads the championship after a brilliant drive last month. Seb will want to fight back on the classic stages that make this incredible event. Its held at over 2,200 metres, and this has a very big effect on engine performance, with every 1000 metres leading to a 10% loss of engine power.
Big news is that a certain nine-time World Champion will be making his return with Citroen in Mexico, but this does mean that Craig Breen will not be competing, and that is a shame considering his drive to second in Sweden. Last year, Kris Meeke won this rally and he’ll be hoping he can do the same again to get his season going. Certainly, the car will go a lot better this year with the handling problems sorted.
Toyota suffered last year as well, but with a whole event completed and a year to work on their car will almost certainly feature near the front with the combined talents of Jari-Matti, Ott and Esapekka.
Here’s the details then of the stages that await them!
local time (mexico)
Thursday 8th March
shakedown (Llano Grande)
Start day 1 (Leon)
SS 1 – Monster Street Stage GTO (2,53 km
End of day 1
Friday 9th March
Start day 2 and Service A (Leon – 15 min)
SS 2 – Duarte – Derramadero 1 (26,05 km)
SS 3 – El Chocolate 1 (31,44 km)
SS 4 – Ortega 1 (17,23 km)
SS 5 – Street Stage Leon 1 (1,11 km)
Service B (Leon – 30 min)
SS 6 – Duarte – Derramadero 2 (26,05 km)
SS 7 – El Chocolate 2 (31,44 km)
SS 8 – Ortega 2 (17,23 km)
SS 9 – Autodromo de Leon 1 (2,30 km)
SS 10 - Autodromo de Leon 2 (2,30 km)
Flexi Service C (Leon – 45 min)
Saturday 10th March
Start day 3 and Service D (Leon – 15 min)
SS 11 – Guanajuatito 1 (30,97 km)
SS 12 – Otates 1 (26,37 km)
SS 13 – El Brinco 1 (9,98 km)
Service E (Leon – 30 min)
SS 14 – Guanajuatito 2 (30,97 km)
SS 15 – Otates 2 (26,37 km)
SS 16 – El Brinco 2 (9,98 km)
SS 17 – Autodromo de Leon 3 (2,30 km)
SS 18 – Autodromo de Leon 4 (2,30 km)
Flexi Service F (Leon – 45 min)
SS 19 – Street Stage Leon 2 (1,11 km)
Sunday 11th March
Start day 3 and Service D (Leon – 15 min)
SS 11 – Guanajuatito 1 (30,97 km)
SS 12 – Otates 1 (26,37 km)
SS 13 – El Brinco 1 (9,98 km)
Service E (Leon – 30 min)
SS 14 – Guanajuatito 2 (30,97 km)
SS 15 – Otates 2 (26,37 km)
SS 16 – El Brinco 2 (9,98 km)
SS 17 – Autodromo de Leon 3 (2,30 km)
SS 18 – Autodromo de Leon 4 (2,30 km)
Flexi Service F (Leon – 45 min)
SS 19 – Street Stage Leon 2 (1,11 km)
Let’s hear from the drivers then!
“We head to Mexico on the back of our fantastic win in Sweden, so our motivation and morale could not be higher. Mexico is a nice event and one that brings back good memories. I got my first podium there in 2013, and then scored Hyundai Motorsport’s first ever podium just one year later. The rally has a more relaxed atmosphere, and it’s generally a lot calmer for the drivers. We arrive a bit earlier than normal in order to acclimatise and adjust to the time difference. It is the first event of the year with higher temperatures – and altitude – making it a unique and enjoyable challenge.”
“Rally Mexico is an event I’ve done three times in the past. It’s a beautiful rally with stages that are similar from one season to the next, so we know them well. It is always a warm event, so we have to take extra care of the brakes. It is also quite a rough rally, which means it very easy to make a mistake. There is typically a lot of road cleaning, and with stages being held at altitude the engine is down on power, so it requires a slight change of driving style. After finishing on the podium in Sweden, our first one with Hyundai Motorsport, I’m ready to fight for another strong result.”
“I was pleased to see the team score its first win of the season in Sweden, and I am happy to be returning to the line-up for Rally Mexico. I have always enjoyed driving on the Mexican stages, which are lined with many passionate rally fans, who cheer and support us throughout the weekend. Road cleaning in Mexico can create a big difference between those first on the road and those behind. I hope we can benefit a bit from our position and compete near the front to help the team defend our manufacturers’ championship lead.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I always like going to Mexico and enjoying the warmth and the sun for the first time after the winter. The stages have sections that are very fast and sections that are very slow, and there are a lot of loose rocks off the line so you have to be precise with your driving. If we can finish on the podium that would be really good for the championship. It’s clear that the performance is there in the car. We had a good gravel test in Spain last week: of course, in Mexico it is going to be warmer but it is the best you can do in Europe at this time of the year. We had some updates to the suspension and I could feel that the traction and the grip under braking are better than what we had at the end of last year.”
“Rally Mexico will be my first event on gravel in the Yaris WRC. I have many new things to learn, but we had two days of testing in Spain last week which were very useful. We tried as many different things as possible, just to understand how the car reacted. The early feeling with the car on gravel is quite good: there are still some things to get used to and some things that we can develop. In Mexico we will have a better road position, starting fifth. The road sweeping has a big effect there, so this should help us. I have quite a bit of experience in Mexico now, so I feel comfortable going there and I think we have a good chance to fight for the top positions.”
“This will be the first time that I have competed in Mexico, although I did do the recce last year so I have some idea of what to expect. The surface is similar to the gravel roads in Spain, where everybody has done their pre-event testing, but I think the stages will be much rougher on the second pass. The altitude will also make a big difference: I have never driven those kinds of conditions where the air is really thin. It means there is less power from the engine, so you may have to drive in a slightly different way. I am quite happy with how my season has started and hopefully we can continue that in Mexico. The main target for me though has to be to do every stage and gain that experience for the future.”
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
“Mexico is a bit like Catalonia, one of the gravel rallies where we were pretty competitive last year. Since then, we have made further improvements to the C3 WRC, so I have high hopes that we can get among the frontrunners. Of course, a lot of our rivals had reliability issues related to the altitude last year and are bound to be a lot better prepared this time around. It’s definitely an event that I like: as the full power of the cars is not available, you have to be as clean as possible in your driving. I’m also pretty pleased with our recent tests. We seem to have made more progress, especially on the dampers in conjunction with Öhlins. That was Sébastien’s impression too. In any case, I’m really looking forward to it. We need to make the most of running seventh on the road on day one – that will be key in getting a good result.”
“This is a rally that I have always loved, so I have high hopes I will enjoy these stages in the C3 WRC, which is an exciting car to drive. Other than that, I have the same uncertainties as everyone else: although I hope to be more or less on the pace, I have no idea where I stand in relation to the other drivers, so I can’t wait to get started! You have to bear in mind that this is still the world championship! The other drivers haven’t stood still over the last few years… In any case, I’m pleased with the testing we did. I covered almost 500 kilometres in two days. I found the C3 WRC well balanced and I felt that it had improved again since my last test outing at the end of 2017. I have tried to give myself every chance by spending some time in a DS3 WRC beforehand to get the feeling and my reflexes back, and by watching some onboard video footage from previous rallies. 28% of the course is going to be new to me, compared with just 4% for the others, but that’s pretty positive because it is one of the events I still know best. However, my memories of the 72% that I have driven before go back six years, so I’ve done a little bit of work so that I don’t feel completely disorientated. I hope my position in Friday’s running order (11th) will help me to get my bearings because with the current regulations, you really need to have a good first day, otherwise your rally suffers.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
There’s always a special feeling when we return to Rally Mexico – because it’s where everything started for me 10 years ago! It was our first event in the world championship, and the story started with victory in the Junior WRC.
“Since then we added a couple of podiums and victories at the highest level which means that I obviously have Rally Mexico in my heart! We’ll for sure do our best to continue this love story with another strong result and are looking forward to the great Mexican atmosphere!
“This might be the first gravel event of the year, but it has its own unique character which sets it apart from the more traditional gravel rallies. The altitude is higher than anything else we experience throughout the year and the thinner air means a lot less power than we’re used to.
“Those conditions – linked with the pretty high temperatures – are practically impossible to reproduce in Europe which means we are counting even more than usual on the job done by our engineers in the climatic chamber to get the maximum performance.
“The loose gravel can also pose something of a challenge for the early runners and, even though we won’t be the first car on the road next week, there will still be a lot of fast drivers behind us. We need to try and stay as close as we can on Friday morning. Then, we can see where we are and push for the best possible result.”
“Rally Mexico is an event that I really enjoy. It’s such a colourful rally with a great atmosphere and we’ve done well there in the past. It’s one of those events where a clever run can deliver the results. You need to get the balance between speed and risk just right, and that’s exactly what we’ll be aiming for next week.
“When you think about this event two things come to mind – the heat and the altitude. We’ve got to get quickly acclimatised to the environment – both in terms of our physical fitness and our driving style. The thinner air can see the power reduced by as much as 20 percent so you’ve got to be tidy and keep the momentum through the corners.
“We’ll have a good road position, but that’s not without its challenges as there’s an added risk of rocks being pulled onto the racing line. We’ll need to stay focused and hopefully we can deliver a strong result to kick-start our 2018 campaign.”
“Mexico is one of the special events on the calendar where we face some really extreme conditions. The weather is always warm, and the high altitude means that we feel the lack of oxygen. It has an effect on the drivers, but also on the cars with 20 percent less power than the more traditional gravel events.
“It’s a shame that the winter weather prevented us from testing, but that’s the way it goes sometimes and we will have to make good use of the Shakedown to get accustomed to the feeling of driving here in Mexico.
“It’s difficult to estimate our chances next week. I won the WRC 2 class here a few years ago, but this year will be completely different and I expect the competition to be really tough. I’ll try to concentrate on my own driving and then we will see where we are.”
After two rounds and two different winners, who could win this event? Road position will have a big impact on the kind of pace that the drivers will able to produce on the stages. Then there’s the thin air…. All the teams have done a lot of work to minimize the effects of this on these unique stages!
Thierry Neuville’s victory started with setting the fastest time on shakedown. Despite suffering with some gremlins during shakedown, he powered through the stages and emerged victorious for the fourth time this year. Here’s the story of how it came together for him and Nicolas.
Despite rumours of rain affecting this event, Friday morning dawned bright and sunny. The first day would feature a completely new stage called Sherwood. I received some very useful information about the stage from a member of the support staff. He’s what he had to say about it.
“Sherwood is a real mix up. It has characteristics of the fast-flowing Bakers Creek stage from last year as well as the typical forest stages. It will be fast in the first half and then transitioning to a mix of technically demanding tracks and fast flowing forest runs.”
He explained that all the stages were in very good condition and that the forest stages would be harder on the tyres, compared to the shire stages. He continued by saying that Nambucca was in the best condition he’d ever seen it in as well.
Stage one, Pilbara fell to the ever- fast Andreas, but it was Kris who was surprised by Seb’s time despite running first on the road. Thierry was fifth fastest, five seconds slower than his teammate. It was a good stage in general for the Hyundai team, with three cars in the top five.
Stage two, Eastwood saw a few changes in positions, but Andreas remained at the top of the time sheets. Kris ran him close though, just 1.7 seconds slower at the end of the 19km stage. Paddon, Ogier and Tanak fell down to sixth, seventh and eighth, with Neuville, Jari-Matti and Breen all moving ahead. Wales Rally GB winner, Elfyn was struggling for pace and was now 28 seconds from the lead.
Now it was the first run of Sherwood and the longest stage of the day at 26.68km. It didn’t go well for Kris after he ran wide and had to stop, reverse and turn. Somehow, he still maintained second overall though, albeit 16 seconds down on Andreas, who was definitely in the zone. With Breen’s third fastest time, he moved up to third overall. Ott also found some speed and moved ahead of Latvala, into fifth.
The crews headed back to Coffs Harbour for service at this point.
Stage 4, the rerun of Pilbara saw the top three of Andreas, Seb and Thierry less than a second apart! Really close times! Overall, the top three was still Andreas followed by Kris and Craig in their C3 WRC’s. Thierry moved a little closer though to Craig after he suffered a deflation on his right-rear. However, he’d be okay, as he had a spare in the car.
Thierry won stage 5, Eastwood rerun and with that moved into third overall at the expense of Craig. Hayden was also moving up the leaderboard having been faster than Jari-Matti by 1.7 seconds. Kris had a better run through this stage in the afternoon, consolidating second overall. However, his teammate, Craig, fell behind Jari-Matti after a messy stage that saw him hit a hay bale!
The two short 1.27km stages were won by Thierry and with those under his belt, he’d moved into second overall at the expense of Kris although after his day, he was happy to be third. Hyundai had definitely hit the ground running
End of day 1 (Friday):
1 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 57m51.9s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +20.1s
11 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m27.6s
Let’s hear from the drivers then.
Andreas Mikkelsen (1st) said:
“It has been a very good start to the rally, bringing back memories from our win last season. I have had a clean drive throughout the day with no mistakes and with an incredibly positive feeling from inside the car. It really felt like home! I have focused on increasing the lead wherever possible and 20 seconds is a nice gap. Our challengers will be closer to us on the road tomorrow, so we have had to make the most of our advantage today. Things really couldn’t have gone any better. The weather forecast suggests we might have some rain this weekend, and there are some long stages on the itinerary for tomorrow. For now, though, I am happy with how things have started.”
Thierry Neuville (2nd) said:
“We have had a promising first day. The conditions on the stages were quite tricky with lots of loose gravel, which meant a bit of cleaning for those earlier on the roads. All of the stages went pretty well from my point of view and I am generally satisfied with our position. We struggled a bit with the soft tyre in the longer afternoon stage (Sherwood II), which prevented us from pushing as much as we’d like, but we were still able to set decent pace. It’s a very close battle for second with Kris, while Andreas is looking very strong out in front. For sure, we want to aim for victory ourselves this weekend. We are in a more favourable road position tomorrow so I am definitely up for the fight.”
Kris Meeke (3rd) said:
“I enjoyed it today, although I’m a bit frustrated to lose time with my little mistake on SS3. I had too much speed coming into a corner and we ran wide off the road and into bushes. I had to stop, reverse, turn and go again and lost a dozen seconds or so. Apart from that, everything went well and I felt very comfortable in the car. The second loop was interesting, because there was little to choose between us despite tyre choices varying considerably from one team to another. We’ll have a good road position again tomorrow, and perhaps that’s the most important thing!”
Jari-Matti Latvala (4th) said:
“It wasn’t a perfect way to start for us on the rally here as my intercom broke on the first stage. When you’re pushing hard, it definitely helps to be able to hear your co-driver! Then I also lost the front splitter, which obviously affected the handling of the car. But I’m pretty satisfied with our progress in the afternoon. It was important for us to get back up to fourth after the forest stages this afternoon, as this will give us a better road position tomorrow. To fight for a podium on this rally you have to be in the top five really: if you’re out of the top five than it becomes too tricky with the road position.”
Craig Breen (5th) said:
“It wasn’t all plain sailing, but it was still a good day for my debut appearance here. This morning, I was really very happy and I felt totally at one with the C3 WRC. The afternoon was harder going, with several little problems that prevented me from making the most of the potential of the car. I’m back in my happy place in fifth, but I’m not too far off the podium!”
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“It’s not been the start to the rally that we were hoping for and it’s not been easy with our road position. Obviously, Thierry [Neuville] has done a good job so we can’t complain too much, but we had some damage to the aerodynamics early in both loops which made it even more difficult.
“Looking at the gaps, it’s still really close and the podium isn’t too far away. For sure it will be difficult with the cleaning tomorrow, but we have two very long days to come. If we can find a bit more performance and attack hard, anything is possible.”
Hayden Paddon (7th) said:
“It’s not been the start that we had wanted to this final event of the season. So far, things haven’t quite clicked. There is no apparent reason; we just haven’t been able to get into the all-important rhythm. We will look through the data this evening to see if there’s anything we can find to improve for tomorrow’s stages. This is an event where I feel very comfortable usually, so we will keep pushing. It is fantastic to have such support from the crowds. There are plenty of Kiwis here and it makes for a great atmosphere. There’s a lot more to come, I’m sure.”
Sébastien Ogier (8th) said:
“It’s not been the optimum start to the rally, but we knew that we would be at a disadvantage this weekend. We had a gear selection issue throughout the day which didn’t help, and on the second two stages in particular you could see the road getting better and better with every car.
“Of course, this means that we don’t have a great road position for tomorrow – when we expect the road cleaning to be even worse – but we will still try to enjoy. We’re far from a strong result at the moment and it won’t be easy for us tomorrow, but there’s still a long way to go and we will keep pushing.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (9th) said:
“It wasn’t quite the day I was hoping for. My two punctures – that I don’t entirely understand – lost me close to half a minute. I can take nevertheless some positives from today’s leg. When everything is going well, my times are similar to those of Craig and I’m managing to get into the top five. I hope to have a bit more luck tomorrow!”
Elfyn Evans (10th) said:
“We knew the conditions were unlikely to suit us this weekend. It’s all been about getting the experience and getting the notes fully up to date. This afternoon was a bit better, but we’re still just focused on the job in hand – on getting through the stages and taking the maximum, we can away from this weekend.”
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. The rain had still not arrived having got stuck on the dividing range beyond the stages. The first stage of the day would be the longest stage of the entire event- Nambucca!
Thierry won the stage, averaging 109kph and eating four and a half seconds out of Andreas’ lead. Citroen driver, Lefebvre spun in the stage losing a lot of time after taking a bit longer to restart the car. Kris lost a lot of time and dropped behind Jari-Matti. In fact, this stage was not kind to any of the Citroen drivers with Craig also dropping behind Ott Tanak into sixth place.
The next stage, Newry saw Andreas dramatically exit the event, after sustaining a double puncture! Jari-Matti won the stage from Tanak with new overall leader Thierry third. Kris climbed back into third place overall, but Ott Tanak was just half a dozen seconds behind him.
The short Raceway stage 11 followed and it was won by Ott Tanak followed closely by Ogier and Neuville. The overall top three was, Thierry, Jari-Matti and Kris with just 22 seconds between them.
A very early service for the day at just before 11am followed this and then there would be three normal stages followed by two runs in Raceway to complete Saturday’s action.
Stage 12, Welshs Creek went well for Thierry who won the stage and therefore increased his lead over Jari-Matti by almost ten seconds. Kris touched a bridge near the start of the stage and broke his suspension. The team asked him to retire the car on the road section before stage 13.
Stage 13 saw Thierry again at the top and now his lead was almost 20 seconds over second placed Jari-Matti. Kris’ teammates had different problems though. Craig ended up with a butterfly in the car, definitely not ideal at all, whilst Lefebvre ended up with his tyres completely running out of grip and he was struggling with understeer!
Stage 14 the rerun of Newry was cancelled as there was damage to a bridge. It was made of old railway sleepers and one became detached, thus falling into a river whilst two others had damage from termites meaning that they’d only got worse with the cars running over them.
Stage 15 and 16 were won first by Craig and then Ott took the second running of it. All of this meant that our top three was unchanged with Thierry ahead of Jari-Matti and Ott Tanak in third after two days of punishing action.
Top ten following Saturday’s stages
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h05m11.6s
9 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m20.3s
10 Nathan Quinn/Ben Searcy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) +17m35.2s
Thought’s then from the drivers-
Thierry Neuville (1st) said:
“It’s a good feeling to be leading the rally heading into the final day. Of course, the event is far from over but I have been very pleased with our approach to today’s tricky stages. Our pace has been good overall, and we’ve added more stage wins. At the same time, there is a sense of disappointment that we weren’t able to have more of a fight with Andreas following his retirement this morning. It has not been a completely trouble-free day for us either. We made a mistake in the Newry stage, going straight on at a junction, but thankfully we didn’t lose too much time. Something broke in the gearbox, as a result of us rectifying the error, which required a fix at lunchtime service. The afternoon then went more to plan and we could build up a reasonably good gap. There is no such thing as a comfortable lead, though, and with the weather still looking like it could play a part, we will have a challenge on our hands on the final morning.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (2nd) said:
“It was damp and even wet in some places this morning, so the soft tyre was definitely the correct choice. In the afternoon it was drying out, but just before leaving service we had some information that there were some showers as. Our plan was to go with full hard tyres, but as a result of this new information we decided to swap and take two softs. That information was absolutely correct: it was damp at the beginning and end of the long stage. I don’t think I quite got the right feeling with the balance of the car, but it was still a good day and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. My only regret is that we had one stage cancelled because of a damaged bridge, as I think that stage could have suited us.”
Ott Tänak (3rd) said:
“Overall I think it’s been a much more positive day than yesterday. We’ve had a much better feeling in the car and managed to improve the confidence and the driving. We had a big push in the afternoon, and to be back on the podium is a good thing.
“There are some more tricky stages tomorrow so we need to keep focused, but hopefully we can finish the year with another top-three result for the team.”
Craig Breen (4th) said:
“We’ve had another good day. This morning, I found the Nambucca stage particularly difficult. But considering it was our first time on the stage, we didn’t do too badly up against the more experienced drivers. The afternoon loop was better, with drier conditions. We have moved up the standings due the misfortune of the others, but that’s part and parcel of racing. I’ll be ready to grab any opportunities to get onto the podium.”
Hayden Paddon (5th) said:
“The Australian weather has thrown us a real curveball this year. Some stages were like two totally different rallies with some parts wet and others completely dry. It made for a complicated tyre choice with neither compound perfectly suiting the conditions. Nambucca was a case in point; the first 10 or 15km was wet and muddy but then 100% dry; it caught us out a little bit. We have been trying a few different things today to try and improve our feeling in the car. We found some improvement on the diff mapping for the afternoon, which helped give more confidence and made the driving more natural. We need to continue in this direction tomorrow and secure our top-five position.”
Sébastien Ogier (6th) said:
“This has not really been our rally but I suppose it’s better to deal with all these issues in one weekend than to deal with them separately over the season!
“We were hoping to try for some strong times through this afternoon’s loop but immediately after service we heard a noise on the rear. There was some damage and that altered the balance of the car. The end of the stage [SS12] was really slippery and in a fast, down-hill corner we had some massive understeer, hit a bank and spun.
“It’s just been about getting though the stages this afternoon, but tomorrow could be interesting with the weather. There are some really tricky stages and, if it’s wet, you never know. The rally isn’t over until it’s over so we have to keep going.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (7th) said:
“The start of the day was tricky, in the rain. On Nambucca, I stalled after a spin and then it took some time to restart. After that, I completely lost the rhythm and I struggled until the end of the stage. Running third on the road was a real handicap and that’s what led to me taking a gamble with the soft tyres for the afternoon stages. It wasn’t a particularly astute choice in the end, because the tyres lost their efficiency as we went further through the loop.”
Elfyn Evans (8th) said:
“We knew that we would struggle coming to this one, and we faced another tough day today. I really enjoy these stages, but we just didn’t have the traction to attack and enjoy them to the fullest. That said, we’ve made it through all of the stages and perfected the notes which will be valuable for the future.”
Esapekka Lappi (9th)
“Today’s been a tricky day with being first on the road: it’s been really difficult to judge the grip, with the grip levels always changing. Getting the tyre choice right was one of the most crucial things today: we were definitely on the wrong tyres most of the time but there was a good reason for that as we didn’t have any soft tyres left and I want to save the new ones for the Power Stage tomorrow. So that was a tactical decision and also a good learning experience, as we need to concentrate now on gaining as much experience as possible.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (retired) said:
“I am very disappointed. It would have been really fantastic to end the season with a victory but that chance has now gone because of a mistake on my part. About two kilometres after the start of the Newry stage, on a right-hander over a crest, I went wide and touched the bank quite hard. I thought I had only a rear puncture but it became quickly apparent that we had one at the front too. With only one spare in the car, it was game over. Nine times out of ten we would have been OK, but luck was not on our side today. Still, it is great to see Thierry take over the rally lead and we will be keeping our fingers crossed for him as he carries the honours for the team.”
Kris Meeke (retired) said:
“After a fast bend, there was a narrow bridge and we just touched it with the rear wheel. A few kilometres later, I felt that something wasn’t right. We stopped after the time control to try and repair the suspension. I wanted to keep going, but the team asked me to stop. It’s frustrating because in the end, the final long stage of the loop was cancelled. We’ve missed out on a good result.”
Sunday morning and the rain that we had expected finally turned up during stage 17 which was a rerun of Pilbara, but in the opposite direction from Friday. Sadly, Lefebvre retired after running wide and breaking his suspension on the rear after hitting a tree stump. Elfyn at last delivered a quick time and won the stage from Lappi and Ogier. Kris commented on the heavy rain saying “Massive rain in the middle of the stage. I couldn’t even see the road though the wipers. For us it was a monsoon.”
Stage 18 was another bad one for Citroen, as Craig Breen rolled out! Approaching a down-hill right-hander, the car took off as Craig didn’t know the car would take off. When the car landed, it slid wide and the rear caught the bank on the left spinning it and the car then rolled end over end a few times, before coming to rest further down the road. Kris had restarted the rally under Rally2 regs and explained that it was like driving on ice through the stage! Hayden won the stage though, with Lappi and Evans in second and third. In the fight for the win, Jari-Matti cut the gap to Thierry from 19 seconds to 9.9 seconds.
Stage 19, Wedding Bells and this stage would be run later as the power stage. Thierry increased his lead over Latvala to 14.7 seconds after winning the stage, whilst Andreas would take second fastest with Ott third in the stage and maintaining third overall.
Sadly stage 20 was cancelled and not even because the stage was bad. All the access roads had become flooded and the cars couldn’t get to the start.
It was time for the final stage of Rally Australia and in fact the year! Ogier won the stage and with it the maximum points whilst Ott was second. The big drama was that Jari-Matti lost control of his car and crashed out of second overall. Behind the two Fiesta’s was Lappi’s Yaris, Andreas in the i20 and Kris got the final power-stage point with fifth fastest.
After all that drama, Thierry was in control and took his fourth victory of the year, two more than anyone else, whilst the demise of Latvala meant that Ott Tanak finished second and a surprised Hayden rounded out his frustrating season third, much to the delight of his fans.
FINAL RESULT, RALLY AUSTRALIA 2017
1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 2h35m44.8s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +22.5s
3 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +59.1s
8 Richie Dalton/John Allen (Skoda Fabia R5) +24m39.6s
9 Nathan Quinn/Ben Searcy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX) +25m03.4s
10 Dean Herridge/Sam Hill (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) +29m52.3s
Here’s the thoughts then of all the drivers after this dramatic event!
Thierry Neuville (1st) said:
“This is a very special victory, and I dedicate it to the whole team. They have been working hard all-season long. It hasn’t always been easy but they have never given up, so it’s a big thank you on a job well done by everyone – not only those at the rallies but everyone at the factory. We obviously missed out on the championship, but we secured second place today and it gives us a massive motivation for next season. It was a tricky final morning and we didn’t want to take too many risks, so to take our fourth win of the year is fantastic. It’s really the ideal way to end the season. Now, we can enjoy this moment before turning our attention to next year.”
Ott Tänak (2nd) said:
“It was important to finish the season like this, and to finish our time with the M-Sport family in such a positive way. On Friday we were struggling a bit with the pace and losing the rear diffuser didn’t help with the balance. But after this we managed to find a good average speed and had the pace to achieve a podium.
“To be honest, I didn’t think too much about this being our last rally with Malcolm and the team until the last road section when Martin started to play some sad songs! It’s been a long journey together and it’s never easy to leave a family. It feels quite hard actually, but the whole championship is also a family so this isn’t goodbye, it’s just see you later.”
Hayden Paddon (3rd) said:
“It has been a difficult season for me. At least we have been able to bring the year to an end with a more representative result. We never want to score a podium through someone else’s misfortune, and it’s a shame for Jari-Matti, but it’s a nice result for us after a tough year. There is some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of finding our feeling with the car. We have found some answers this weekend, which has been the main objective. We were quite lucky with the weather this morning, as we seemed to avoid the worst of the rain in Bucca and could take a stage win. Overall, the car felt better after we made another big change with the diff mapping overnight. We’ve just been gathering information for the future and were set on bringing the car home safely in third and our second podium of the season.”
Sébastien Ogier (4th) said:
“It’s not been the smoothest of rallies for us, but at least we finished on a small positive with victory in the Power Stage. To be honest, it was more or less the only stage of the rally where everything was working for us.
“We had a lot to contend with this weekend – with the technical issues and also with our starting position through the opening stages. We just tried to stay focused and in the end that strategy paid off as fourth place was pretty unexpected.
“But regardless of this weekend, it really has been a fantastic season. A big thanks to Malcolm and the whole team. What we have achieved together this year really is incredible.”
Elfyn Evans (5th) said:
“We knew that we would struggle this weekend, but with the rain today we had an opportunity to use the soft tyre. It was a more enjoyable day for sure and it was nice to secure a stage win. It was unfortunate that we encountered a few little niggles after that, but all in all not a bad way to finish off the weekend.
“The season as a whole has been amazing for the team. We’ve worked with some great people this year who really deserve this success – a big thanks to all of them.”
Esapekka Lappi (6th) said:
“It was a tough day: a lot of standing water as the rain suddenly came on the stage before the Power Stage. There were a few surprises for us, as we were first on the road again. I wasn’t controlling the car – it was just like a boat – but we’re still here! Yesterday we were first on the road and we were struggling with tyre choice: today the roads were cleaning less so it was a bit easier. The tyre choice was actually good today as we kept some new tyres back, so we had a good feeling. The main thing is that we gained plenty of experience on this event, to try to understand the best way to drive here. Looking at the season as a whole I’m happy with our speed, but I know I’ve got plenty to learn to iron out the ups and downs we had. I’m already looking forward to next year.”
Kris Meeke (7th) said:
“The idea today was to prepare for 2018. From that perspective, it was pretty handy that it started raining because we could work in conditions where we have quite a lot of room for improvement. It wasn’t easy for me to push when I had nothing to gain, but what we have learned this morning will undoubtedly prove useful in the future.”
Andreas Mikkelsen said:
“It was disappointing that we were forced to retire from the lead of this rally on Saturday morning. Having said that, looking at the conditions we had to face this morning, it would have been a challenge to defend that. We were unlucky with the rain in the earlier stages. Even with the wipers on maximum, we couldn’t see anything. Still, at least we had a clean finish in the Power Stage and could bring the car home. Whatever the result this weekend, we have shown good pace. It has been a very valuable experience over these past three rallies with Hyundai Motorsport. I know I am in the right place for next season; the car is awesome and the team is fantastic. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a strong championship challenge together next year.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (retired)
“Obviously this is not the way that I wanted to end the year but this is rallying and you have to take the most and learn from every experience, even if it doesn’t feel like a positive one at the time. We were pushing hard on the Power Stage to try and maximise our chances of doing something special and when you are pushing hard these things can happen. Up until then it had been a good rally for us and we managed to get very close to the front, especially after the first stage this morning. I’d like to apologise for my mistake today after a huge effort from everyone here, and most of all say a big ‘thank you’ to the whole team for delivering a year that went beyond all my expectations.”
Craig Breen (retired)
“It was a big off. I’ve not had one like that for a long time. Fortunately, the C3 WRC is a solid car and the safety features did their job perfectly. We weren’t sure of finishing in fourth place and I knew I had to push to counter a return from Paddon, who had slightly better road conditions than we did. I didn’t want to end the season with another fifth place without making a fight of it.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (retired)
“Obviously, it’s not the best way of ending the season. I just made a mistake on the first stage, a long right-hander. The conditions were awful, with a lot of water, which made the ground as slippery as ice in places. I got caught out by a slippery patch of mud. The car understeered, ran slightly wide and we hit a big tree stump. It’s a shame and I’m sorry for everyone in the team.”
Well, what an amazing rally, to top off a brilliant season! Thierry will take a lot of confidence from this victory down-under. Ott rounded out his brilliant season with another podium and Hayden will take heart from his second podium of the year, after a torrid time.
Ogier once again showed why he is the best driver in the world, with the ability to get the results he needs, and able to deliver wins when others wouldn’t. We’re still waiting to find out if he’ll be returning next year, but get the feeling that an announcement is just around the corner.
Thanks for reading my reports this year. I’ll be doing a season review soon, so do look out for that.
The foundations for Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle’s victory were laid on Friday’s gravel stages. After just two stages, Kris was in the lead and despite some mistakes in the afternoon, at the end of that first day’s action, he was just three seconds from the lead.
Overnight leader was Andreas Mikkelsen on his first outing for Hyundai. His fellow teammates, Dani and Championship challenger Thierry were in sixth and seventh position. The wrong tyre choices and hotter than expected conditions on the stages had meant that there was little that Thierry could do other than get through the day and see what he and Nicolas could do on the smooth wide tarmac on Saturday.
It was an impressive Friday for Seb Ogier that despite running at the front of the field on the loose gravel, he was just 1.4 seconds from the lead. Ott Tanak was also driving very well. Third on the road, he maintained top ten pace in each of the six stages and holding fourth overall.
Also setting a great pace in his Fiesta was Mads, although in the final stage of the day the heater in his car got stuck on! What with the high temperatures outside, plus the heater on, it quickly became unbearably hot inside the Fiesta WRC. The two Norwegians therefore did well to make in to the end of the stage, just five seconds from the lead.
The first retirement of the event was Jari-Matti in his Toyota. After a very solid start in the morning, he won the first stage of the afternoon, but later in stage five he noticed that the car was starting to lose oil. This was the result of a strong impact under the car which made the lubrication system fail. He would not start the final stage of the day, and the damage to the engine would prove to be too severe. The team would be looking to Juho and Esapekka to bring the team some good results.
Elfyn Evans, running on D-Mack tyres, would start well, but after struggling in the afternoon, it was a case of get around and see what he could do on Saturday.
Here’s the driver quotes for day one.
Andreas Mikkelsen said: (1st)
“We could not have asked for a better start to our Hyundai Motorsport career. It has been a good day and I have been pleased with our approach. We started this morning carefully, to understand the car’s behaviour and generally just finding our feet.”
“A few changes to the settings allowed us to gain some time through the first Terra Alta run. The car felt very stable and there were no surprises. In the afternoon, we became more and more confident in the car. The final stage wasn’t ideal; we thought we had a puncture so took it a bit easier. We made it to the end safely and it’s nice to be fighting at the very top. It’s really close but it has definitely been a positive start for Anders and myself.”
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“I’m really happy with our day. It wasn’t easy, but our position this evening is really amazing. Being so close to the lead after a full day opening the road is not something we expected, but it’s a very nice surprise.
“The gaps are all so close so we’re all going to have to keep pushing tomorrow. For sure Andreas [Mikkelsen] and Kris [Meeke] will push hard, but I’ve always had a good feeling with the Fiesta on Tarmac so hopefully we can stay in the fight for the victory.
“But the most important thing for us was to stay ahead of Ott [Tänak] and Thierry [Neuville], which we have managed to do so far. Our target is clear, and we will keep our main focus on Ott, Thierry and the Championship fight.”
Kris Meeke (3rd) said:
“This morning, we didn’t make the right tyre choice. The soft tyres went off on Terra Alta, so I had to manage my pace a little and drop some time. It didn’t matter that much, because the gaps remained pretty small. On hard tyres, I was able to push almost from start to finish and I really enjoyed driving the C3 WRC. It’s a bit frustrating to have made a mistake on SS4; if it weren’t for that, I’d be leading. But in any case, I’m in a good position and am pleased with the day.”
Ott Tänak (4th) said:
“Overall I think the performance has been very good today. We expected to lose quite a lot with the loose gravel but actually the gaps are very small at the end of the day.
“It will definitely still be interesting tomorrow. It looks promising for the moment so let’s see how it goes in the morning and if we can find a good rhythm. These Tarmac roads are very unique but also very enjoyable, so we’ll try to find a good set-up with the car and see what we can do.”
Mads Østberg (5th) said:
“Really disappointing with the heater, and extremely hot and uncomfortable for us both with nearly 100 degrees Celsius inside the car. It`s hot enough inside these cars without hot air blowing into it, but we didn`t manage to turn it off.”
“As it was a very long stage we lost a bit of concentration and focus and of course we lost some time. Still I am happy with our performance this Friday, without the problems on the last stage we could have been in the lead. We also had some issues with dust coming into the, but that we could cope with.”
“In the preparation for the rally we have concentrated mainly on the tarmac set-up and driving. This will be the first time I drive the Fiesta “in anger” on tarmac, and we have much less experience with this than our competitors. A special challenge for me will be the much more advanced aerodynamics on the 2017-car than the car I have driven before. The aerodynamics plays a much bigger role on fast tarmac roads than on the loose.”
Dani Sordo (6th) said:
“It is great being back rallying at home, and I am so thrilled with the support of the fantastic spectators. We had a solid start today. The morning loop was tough for tyre selection, as the softs were a bit too soft, and the hard compounds were a bit too hard. However, we found a good compromise and it was a very close fight at the front. The grip levels were better in the opening afternoon stages, and I was pretty happy with the car. The repeat of Terra Alta was more slippery with not much traction, but we made it through the opening day in a respectable position – and with only ten seconds to the lead, I think it will be an exciting battle this weekend.”
Thierry Neuville (7th) said:
“We know what we need to do this weekend, and our sights are firmly set on achieving that. It wasn’t the easiest of starts after we opted for soft tyres on the opening loop. The temperatures were higher than we expected compared to our data from testing. We started to lose grip quite early in the long Terra Alta stage. It was a real pity because we had a good feeling in the car and we were pushing hard. In the afternoon, we were carrying six tyres, which slowed us a bit too much, particularly in the repeat of the long stage. It is very close on the timesheets, so although we are not in the position we would want to be, we are definitely in striking distance.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (ret) said:
“In the morning it was difficult and the car was oversteering a lot, but we made some changes and things were starting to get better. We won stage four. I made a couple of mistakes in stage five and then we noticed we were losing oil, and before we got to stage six the engine stopped and wouldn’t start again. At the time we didn’t know whether anything was damaged but sadly it will not be possible to restart tomorrow.”
Juho Hänninen (8th) said:
“Today was not as good as I had hoped; I lost too much time to the top guys. I wasn’t fully confident, I was hesitating in some places, and you can easily start to lose time with that. I was struggling a little with the rhythm when the grip was changing. Tomorrow we need to make it better. There are some really nice stages coming up so I’m looking forward to that.”
Esapekka Lappi (10th) said:
“This morning I was happy with the balance of the car but then on the last stage I overheated the brakes and lost them completely towards the end. In service we made some changes to the suspension and on the first stage this afternoon, which was really smooth, it helped us to set a good time. But I really struggled on the last one with the dampers in these settings. We were a bit unlucky today but at least we have done the stages twice, which is good experience, and tomorrow will be a new start for everybody on asphalt.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (9th) said:
“After a long break, it was difficult to come back and compete at event that is almost unknown to me. I took it easy in the trickier sections and pushed when I felt more confident. We didn’t make any mistakes and I managed to add to my experience. The two passes on Terra Alta showed that you really need time to understand this type of stage. We’ll have to reset in order to tackle tomorrow’s leg on tarmac in the best possible shape.”
Elfyn Evans (11th) said:
“The feeling in the first two stages was okay but it’s fair to say that we struggled after that. This just wasn’t our day, but we made it through and tomorrow is a completely new day with a completely new surface so let’s see what we can do.
Khalid Al Qassimi (19th) said:
“I had a good feeling this morning, although I felt the car lacked precision on occasions. I was cautious, especially on the tarmac section on Terra Alta. We made quite a lot of progress with the set-up during service and I was happy with the handling. I think the upgrades on the dampers are a definite improvement.”
Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. The cars had been switched into tarmac spec and were ready for the day’s action.
Kris Meeke took the lead from overnight leader, Andreas, in the first stage of the day and then proceeded to pull away from his closest challengers.
The Hyundai’s all experienced problems throughout the day with Andreas and Dani both hitting rocks hidden at the edge of the road in stage 12. Thierry’s rally wasn’t going so well either, suffering hydraulics problems which affected his handling of the car. This lead to a spin before stage nine which resulted in damage to the rear of the car. The team did a good job to get the car fixed before the afternoon stages and this lead to a better afternoon for the Belgian driver.
M-Sport duo Seb and Ott were both driving well, with just minor issues holding them back through the morning, mainly being setup. With some tweaks, they Seb was able to push much harder and won all three afternoon stages. Ott heard a strange noise from the gearbox, so the team decided to change it during the midday service break.
The remaining Toyota drivers, Juho and Esapekka both enjoyed a very good day on the unique Spanish roads. Juho was third fastest on the opening stage before winning stage eight and nine. Lappi was focused on understanding the level of grip available, and with an imperfect setup on the car, struggled for confidence. However, after making a few changes in the service break, he felt more confident and this lead to a better afternoon.
Mads Østberg had a good day too. Despite hitting the same rock in stage twelve, that had put Andreas and Dani out, he got some luck and was able to finish. There were further technical issues with the car, but Mads made great progress throughout Saturday and completed the day in sixth.
Let’s hear from the drivers then.
Kris Meeke (1st) said:
“Today couldn’t have gone any better, to be honest. We’ve known about the potential of the C3 WRC on tarmac since the rounds in Corsica and Germany, but I was nonetheless a bit apprehensive because we hadn’t done any pre-event testing on this surface. The first stage looked like it would be tricky with the rain, but everything went well. The rest of day went much the same way, although it was pretty close with the other drivers. I’m very pleased to be leading and I obviously want to convert this first place into a win tomorrow. There are still six stages to go before we get there, the first of which will be contested in the dark. So, we won’t get ahead of ourselves: one step at a time!”
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“The general picture is a positive one for us at the moment and, if we can secure this podium at the end of tomorrow, it will be another good step towards the championship.
“Of course, I always want to fight for the victory but, realistically, I think Kris [Meeke] is probably a bit too far ahead. We lost quite a lot of time to him this morning when I wasn’t super confident with the car. When you’re not perfectly committed you lose tenths everywhere and that can easily amount to ten seconds at the end of the stage.
“We worked hard on the set-up throughout the day and I had a much better feeling this afternoon. Hopefully we can start tomorrow morning with that same feeling as we will for sure still have to push.”
Ott Tänak (3rd) said:
“The podium is always the target, and we’re in a good position to secure that at the moment so it has been a good day. We weren’t so happy with the feeling in the car first thing [this morning], but we soon found a good balance and improved the times after that.
“The goal is to secure as many points as possible but, as we have already seen, everyone is pushing very hard and it’s difficult to make the difference. Even if you have the perfect stage, you can still miss out on the fastest time by a couple of tenths.
“Kris is very strong so it’s going to be hard to compete with him, but we’re still in a very competitive position and it will be important to get to the end and secure these points for the team and for ourselves. We’ll certainly keep the pressure on, so let’s keep it going and see what happens.”
Juho Hänninen (4th)
“It has been a really good day. I was a bit disappointed after yesterday but I knew that the asphalt would be better for me. Even still, I was a bit surprised with how good the stage times were this morning. I was really, really happy with the car and I didn’t need to change anything in service. I drove the afternoon the same as in the morning and it felt good. I haven’t really been looking at the overall classification and it could be difficult to catch the guys ahead, but I haven’t given up and I will push tomorrow for sure.”
Thierry Neuville (5th) said:
“I honestly think we deserved far better than we got today. We experienced hydraulic problems at the end of SS8, which we worked on at stage-end to keep the car going. Suddenly, the car wouldn’t start, and when we finally got going we had to move quickly to get to the next stage. Without hydraulics under braking we spun the car, which caused some rear damage. We checked into SS9 three minutes late, so we were given a time penalty. The team did an incredible job to get the car repaired at service in time for the repeat loop, where we were able to show good pace again. The rally is not over but it was another frustrating day and not representative of what we know we can achieve. We set some of the quickest times in the afternoon stages, and were much happier and confident with the car. It’s hard to keep up the fight when you lose so much time, but others can have problems, especially with a longer than usual Sunday with six stages. We won’t give up.”
Esapekka Lappi (6th) said:
“On the first stage this morning I was not confident enough, as the grip was much higher than in my test, but step-by-step during the morning I found the confidence. I wasn’t completely happy with the set-up but we managed to improve it during service and the car felt even better in the afternoon, especially on the penultimate stage: it was the best that the car has ever been on asphalt. So I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. We will try to carry on in the same way and maybe get some points on the Power Stage.”
Mads Østberg (7th) said:
“It really has been the best day at school ever! This is my first proper tarmac experience with the 2017 spec car, and I was very uncertain how we would manage and how fast we could expect to be. Yesterday we led the rally after four stages, but that was on gravel. Today we have lost some time to the leaders, but that was expected. I am learning on every stage and the progression from the start of the day, not to mention my understanding of the car, has been enormous. We started the day 1 second per km slower than the fastest guys, now we are down to 0.3 seconds”.
Speaking about the rock that he hit…
“There was a massive rock right on the driving line in a corner where we were cutting. I hit it hard, but for once I had some luck. The steering and a wheel was damaged, but I could continue and finish the stage without much loss.”
In the final stage, Mads suffered an additional problem with the hydraulics.
“The car became nearly impossible in the very tight corners. It was frustrating, but as it was a short stage the time loss wasn`t extensive.”
Finally, he explained how much fun the car was to drive on these roads.
“I feel we are getting more and more competitive, which hasn`t really been the case for some time on tarmac. The split-times on several stages shows that I am closing in on the fastest tarmac guys. I am also enjoying every moment as the driving experience with the 2017 Fiesta on these roads really is awesome.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (8th) said:
“The switch from gravel to tarmac between the first and second day is not easy at all, especially as this is the first time I have experienced this situation. I feel like I made progress throughout the day, without making any mistakes. The handling of the C3 WRC helped to give me confidence. On SS10, for example, I pushed and my time was about 2/10ths per kilometre off the pace of the stage-winning driver. I’ll be able to build on this experience to try and finish on positive note tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans (9th) said:
“It’s been another pretty tough day for us. The pace isn’t there and we’ve just been struggling for grip. That’s the way it is and we need to focus on getting all the kilometres under our belts and collecting as much information as we can for the future.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (18th) said:
“This was my first competitive outing with the C3 WRC on tarmac. And I hadn’t driven on this surface for a year! I’m pleased with the day, I had a good feeling in the car. However, I opted to take it easier on the second pass, because the roads were very dirty. I preferred to stick to the lines.”
Sunday morning was much like Saturday- warm and sunny.
Could Kris take his and Citroen’s second victory of the year? Could Thierry score some points to stop Seb opening a big lead in the championship?
Six stages awaited the crews and no service break either. They all took spare tyres in their cars. One puncture could destroy all the hard work.
The first stage was held in darkness, but it didn’t trouble Kris. He took the first stage of the day and then added the other two, thus increasing his lead to almost 25 seconds over the M-Sport duo of Seb and Ott.
Stephane Lefebvre was also pushing hard through these stages, bringing him closer to Mads. Stage 16 would see Thierry retire from the event after hitting something out of sight and damaging his right front suspension. Esapekka would also retire after sliding on some slippery tarmac and hitting a barrier.
Setting some good times as usual were Seb and Ott, ultimately bringing their Fiesta’s to a double podium behind Spanish master Kris. Juho would also have a very Sunday morning, guiding his Yaris into fourth place overall- pretty impressive given that he’d not driven this event for six years!
Fifth place fell to privateer Mads in his Adapta Motorsport Fiesta. With Torstein Eriksen alongside him through the weekend, they found good consistency, even leading on Friday for a short while. The pre- event testing, they did on the tarmac clearly paid in off in spades.
Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen both had an up and down event, but Dani came through and won the power stage. Andreas would suffer a broken windscreen after his bonnet came loose and flipped up in front of him! It was all good learning for next year though, having never driven the i20 on these surfaces.
Elfyn Evans in his D-Mack shod Fiesta drove as best he could to seventh place, as his tyres couldn’t give him the consistent grip on the tarmac he needed. However, there were positives and it was the best result he’d scored in this event.
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta R5) +8m22.7s
9 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +8m54.5s
10 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Skoda Fabia R5) +9m04.8s
Here’s what the drivers had to say.
Kris Meeke (1st) said:
“This completes an exceptional weekend for me. Since our win at Rally Mexico, we’ve had some tough moments, but we’ve picked ourselves up each time by working hard. We always knew this car was terrific on asphalt and I think that we have demonstrated that since yesterday! This win shows the quality of the work done by the entire team and it gives us all a huge confidence boost for the rest of the season.”
Sébastien Ogier (2nd) said:
“We’ve taken a really positive step towards the championship this weekend. I think we were on course to extend the lead anyway, but with Thierry’s mistake that changed the picture completely and we’ve been able to extend the gap even more.
“We were never really in a position where we had to take all the risks, but we still had to keep a good rhythm. There was no chance to fight with Kris [Meeke] as he was just on another level on the Tarmac, but we had a clean drive and it’s definitely been a positive weekend.
“It’s been good news for the team too as the manufacturers’ championship is now pretty much done and we can start to plan a bit of a party for their home event in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Ott Tänak (3rd) said:
“We feel good at the end of this one. This result was more or less the maximum we could do this weekend so a great result overall.
“I think our first day was particularly good. We were quite early in the running order and still managed to stay close to the lead. Then on Tarmac we had a couple of small issues but generally a good run and a good feeling with the car.
“For sure there will be a big fight for second place in the drivers’ championship now. Sébastien is pretty safe, but there is still something to fight for and two more exciting events ahead.”
Juho Hänninen (4th) said:
“I’m very happy with this result. Yesterday and today have been two of the most enjoyable days of rallying I’ve ever had. Yesterday was really good and today I tried to keep it quite steady because there was a big gap behind. On asphalt we have had a really, really good car. I have felt really confident with it and I haven’t had to take any big risks. It’s really important for me to see that I am able to fight for the leading positions even though I haven’t been here for a long time.”
Mads Østberg (5th) said:
“The team performed brilliantly. Its five years since we did a WRC rally with our own Adapta Motorsport crew, but it`s like they haven`t been away at all. I would also like to thank Torstein Eriksen, who did only his second WRC-event and really did a professional and great job.”
“The tarmac experience from Spain will be put to good use later, but not until next season as the championship finishes with gravel events. Already in less than three weeks the stage is set for fog, mud and possibly sleet and snow in Wales.”
“It`s one of my favourite rallies where I have been very competitive before. The gravel stages here in Spain gave us the answer that we are right on the mark on the loose stuff. My goal for Wales is to fight for a possible victory.”
Stéphane Lefebvre (6th) said:
“We tried to push and managed to claw back some time on Mads Østberg in the first loop. After that, it became more difficult with some hydraulics problems and then we lost the intercom. From that point onwards, I was just making sure I held position. Sixth place is pretty good, considering my limited knowledge of this event. I would say this result was more or less comparable with my top-five finish in Poland. Little by little, as I gain more experience, I’m improving and I hope to be able to confirm my progress in the future. Congratulations to Kris and Paul on winning again – it’s a morale-boosting result for everyone in the team!”
Elfyn Evans (7th) said:
“Everyone knows that this was a tough weekend for us, but we kept our heads down and got the job done. It’s not been easy, but we managed to get a lot of information from all of the kilometres and now we can start to focus on Wales Rally GB.”
Teemu Suninen (Fiesta R5) (8th) said:
“This has been a really good weekend for us and I think we have made a big improvement on Tarmac. We’ve had good pace on both surfaces and I think I can be really happy with the rally and what we have done.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (17th) said:
“It was a very good day. As the day wore on, I enjoyed driving the car more and more and I’m very pleased with the progress made by the Citroën C3 WRC. But I’m most pleased of all about Kris Meeke winning the rally. He had a fantastic race this weekend, it’s a great moment for us all and I’m very proud to see Abu Dhabi promoted by these performances.”
Well, there you go…. Two rounds left and M-Sport have almost secured the manufacturers championship. Also, it’s looking very likely that Seb will win the drivers crown after Thierry failed to score any points in Spain.
A great drive from Kris and Paul in the number 7 C3 WRC for Citroen’s 98 WRC victory and his fifth as well, puts to bed any worries about his abilities behind the wheel.
2017 FIA World Rally Championship for drivers after round 11:
1 Sebastien Ogier 198
2 Ott Tanak 161
3 Thierry Neuville 160
4 Jari-Matti Latvala 123
5 Dani Sordo 94
6 Elfyn Evans 93
7 Juho Hänninen 71
8 Craig Breen 64
9 Kris Meeke 60
10 Hayden Paddon 55
11 Esapekka Lappi 49
2017 FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers after round 11: