Four Citroën C3 WRCs Line Up For Rally De Portugal
For the sixth round of the World Rally Championship, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team has entered four C3 WRCs for Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle, Craig Breen/Scott Martin, Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau and Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson.
RALLY DE PORTUGAL: HEAD FOR THE FAFE JUMP
Rally de Portugal is set to welcome an outstanding line-up for its fiftieth anniversary, with 14 new generation World Rally Cars taking part. Expected, as ever, to flock in large numbers to the Porto region – to which the event returned in 2015 – Portuguese fans are certain to be delighted by the show put on by the stunning new cars.
Like last year, the rally will kick off on Thursday evening in Guimarães, a city often referred to as being the "birthplace of the Portuguese nationality". Following a super special stage held on the Lousada circuit and a night in parc ferme, the action will ramp up a notch on Friday. With adjustments to the route or run in the opposite direction to previous years, the leg's three stages, each contested twice, will provide an initial challenge for the crews. In the evening, the competitors will head for Braga to contest a brand new street stage.
Saturday's leg will be even longer, the highlight set to be the two passes on Amarante (37.55km). Sunday will see the remaining competitors tackle the Fafe stage twice, made famous by the huge jump located just a few hundred metres before the end of the stage. Gathered around this iconic point, tens of thousands of fans will serve up a uniquely impressive atmosphere.
THE CHALLENGES: MIX IT WITH THE LEADERS AGAIN
After a frustrating Rally Argentina for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT, the Portuguese round is eagerly anticipated. For the first time, the team has entered four Citroën C3 WRCs. Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre will be nominated to score points towards the Manufacturers’ World Championship, whilst Khalid Al Qassimi will be making his competitive debut in a new generation car.
Last year, the event was won by Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, who had shown their speed and ability to manage a rally throughout the three days of competition. Quick in all conditions and surfaces – they have won stages in Mexico, Corsica and Argentina – the event is undoubtedly within the reach of the two men.
The 2016 rally also provided Stéphane Lefebvre and Gabin Moreau with the opportunity to show what they could do, the pair consistently setting times within 2/10ths per kilometre of their team-mates. Having missed Rally Argentina, the Frenchmen have worked tirelessly in order to prepare for one of their favourite events and try to secure a convincing result.
In contrast, this round will be a leap into the unknown for Craig Breen and Scott Martin. Having been let down by mechanical issues on the opening stage in 2015 and missing the event altogether in 2016, they will have it all to do as they learn about the stages. Learning will also be the theme of the weekend for Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson. It will be the Abu Dhabi driver's first rally since the 2016 Rally de Espana and he will also be making his first competitive outing in the Citroën C3 WRC. Khalid has competed seven times in Portugal, including three point finishes when the event was held in the Algarve.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "After entering three cars at the Tour de Corse, we're taking another step forward here with a fourth Citroën C3 WRC at Rally de Portugal. It's a great achievement, which is largely down to the work of our technical team. For various reasons, results at the last two rallies haven't been as good as expected. At this sixth round, we will be asking our drivers to make it to the end of the rally and we hope to have two C3 WRCs finish in the top five overall."
Laurent Fregosi, Technical Director: "The crash suffered by one of our cars in Argentina had no effect on our preparations for Portugal, because we're not using the same chassis. To prepare both for this rally and the following one, our four drivers had a day's testing in Sardinia. We then continued working on the usual development areas: suspension, mapping of the central diff, assessment of the tyres and so on."
Kris Meeke: "Argentina was wild – nothing went as planned. It happens sometimes, you just have to put it behind you. I feel okay ahead of Portugal, although I can't say I'm overflowing with confidence.
I think that the work done in our recent test sessions will help us move in the right direction. I'm pleased to be competing at this rally. Obviously, I have some fond memories of winning here in 2016. And the enthusiasm of the fans here for our sport makes for a very special atmosphere. Quite a lot of changes have been made to the course, so in a lot of cases we'll have to start from scratch with the pace notes. Concentration will therefore be key in recce, as well as in the rally."
Number of appearances at the event: 3 Best result: 1st (2016)
Craig Breen: "Just like in Argentina, I'm venturing into something of the unknown here. I did recce here in 2016, but that's no substitute for actual racing experience. I know that I have to improve on this kind of surface, where I'm a little less at home than on the fast gravel roads you get in Poland or Finland.
The testing done last week in Sardinia was positive. We kept working on certain points, taking into account the things we learned in Argentina. The Citroën C3 WRC will be even better in Portugal."
Number of appearances at the event: 4 Best result: 25th (2009)
Stéphane Lefebvre: "Unlike the previous few rounds, I feel I know this rally pretty well. Having competed once here in an R5 and once in a WRC, I have good experience on these roads. When they are wide and fast, the stages are magnificent. I really like Amarante, the longest stage of the rally. I'm also almost certain to have a good position in the running order on day one and I'm hoping to make the most of it."
Number of appearances at the event: 3 Best result: 15th (2015)
Khalid Al Qassimi: "After more than six months away from the WRC, I have to prepare very carefully for Rally de Portugal. It will be my first outing in the New Citroën C3 WRC and I know that it is a real step up compared with the cars used in previous seasons. My aim will be to build my confidence gradually, without taking any big risks. I'm delighted to be taking part in what is one of my favourite rallies.
The atmosphere is always very special. The Portuguese fans are very loud and enthusiastic, especially next to the Fafe jump."
Number of appearances at the event: 7 Best result: 8th (2009)