Citroën And Ogier Take Bronze In Wales Rally GB
Wales Rally GB lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest events on the WRC calendar as Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia negotiated the unpredictable Welsh weather and muddy conditions to finish third overall. Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm gathered considerable experience, making it to the end of the rally, after having been forced to re-join under Rally 2 rules.
Despite a difficult weekend, Citroën Total World Rally Team secured its eleventh podium in twelve rounds this weekend in Wales and Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia’s eighth top-three finish. This impressive result has allowed the French crew to remain in second position in the championship, 28 points behind the leaders.
With Sunday’s final leg only covering 38.42km, and held on stages well known to all of the crews, it was a tough challenge for Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia to make up the deficit to the top two crews. Matters were only made worse when the Great Orme stage (4.74km), was cancelled this year for safety reasons.
At that point, the French pair focused on keeping clear of trouble in the countless tricky sections, before really going for it in the Power Stage. They were second fastest on the final stage, and as a result added four bonus points to finish third overall.
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia moved into the top three after the rally’s first proper stage, before driving aggressively in the C3 WRC on Friday afternoon, claiming two stage wins and confirming their intention to try and secure a sixth win at this round. They ended the opening leg just 3.4 seconds off the lead. Determined to pursue their push on Saturday, not only the longest leg of the weekend but also contested without a mid-leg service, the six-time World Champions once again pushed as hard as they could in an exciting and closely-fought fight at the front.
Unfortunately, they weren't quite able to match the pace of the other two championship contenders, beginning Sunday’s final leg in third place, 17.3 seconds behind the leaders and 6.3 seconds off second place.
After driving somewhat cautiously on the first proper stage as they got to grips with the handling of the C3 WRC on the greasy Welsh roads, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm immediately upped their pace with a fourth fastest time, 4.0 seconds off the pace on the following stage (Penmachno, 16.19km). A third fastest time, just 1.0 second off the leading pace on Aberhirnant (SS5, 10.26km) meant they made it to the mid-leg service on day one just 7.8 seconds off the podium.
However, the Finnish duo were then caught out by one of the stages’ unexpected changes in grip, overestimating the grip available on a braking point at the start of the second loop, ending their chances of a top-three finish.
Having re-joined the action under Rally 2 rules on Saturday, they focused on improving their knowledge of the intricacies of the event and learning what it is like to start first in the running order on muddy, slippery roads, sometimes flooded with standing water. They nonetheless showed impressive speed at certain points, scoring a third fastest time on the Power Stage, within a second of the stage-winning time.
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver: “The Power Stage sums up our weekend in many ways: we have been a couple of tenths back throughout the rally. We tried our best and gave it absolutely everything, but we were just a bit short of performance whilst Ott had a super weekend. It’s not a great result for us in terms of the championship with just two rounds to go, but we’re going to keep fighting tooth and nail for as long as we can to win the title.”
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver: “For sure, it’s a shame to find yourself out of contention on the Friday. But there are some positives as we learned a lot from here. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of performance we managed to show in the C3 WRC despite having had totally dry conditions for our pre-event test.”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
What is your analysis of this slightly disappointing weekend?
I suppose we have slightly mixed feelings about our weekend. Obviously, there are many things we can be pleased about, not least securing the brand’s eleventh podium in twelve rounds this season. We also showed great reliability with the C3 WRC, especially on Saturday when we had to cover almost half of the total distance with no service period.
On the other hand, we had hoped to be more competitive so that Sébastien and Julien could keep moving upwards in the championship standings, especially as they once again showed incredible fight at this rally. It’s an event where they excel, as can be seen in their performance on the Power Stage. Instead of making up ground, however, they have dropped a little further back.
Similarly, we were hoping for better for Esapekka and Janne, but they were a little unlucky in drifting marginally off the line at the wrong place. We saw afterwards in the pace they showed that they obviously could have secured a strong result this weekend, but you need quite a bit of experience to read the grip on these muddy gravel roads, something that they are still in the process of attaining. By remaining consistent, they still managed to learn a lot during the rest of the rally.
How do you see the final two rounds?
Obviously, the situation in the championship is more difficult now and we’re going to need a bit of good luck to turn things in our favour. But we’re not about to give up. We now have to work hard to give Sébastien and Julien a car that enables them to fight for victory at these two remaining rounds. Last week, Sébastien spent a day testing on tarmac at our Satory test track. This week, we had another test there and next week, we’ll be holding a four-day test in Spain. We’re going to give it our very best shot, so we have no regrets at the end of the year.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEKEND
Until the end of the Power Stage, the Citroën Total World Rally Team tried everything to limit the points dropped in the championship, with a team strategy that was close to perfect.
Despite their misfortune on day one, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm constantly showed their competitiveness on the Welsh roads, whenever they weren’t too hampered by the conditions. This is why the team encouraged them to express their talent on the Power Stage, as part of a team strategy designed to steal as many points as possible from their rivals. The Finnish pair executed their part perfectly, topping the timesheets until Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia moved ahead of them by less than five tenths. Neuville tried and failed to dislodge the two Citroën crews, before Tänak finally managed to grab the top time by just over four tenths of a second.