Citroën Pocket Yet Another Podium
Despite their chances of pushing for the win being compromised by their successive road positions, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia refused to give up. Their determined attitude was rewarded with a third place finish and their sixth podium of the season. This was also Citroën Total World Rally Team’s seventh top-three finish in as many rounds. Equally deserving of a good result, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm were unfortunately caught out in the closing stages with the finish in sight.
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia went into Sunday’s final leg, which covers just 52 kilometres and is well known to all the crews, with slim chances of making up the 11.8 second gap to the podium. The Citroën Total WRT’s lead driver therefore focused on the Power Stage, and the bonus points available, whilst remaining ready to pounce if a rival crew should make a mistake under pressure. That is exactly what happened on the final stage, enabling the French duo to move up to third position, securing their sixth podium of the season – and Citroën Total WRT’s seventh – after another intelligently crafted performance. With the five extra points earned for winning the Power Stage, Sébastien and Julien continue to lead the World Championship.
Coming into the Portugal round as leaders, and therefore forced to run first on the road, the six-time World Champions feared they would suffer, given the very loose, dry conditions seen in the recce. Sébastien and Julien managed, however, to produce a heroic performance on day one, reaching the end of day service in fifth place, just three seconds off the podium, having successfully gambled on tyre choice. Despite this, the difference in road position compared to the other podium contenders was so significant on Saturday that it prevented Sébastien and Julien from fighting in even conditions. This meant they began Sunday’s final leg 11.8 seconds behind the third-placed crew.
Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm, who were just 2.3 seconds off fourth place after SS2, had also made a good start to the rally. Unfortunately, one of their tyres came loose after landing a jump (SS3) and the pair found themselves down in eighth overall at the end of day one. They then produced an impressive performance on Saturday’s leg to climb to fifth overall, including three fourth fastest times, despite having spent two thirds of the day running in a tough second position on the road. Unfortunately, a minor error at the start of Sunday’s leg (SS16) proved to be extremely costly. The pair turned slightly too sharply into a right-hand hairpin and ended up spinning and then rolling their C3 WRC. As they attempted to defend their fifth place on the next stage, they clipped a bank, damaged the rear left-hand suspension and had to retire within sight of the finish.
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver: “I didn't think we could score twenty points this weekend. Although we never had a chance of winning the rally with our position in the running order, we gave it absolutely everything, regardless of the situation. Having pushed that hard, this result feels like just rewards. In truth, I was hoping not to be first on the road in Sardinia, but every point counts at the end of the season. I'm pleased to see that we were competitive on the Power Stage, which was more or less the only stage of the weekend where we had the same grip conditions as our rivals. That means we have also progressed in terms of performance although it was difficult to show it, given the circumstances.”
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver: “After our roll, the car wasn't too badly damaged, it was just missing the rear spoiler. I thought I had a good rhythm on the following stage but I was slightly too optimistic on a right hander over a crest and I hit a bank, which caused a puncture and then damaged the suspension. There were too many kilometres left to cover with our makeshift repairs. I'm really sorry for the whole team, who deserved better.”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia once again showed superb rally management this weekend…
Yes, absolutely. Given, their road position on day one, but also throughout the weekend, they did a great job on these roads, where cleaning is such a major factor. Despite not being able to fight on even terms, they managed to maintain the pressure and remained ready to seize any opportunities that came their way. Their determination and resilience were rewarded with another podium finish and a handsome tally of points for the championship. The fact that they felt comfortable in the C3 WRC also confirms that we have made significant progress with the car and are moving in the right direction. We’re going to keep working even harder because we’ll have to deal with the disadvantage of cleaning the road again in Sardinia.
Despite their retirement from the rally, there were some promising signs in the performance of Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm…
We’re obviously disappointed that they didn't make it to the end of the rally, especially after such a fine day on Saturday. After very good pre-event testing, during which we identified the differential set-up that suits them best, the pair seemed on their way towards putting together a decent performance, so I hope they can build on this in Sardinia. We are now going to work together to support them so that they can manage this kind of situation better in the future.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEKEND
Thomas Breton, Race Engineer to Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, looks back on the crew’s incredible performance during the first leg, which they ended in a somewhat unexpected fifth place…
“Given the extent to which we expected the road to clean this weekend, we had focused on maximising the balance of the car in low-grip conditions during pre-event testing. Apart from Friday’s opening stage, where they were probably getting a feel for the loose conditions, Sébastien and Julien were incredible. It is also worth mentioning that on the first stage, Sébastien had accidentally switched to road mode and by the time he realised this, he had probably lost a couple of seconds. The afternoon loop went particularly well, since they were only two tenths per kilometre off the stage-winning times.”
“Tyre choice undoubtedly also played a role in their performance. Due to running first on the road, and also the fact that Sébastien is a driver who really looks after his tyres, we opted for a different strategy to the other drivers in the afternoon. We kept two Michelin mediums, despite the high temperatures, where all the other crews went with five hard tyres. Having the right strategy is one thing, of course, but you still have to deliver and that’s precisely what he did. The data shows that Sébastien doesn't overdo it when there’s no need and this approach paid dividends in his times.”