The Season Ends on a High!
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT secured its fifth podium of the season in Australia, this time thanks to Mads Østberg and Torstein Eriksen, once again illustrating the team's improving form in the second half of the year.
THE STORY OF THE RALLY
Having grown up on Scandinavia's roller-coaster roads, Mads Østberg has plenty of experience on flowing, fast roads and Australia is certainly one such event. Despite being short of competitive rallying since Wales Rally GB, his last WRC outing, the Norwegian wasted no time as he grabbed the rally lead with a stage win on SS3 – Sherwood (26.68km), the longest test on Friday's leg, and held onto first place until the end of the day.
Craig Breen also produced an impressive performance during the first leg. Second place behind his team-mate on the first run on Sherwood, the Irishman claimed the stage win on the second pass, thus confirming the undeniable balance of the C3 WRC on this road surface, which remains difficult to reproduce in European tests. A talented former kart racer, Craig also showed his assurance during the two runs on the super-special stage, held mainly on tarmac, ending the opening leg in second position.
Unfortunately, the rally took a different turn at the start of day two, initially a minor issue with the throttle sticking open, then a small but costly mistake that damaged the rear suspension and dropped him down to tenth place.
Meanwhile, Mads tried to keep his charging rivals at bay, eventually relinquishing the overall lead after the third stage (SS11) on day two. Despite completing his first run on the evening's super-special stage (SS17) in the rain, unlike two of his direct rivals for the podium, his perseverance and commitment were rewarded, as he remained within striking distance of the podium at the end of Saturday's leg.
In fourth place, just 20.3 seconds behind the driver in front, he still had a chance going into the final leg with heavy showers expected to produce extremely testing conditions. Despite the tricky surface, Mads – at one with his C3 WRC on a road that was more like an ice rink in places – held his nerve. He initially put himself out of reach of any possible comeback from the driver behind him, before benefiting from an incident to move up into third position on the penultimate stage. He therefore claimed his second podium of the year, after finishing as runner-up in Finland.
Mads’ performance enabled Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT to grab a top-three finish for the fifth time this season, after podiums in Sweden (2nd), Mexico (3rd) and Finland (2nd) and winning in Spain. Meanwhile, Craig Breen and Scott Martin ended the rally in seventh position.
THREE QUESTIONS FOR PIERRE BUDAR, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
How would you assess this final outing of the season?
Clearly, we're pleased with this new podium, following on from our win in Spain. In particular, we had an excellent opening leg, making the absolute maximum of our good road position, with our cars holding the top two positions at the end of day one. Although things didn't go quite as well on Saturday with a few mistakes, Mads nonetheless managed to stay within striking distance of the podium. We knew that, given the type of stages contested on Sunday and the weather forecast, anything could still happen on the final leg. Whilst the treacherous driving conditions caught out several crews, Mads showed his confidence in the C3 WRC, producing an extremely solid performance to seize third place. I think it's no less than the team deserved. The guys didn't put a foot wrong throughout the week, despite the ten-hour time difference, which is always difficult to overcome.
What is your analysis at the end of the 2018 season?
Obviously, we have had our fair share of highs and lows. I would say that the second half of the season was quite a bit better, with our podiums in Finland (2nd) and here, plus our win in Spain. In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to state my heartfelt thanks to both Mads and Torstein as well as Craig and Scott, for their support this season. They have always given everything and made a substantial contribution to turning things around in the second half of the season. We've also established strong ties with them this year. An underlying trend has been established in the team's way of working, and I think that means we can look forward to 2019 in a more confident and relaxed frame of mind. Although we are still undergoing transformation, and to complete this we need to keep working hard and improving further, things are gradually being put in place and are certainly heading in the right direction.
2019 is almost upon us…
Indeed, there is no real let up in sight. As soon as we get back to Europe, we will be preparing to start testing again with our new crews, so that they can get a feel for the C3 WRC and we can continue its development. We have known for some time that we are going to work together but now it is about to become very real and the prospect of actually taking action is a source of great motivation for the whole team.
On Friday, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT enjoyed the perfect leg, with its two C3 WRCs at the top of the leader board for the first time this season.
Starting eighth and eleventh on the road and with the weather staying dry in the end, Craig Breen and Mads Østberg were well equipped to perform on the Australian roads, which were expected to clean significantly. However, they weren't the only ones in this situation and yet it was the Norwegian who emerged in the lead on Friday evening, followed by his Irish teammate, just 6.8 seconds adrift. The pair's showing proved their competitiveness and that of their car at this event. The performance was all the more impressive for the Red Army in that Mads spent five of the opening day's eight stages in the lead, reflecting his consistency among the frontrunners. Meanwhile, Craig gradually climbed the standings, grabbing third place with a stage win on the second pass on Sherwood (26.68km), the longest stage of the day. However, he maintained his good form on the final two super-special stages to snatch second place at the close of day one.