Mads Østberg – Torstein Eriksen and Craig Breen – Scott Martin both grabbed a stage win in their C3 WRCs – each time on the day’s longest speed test – as they dominated the opening leg in Australia. The Citroën pair ended day one at the top of the leaderboard, in first and second places respectively.
The highlight of today’s 101.68km-long opening leg, in the end largely contested in mainly dry conditions, was the Sherwood stage (26.68km) with its typically Australian profile: wide and quick roads, where the cars pirouette their way through a seemingly never-ending series of corners, much to the delight of the drivers.
It was particularly on demanding roads like these that the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT crews, making the most of their good positions in the running order (8thfor Breen and 11thfor Østberg), showed off their driving skills as well as the qualities of their car! 2.4s off the pace before the long test, Mads Østberg grabbed the stage win on the first pass (SS3) and moved into a commanding overall lead. Meanwhile, his team-mate Craig Breen finished second fastest on the stage to move up to fourth overall.
Although the two Citroën drivers swapped positions on the afternoon running of the stage (SS6), they both produced another excellent performance. This time, Craig took the stage win, moving him into third place and ensuring he would have a good position in the running order on tomorrow’s leg (9th), whilst Mads strengthened his grip on the overall lead. Craig even managed to cap this excellent team performance by grabbing second place on the day’s final two super special stages, meaning the Red Army occupied the top two places on the rally leaderboard at the end of day one!
The rally’s longest leg is nevertheless still to come for the crews, with no fewer than 133 kilometres of timed stages (10 tests) due to be contested tomorrow. The difficulties of Saturday’s leg include the famous Nambucca stage, this year split into two parts (Argents Hill Reverse then Welshs Creek Reverse), and weather conditions that are expected to be very changeable…
WHAT THEY SAID
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“Obviously, it has been an excellent day for us, picking up where we left off in Spain in terms of performance! Our drivers were very comfortable in the C3 WRC and managed to be quick and consistent. They are now ideally positioned for the rest of the rally. We now have to keep it up and hope that the rain doesn’t cause us too much trouble…”
“Other than the first stage of the loop, where I wasn’t quite on it a couple of times, I had a good opening leg. We were right on the pace all day, which you can see with our win on the longest stage. Importantly, that helped us to gain a place in tomorrow’s running order. I can’t wait to get out there again, because the second leg looks like it will be the best day of the weekend!”
“I thought I would need time to get used to the car again, having not driven it since Wales but I felt confident in the car very quickly. I gradually got my bearings again and adjusted my driving stage by stage. In the end, I really enjoyed it. For sure, we pushed but without risking everything. Obviously, we are right in the mix and I’m really determined to stay there!”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 WRC) 53:37.4
Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +6.8
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +8.7
Paddon / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +12.5
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +16.9
Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.3
Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +38.2
Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.2
Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.2
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:11.9