Wednesday, 18 January will go down for motorsport fans as a special day, the day that the brand new World Rally Cars appeared on stage for the first time. Dry, icy and with snow in places, the Rallye Monte-Carlo shakedown provided an abridged version of the difficult conditions that lie ahead for the competitors in the next few days. In order not to eat into their allocation of studded tyres, the C3 WRC drivers opted to complete their runs on super soft tyres, even if it meant recording more modest times.
From mid-morning onwards, there was a noticeably restless atmosphere in the Gap service park. Rally fans gathered around the new Citroën Racing structure, be it to take a photo of the C3 WRCs or get a glimpse of the drivers.
At 4pm, the much anticipated moment finally arrived, as the 2017 World Rally Cars made their competitive bow on the shakedown. Whilst not especially representative of the rest of the rally, the 3.35km stage featured several changes in surface, from dry roads to sheer ice.
Tyre choice already proved to be critical. Among the 43 Michelin tyres that can be used for the entire rally – including the shakedown – the crews have twenty Pilot Sport S5 (soft tyres), twenty-four SS5 (super soft tyres), twelve Pilot Alpin A41 (non-studded snow tyres) and twenty-four A41C (studded tyres). Since the rally is set to be contested in typically wintry conditions, the Citroën drivers decided to conserve their stock of winter tyres by opting to run on super soft compounds.
As a result, pure performance was no longer on the agenda. Stéphane Lefebvre and Kris Meeke checked that their C3 WRCs were working properly during their four passes. Competing in a previous generation car, Craig Breen was content to complete the three mandatory runs during the shakedown.
Tomorrow, the crews will make their way to Monaco for the ceremonial start, due to begin at 6.11pm. Two night stages are due to kick off proceedings on the first leg: Entrevaux – Val de Chalvagne – Ubraye (21.25km) and Bayon – Bréziers (25.49km). The cars are expected to arrive back in Gap from 11.52pm onwards.
YVES MATTON, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL: “Since the result of the shakedown has no impact on the rally itself, we decided to conserve our allocation of studded tyres. The drivers didn’t have an easy job, because they had to cope with icy sections without damaging the cars. Mission accomplished for us and there are a number of positives we can take away from this shakedown.”
KRIS MEEKE: “The shakedown wasn’t very interesting because of our tyre choice. There was no chance of going for performance on slicks in these conditions. But we were able to make sure that the car was working properly. Tomorrow, it will be a whole new ball game with the leg between Monaco and Gap. I’m expecting it to be a tricky start to the rally, but I’m really looking forward to it!”
STÉPHANE LEFEBVRE: “I learned a lot again, because I hadn’t experienced conditions these in testing. There was quite a lot of ice, a few damp patches, some snow here and there and the racing line became dirtier as more cars completed their runs… It was interesting and useful to work on our set-up with regards to the race.”
CRAIG BREEN: “It was quite a tricky shakedown. It’s difficult to get a clear reading on the standings because all the drivers were trying out various options in terms of tyre choice. In any case, the most important thing was to get some kilometres under our belt on the ice and snow. Everything went well and we’re ready for the weekend ahead.”