WRC A FULL 2016
Final flourish for Abu Dhabi Total WRT!.
At its final event of the season, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT lines up at the start of Wales Rally GB with four cars. For their home round – or as near as they come to one on the WRC calendar – Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle and Craig Breen/Scott Martin are guaranteed to enjoy huge support from the British fans. Alongside co-driver Gilles de Turckheim, Stéphane Lefebvre makes his competitive return in a WRC, whilst Quentin Gilbert and Renaud Jamoul make their debut in the sport’s top category after spending the season competing in the WRC-2.
21 oct 2016
Wales Rally GB is one of the unmissable events on the WRC calendar. This year, it won’t be the final round of the World Championship, but it is here that the season concludes for the Abu Dhabi Total WRT. Created to manage the transitional period before the return of Citroën as a works team in 2017, the team has taken part in eight European rounds of the WRC, from Monte-Carlo to Wales. With two wins, obtained by Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle in Portugal and Finland, it has been an incredibly successful year from a sporting point of view, regardless of what happens in Wales!
As a final flourish, Abu Dhabi Total WRT is set to contest the British round with a four-car line-up. This will be a special race – a symbolic and emotional event – for all four crews, but above all it will be the final opportunity for them to showcase their skills on one of the most challenging outings of the season.
In what will be his ninth appearance at the rally, Kris Meeke heads for Wales as the team’s most experienced driver. Last year, he finished runner-up here after a solid performance, during which he avoided the many pitfalls of the course.
On the same day, Craig Breen finished his fifth Wales Rally GB on the podium in the WRC-2. Having moved up a class with the Abu Dhabi Total WRT this season, the Irishman will be keen to confirm his growing confidence on a rally where he has always done well in the past.
Ill throughout the first leg of last year’s rally, Stéphane Lefebvre was not able to fully exploit the potential of his WRC. He nonetheless set some impressive times towards the end of the race and finished in eighth position. Two months after Rallye Deutschland, the Frenchman returns to action with the same aim in mind as Kris and Craig: prepare for the future!
The three Citroën Racing works drivers for 2017 will be joined by a new team-mate in Wales, Quentin Gilbert. Having competed at Wales Rally GB in the last three years, the 2015 FIA Junior WRC also likes this event. Promoted for his overall performance in the WRC-2 this season, he will be competing in his first World Championship rally in a WRC.
Next Monday, Stéphane Lefebvre and Quentin Gilbert will take part in a test day, designed to get them (back) into the swing of things before the start of recce!
As has been the case in recent years, the service park will be based in Deeside. Following the Clocaenog shakedown and the ceremonial start, held on Thursday evening at the Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay, the competitors will have their hands full on the opening two days, both contested without a mid-leg service. Part of the event for many years, the Myherin, Sweet Lamb, Hafren and Dyfi stages will be run in the oppose direction to usual. Others, such as Dyfnant, Gartheiniog or Alwen, will be identical to 2015. The organisers have also come up with a few surprises, starting with the Pantperthog stage, which has not been part of the event for more than twenty years! The rally is scheduled to finish on Sunday in Llandudno, after a short final leg.
Kris Meeke: “Wales Rally GB wasn’t initially part of my schedule, but the cancellation of Rally China means I’m able to take part and I’m delighted to do so! In the 1980s, I remember my first experience of rallying on television, watching the Group B cars tackling the stages of the RAC rally. This was also the first World Championship rally that I saw in person, in 1996, I think it was. At the time, I was spellbound as Colin McRae and Richard Burns sped by. It didn’t matter that you were standing in the darkness and the rain, with your feet in the mud! Then I competed in my very first rally on the Welsh stages and it was also here that I made my WRC debut in 2002. It’s the event that I know the best and I feel at home here. Last year, I secured a good result with second place, but we all know that the weather and the running order are more important in Wales than anywhere else! Obviously, the first car has an enormous advantage. Once the racing lines become covered with a layer of greasy, slippery mud, it doesn’t budge… Bearing in mind that we’re ninth on the road, it’s likely to be very difficult for us. In any case, I can’t wait to get started. All the stages are special in some way, but I particularly like Hafren, which we are going to contest in the opposite direction for the first time. For my final appearance of the year, I’ll be trying to enjoy driving the car as much as possible and hopefully take some momentum into 2017.”
Craig Breen: “I’m looking forward to racing on these stages again, which I have driven on many times in the British Rally Championship and during my five appearances at Wales Rally GB. I have a lot of good memories, the highlight probably being when I won the Junior WRC title in 2011 alongside Gareth Roberts, who was Welsh. In fact, the start line for Myherin – the opening stage this year – is exactly at the point where we won the title! Although this year’s rally is being held a few weeks earlier than usual, I’m not expecting the conditions to be especially different: rain, mud, fog, etc. Maybe we’ll see a few rays of sunshine, but it would be weird! The race conditions will have a huge influence on our ability to secure a good result. If our tenth place on the road became an advantage, I think I could fight for a podium spot, like in Finland. We’ll start the rally with a positive mindset and we’ll see what we can do.”
Stéphane Lefebvre: “Two months after Rallye Deutschland, I’m happy to be back behind the wheel of a WRC. It’s an important weekend, both in terms of finding my speed again and acquiring experience for 2017. With Gilles de Turckheim, who will be my co-driver in Wales as Gabin Moreau continues his recovery, we took part in recce at Rally de España and we have done a lot of work preparing for the Welsh stages. I feel ready to drive at 100%, on a rally that I really like. My last two outings here were in four-wheel drive cars and I was quick despite the difficult conditions. I remember driving on my first gravel stage, at night and in the rain… and I enjoyed it! At first, the stages don’t seem that difficult. It looks like a series of straight sections and a few more or less muddy changes in direction. In the race, however, you realise that you hit the turns a lot quicker than expected and the car doesn’t always stop in the way you intended! You have to ‘read’ the grip changes to stay on the limit without overstepping it. It’s a little bit like the kind of conditions you get in the north of France, but on gravel. I hope I can have a consistent race, with a steady gap to the leaders.”
Quentin Gilbert: “I really like this event for the stages, the difficult conditions and the atmosphere. I have some bearings from having competed here three times before. I have also been lucky enough to drive a WRC in the French Championship. I know what to expect in terms of power, braking and handling. So I won’t be starting from scratch next weekend! The team is doing everything it can to make my job easier, working in precise detail on my position behind the wheel and running a test session, which will help me get used to the car. On my side, I have been preparing by stepping up my physical training and working on on-board camera footage. I’m trying to take on board as much information as possible so I can be in my element at the start. As regards my objectives for the weekend, I know that I can’t compete with the drivers who have been racing in the WRC all season. The most important thing for me is to improve on the stages as the rally progresses to reduce the gap to the leaders by the end. I would like to thank Citroën Racing and Abu Dhabi Total WRT for this incredible opportunity and I hope I can prove my worth.”
Thursday, 27 October: Shakedown at Clocaenog Forest at 8am.
Ceremonial start in Colwyn Bay (Eirias Park) at 6.30pm.
Friday, 28 October: start at 5.30am from Deeside.
Finish in Deeside at 8.30pm following eight stages covering a total of 179.06km.
Saturday, 29 October: start at 5.45am from Deeside.
Finish in Deeside at 4.55pm following eight stages covering a total of 101.73km.
Sunday, 30 October: start at 7.20am from Deeside.
Finish in Llandudno at 1.30pm following six stages covering a total of 52.08km.
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