For the eighth round of the season, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT tackles one of the most famous and the most demanding events on the WRC calendar – Rally Finland. Running a C3 WRC that has been upgraded again, the French team will be represented by Craig Breen / Scott Martin, Mads Østberg / Torstein Eriksen and Khalid Al Qassimi / Chris Patterson.
FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS TO THE C3 WRC
Rally Finland is home to some of the fastest stages of the season, contested through formidable Finnish forest. If drivers are to fully commit to the rally, it is crucial that they completely understand their cars. With four overall wins (2008, 2011, 2012 and 2016) secured in the country of a thousand lakes, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT has already proven its ability to choose the right set up for this unusual event.
Here, for once, precision tends to be a little more important than grip. With the introduction of a new front axle geometry, tested competitively at the recent Rally Estonia by Craig Breen in preparation for Finland, the Red Army has fine-tuned the balance of the C3 WRC. The French car will be once again driven by Craig Breen and Mads Østberg at what both drivers see as one of their favourite rounds of the year.
The Irishman and the Norwegian will be also looking to make the most of their substantial experience on the Finnish stages, with eight and twelve previous appearances respectively to their names and each having a best result of third overall. Khalid Al Qassimi, back in action after his first outing in Argentina, will however be adopting a different approach. At a rally that he also knows well, but which is always a major challenge, the Emirati driver's sole aim will be to gradually get his bearings back in the car and make it to the finish.
Given the speeds reached on the stages, knowledge of the course is absolutely critical in order to set up accurately for the countless crests, big and small, which have built the reputation of this rally over the years. However, more than twenty percent of the itinerary will be new this year: the Vesala shakedown, stages such as Ässämäki (4/9) and Äänekoski (5/10) on Friday are brand new, as is Laukaa (20/22) on Sunday, whilst others have only been changed in certain sections.
The crews will therefore be required to perform something of a balancing act, especially on the first pass, as they commit – at full throttle – to the pace notes taken in recce at significantly slower speeds. This summer rally, famous for the very narrow margins that invariably separate the crews, promises once again to be a hotly contested rally not to be missed.
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal: "You really need to throw off the shackles to do well at this great rally. In any event, having competed at Rally Estonia and completed four days of pre-event testing, we'll certainly be well prepared. It’s also one of the rounds that our crews know best, and with the new upgrades introduced on our C3 WRC, I think we can hope to get among the frontrunners, although the competition will be very stiff yet again."
Craig Breen: "Rally Estonia was excellent preparation for me. It gave us the opportunity to look at a few things and we also noted that with the new front geometry, the C3 WRC is even better balanced. I feel very confident coming into this round, especially as it's one of the World Championship events where I have the most experience. Experience is absolutely critical here, even though some of the stages have changed for this year's rally."
Number of appearances at the event: 8 - Best result: 3rd (2016)
Mads Østberg: "This really is one of my favourite events of the season. Although you need to make good pace notes in recce, afterwards it's an all-out attack. You don't have to worry about tyre wear or the road surface breaking up. I have some very good memories from here, especially the podium secured when driving for Citroën in 2015, and I hope to take advantage of my two days of pre-event testing to get off to a good start and try to reproduce the same kind of performance"
Number of appearances at the event: 12 - Best result: 3rd (2013 and 2015)
Khalid Al Qassimi: “This round is special for me because it's where I made my debut in a works team in 2007. The feeling in the car during the stages, with the high speeds and never ending crests, is also unique. It's also what makes it such a difficult rally: you must be really comfortable and have good pace notes. As my last outing was in Argentina, I'll need to get my bearings back first of all. I'll then try to up the pace gradually whilst making sure I don't make any mistakes.”
Number of appearances at the event: 8 - Best result: 9th (2009)
2018 RALLY FINLAND KEY FIGURES
23 timed stages covering a total of 317.26km
4% of the timed stages are completely new
Four overall wins secured by Citroën at Rally Finland: Sébastien Loeb in 2008 (C4 WRC), 2011 and 2012 (DS3 WRC) and Kris Meeke in 2016 (DS3 WRC)
200kph – the top speed of the C3 WRC. Finland is one of the few rallies on the calendar, along with Sweden and Mexico, where it can be reached
Being able to estimate the differences between the crests in recce
Recce is highly important at all rallies, but this is especially true in Finland where the crews must assess in two runs – at a top speed of 80kph – the difficulties they will face when tackling the same stages at average speeds in excess of 130kph during the race. Added to which, this year, there is almost 68km of new stages. Although the event has gained its iconic status thanks to its enormous jumps, there aren't actually that many; however, the stages are full of smaller crests. These tend to lift the wheels of the cars off the ground to a greater or lesser extent, resulting in more or less significant loss of directional power. Assessing these differences is therefore what recce is all about in Finland.
Craig Breen recalls his first WRC podium (3rd), secured at the 2016 Rally Finland
"It's certainly something that I'll never forget. I had dreamt about it but that day, I turned my hopes of getting among the leaders in the World Championship into reality. I can still see my whole family waiting for me at the end of the last stage. There were a lot of Irish supporters there too and it was pretty incredible to be the first Irishman to finish on the WRC podium. Especially as it had been such a close fight with Tänak and Neuville for third. Shortly afterwards, our efforts were rewarded with confirmation that Scott, my co-driver, and I were staying with the team in 2017 and 2018."