The 2017 World Rally Championship season gets underway with the 85th edition of the Monte Carlo Rally next weekend. It is the start of a new era in the WRC with next generation cars.
For Citroen Racing it is the start of a new a chapter in their history as they return to full-time competition in the WRC for the first time in 13 years.
The team will field three full-time drivers this season with Kris Meeke and Stepahane Lefebvre driving the new C3 while Craig Breen will drive a DS3 and will be given a C3 for Rally Sweden.
Citroen Racing Team Principal Yves Matton commented by saying:
As is always the case at the start of new programme, we do feel that a few extra days would have been very welcome in order to spend more time developing the car. The development of the C3 WRC has been the shortest in the history of Citroën Racing and we have to stress the extraordinary investment made by our teams over the last few months. Having said that, we are eager to see where we stand. That competitive spirit is hard-wired in us. The car seems to be well-designed and consistent, but we’ll just have to see how it compares with its rivals. Our crews will have two different approaches. Kris showed last year that he has the ability to win this rally. But of course, we need to differentiate between driving throughout a day on a test run and a completing a four-day rally with only two passes on the stages in recce. We’ll need to be defensive at the start of the race, to see where the competition lies and then look ahead to the rest of the rally. It will be different for Stéphane. Like Craig, we want to take him to a level where he can challenge for race wins. But before that, there will still be a period of learning, especially in the first half of the season. He needs to aim for points finish and ensure he makes it to the end. We only have two cars here, which means that there’s no backup option or safety net.
The Monte Carlo which gets underway next Thursday features 17 timed stages covering 382,65KM. There are 76 entries including 10 2017 generation WRC’s.
There are 41 tyres per a crew selected from 72 sets with four compounds. The Citroen Racing team is made up of 22 professions. Speaking ahead of the start of the rally, Laurent Fregosi, Technical Director of Citroen Racing commented by saying:
We come to Monte-Carlo with the feeling that we have done some good testing to prepare for this rally. The drivers seem comfortable in the C3 WRC and that makes us optimistic about the raw performance levels of the car. Preparations for Monte-Carlo concentrated in two areas: test a wide variety of tyre combinations and explore the set-up options, in order to check if the usual ‘recipes’ work with this new car. We spent a lot of time studying the mapping of the active central differential. This new component allows us to subtly adjust the handling of the car depending on the road conditions. The aim is to provide the drivers with an ‘easy’ car, which is forgiving when there is a sudden change in grip. This first rally will also provide us with a good test of our car’s reliability. On this surface, it’s mainly the driveshaft that is given a bit of a hammering during the changes in grip.
Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke is making his eighth appearance at Rally Monte Carlo with a podium finish with third place in 2014 his best result to date. Speaking ahead of the start of the new season he said:
We’re getting close to the point where should be ready to start a rally in the best possible conditions! After our last test sessions, I can’t wait to move onto the next stage. I have the feeling that we’ll be in the spotlight here, but I hope I can concentrate on my driving. It’s never easy to compete at Monte-Carlo. At each service, we’ll need to put our heads together to come up with the right – or the least wrong – tyre choice. People have no idea of the mountains of work done during test sessions to acquire data and then work out whether a given option is the right one. In this area, Citroën Racing has a great deal of experience that I can make use of. For this first rally, my aim is pretty simple: stay relaxed and enjoy myself in the car. They do say, and rightly so, that anything can happen at Monte-Carlo.
Stephane Lefebvre who has made three appearances in Monte Carlo has a best finish here of fifth place which came last season. Speaking ahead of the rally he said:
Gradually, I realise that the day of reckoning is getting closer. What we have been talking about for months as being in the future is now here, in the present! We have been discussing all sorts of things with the engineers, every day, talking about the slightest detail related to my car. Nothing has been left to chance and it’s genuinely fascinating to be in the middle of this works team. On this, my first rally with this status, I will be aiming to finish in a good position and score as many points as possible for Citroën. I think I’m still short of time behind the wheel with the C3 WRC and I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I have to get to grips with the car in racing conditions before trying to drive on the limit. I think we’re all in the same boat to some extent, with a number of unknowns in all areas.
Waterford’s Craig Breen is happy to start the season in the old car and has three previous starts here with a best finish of 13th coming in 2015. Speaking ahead of the rally he commented by saying:
I will certainly be the driver under the least pressure this weekend! I’m pleased to start my season in an old car, because I don’t have a lot of experience at Monte-Carlo. This appearance will give me the chance to learn about the rally. It will also be an opportunity to note the gap between the two generations of World Rally Cars. My priority is to rack up the miles, but I will also be pleased if I manage to score a few points. They may come in handy in the final reckoning at the end of the season.
The Monte Carlo Rally takes place from January 18-22.