Deep behind Ogier
In its Citroën C3 WRC, the Ogier-Ingrassia crew will aim for a sixth victory in the Rally of Great Britain since 2013.
Sharked by its double in Turkey, Citroën redoubled its efforts to offer a performance C3 WRC Gapençais, still in the race for a seventh title.
Current sixth in the World Championship, Jari-Matti Latvala had understood that the opportunity would not arise. On Wednesday, the Toyota pilot had offered a small jogging at the sea, at the foot of the Great Orme, cliff overlooking the resort of Llandudno, new epicenter of the Rally of Britain. A good idea since yesterday, rain and wind have resumed their right in this city of North Wales. An expected return but which will nevertheless sow a little uncertainty on this beginning of the weekend, most of the drivers - except Tänak and Latvala who, to prepare this twelfth appointment of the season, were entitled to a taxi in the rain - having performed their tests on dry ground.
"Our tests were very positive with developments that went in the right direction especially on shock absorbers and geometry, explains Pierre Budar, the director of the Citroën team. The only downside is that they were made with a dry weather. Depending on the conditions we have in the race, we will discover things we did not see. Even if we feel like we have worked hard to tackle this rally. "
Launched in the Toyota world of Tänak, the leader of the World Championship, Citroën and his flagship driver Sébastien Ogier know that their margin is minimal, still 17 points behind (210 against 193). But the Reds, revived by their double in Turkey (September 15), have regained their appetite.
"We needed that to give us a little boost, loose Ogier. It was not easy to keep our heads up after a rally in Germany that was quite catastrophic for us (7th). "
"It's a result that has invigorated us, which has led us to be even more focused," adds Pierre Budar. We are really in our heads, thoroughly. "
Often overtaken this year by the speed of the Estonian and his Yaris - "the Toyota has been in another category all season," according to Ogier - Citroën has lost no time since Turkey, chaining sessions of tries to try to catch up.
"We all came home after Turkey," said Budar. We are well aware that we have no right to the error on the last three rallies (Great Britain, Catalonia and Australia), we need to score big points each time. We are in the race, we are still here to win. Everyone is involved, there are guys who work day and night to prepare the last pieces. "
"We are not here to ask too many questions,
And especially for the Rally of Catalonia (October 24-27, penultimate race of the year) which will be played mainly on asphalt, the big weak point of the French team this season. Moreover, Sébastien Ogier was again last week at Satory (headquarters Citroën Racing in Yvelines) to chain tests.
"We are preparing the sequel," says Budar. We are well aware of our problems on asphalt. In Germany, we were not at the expected level and so we intensified our schedule with specific sessions to prepare Catalonia. "Work to lead to a better analysis of the behavior of the C3 WRC on the road to no longer leave spin the dots. Even if Citroën had the good idea to scrape a good part of it this weekend.
"We're not here to ask too many questions," says Ogier. It is important to be able to do better than Ott (Tänak). The pressure is certainly more on his shoulders than on mine. We will do everything to put him under pressure. All the rallies are key but this one maybe even more at the sight of the calendar. If we manage to do at least equal play this weekend, or even pick up a few points, it could still be playable on the last two rallies where leaving ahead will be complicated. "
Record player victories in Wales (5 wins), Ogier has, it seems, the cards in hand to maintain the suspense in the title race.
"With Sébastien, we have someone experienced in this phase of the Championship," concludes Pierre Budar. But to allow him to manage at best, he will need a high-performance car. We are aware that we all have our role to play in the case. Everyone is focused on this goal. We must make him available for him to get there. "
"With Sébastien (Ogier), we have someone experienced in this phase of the Championship", congratulates Pierre Budar (right), director of Citroën Racing.
Tänak delayed entry
These are a few seconds on which Sebastien Ogier will not spit. Fourth in the opening stage (3.58km) of the Rally Great Britain won by Britain's Kris Meeke, the Frenchman saw his main opponent in the race for the world champion race at fault. After a first intermediary tied in the lead, Estonian Ott Tänak was indeed forced to stop his Toyota Yaris a few seconds because of an engine problem that cut his headlights in the middle of the night. Tänak finally restarted to conclude the stage with more than eight seconds behind Meeke and five over Ogier. A small savings always interesting to rake for the Citroën driver who will start today for 116.52 km of special with the goal of widening the gap.
Not a second to lose
On the roads of Wales, the crew Ogier-Ingrassia delivered yesterday, on board its C3 WRC, a tough battle that should continue this Saturday.
Less than five seconds separated yesterday a top quartet composed in this order of Tänak, Ogier, Meeke and Neuville. In this Rally of Great Britain, everything remains open.
Yesterday afternoon, on the seafront of Llandudno, technicians Citroën busy around their C3 darling. A crack appeared on the windshield of the car of Sebastien Ogier without even the Gapençais does not know where it comes from. In a few minutes, the men in red replace him, offering perfect visibility for their driver.
Assistance that will not be possible today if the Citroën knows any problem on the Welsh roads. With more than 573 km, including 151 special, pilots have the right to a marathon day without return to the assistance park for lunch. An important parameter when we know that the battle rages on this Rally of Great Britain with Ott Tänak (Toyota) in the lead and a trio stuck to his exhaust led by Sebastien Ogier (2nd yesterday evening at 3''4 ).
"If something happens to you in the morning, the race is over," warns the world champion.
It would be a shame for a Ogier able, as in Turkey (winner), to foil the cold machine Estonian. Prudent early yesterday in the rain, the French sent two great specials (6 and 7) under the sun to stick 7 seconds Tänak and Neuville (Hyundai), the two rivals who eye his throne. Unfortunately, two road trips by Esapekka Lappi (Citroën, in SS 6) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Toyota, in SS 7) forced the organizers to postpone the start of the following events, two of which ran in the dark instead of as originally planned.
"Given the intensity of the battle for the moment, it will go!"
Opener on the road, Tanäk even enjoyed a few minutes of additional brightness (party 3'avant Ogier and 6'avant Neuville) which allowed him to make a short break in the ES9 (5''8 ahead of Ogier, 8 'from Neuville), before concluding his day by dislodging his team-mate Kris Meeke from the lead of the rally.
"We reacted well in the last two stages in the night, judged Tänak, leader with 3''4 ahead of Ogier. Tomorrow (today), it should be faster, I hope we will be competitive. With a magic night, we will succeed in continuing like this. "
A night that will be especially short since the crews will be up at 4 am for a day that promises to be crucial.
"We have rather good reliability, we hope that it will always be the case, advance Pierre Budar, the boss of Citroën Racing. On a long day like this, it's complicated, because if there is the slightest adjustment to make, we will not be able to. The pilots will have to fend for themselves. It adds suspense. "
A total suspense, on specials that look bigger and faster, what to take more risks.
"We are where we want to be even if we have lost time in the last two stages," said Ogier. I may have hesitated a little too much on these last two (ES 9 and ES 10). But everything is still to be done when we see the gaps. We will still have the right to make mistakes. But given the intensity of the battle for the moment, we will have to go! "
With 17 points behind the Tänak World Championship standings, the Frenchman has no choice anyway. And besides, it seems that the fog will be invited to the party.
Alonso on the test bench
Rally star of Morocco, which begins this Saturday, Fernando Alonso was very sought yesterday during the day of checks in Fez.
Before validating his participation in the Dakar, the double world champion F1 will test, from today, with Toyota in Morocco.
October 2015, Sébastien Loeb aligns with the Rally of Morocco with Peugeot. Although learning is difficult, the nine-time WRC World Champion creates the event. And will pass near the victory on the Dakar 2017 (2nd behind Peterhansel). Four years later, another star of the sport self takes his first steps in the Moroccan desert, from today and until Wednesday, in order to engage on the queen event of the rally-raid, in January in Saudi Arabia: Fernando Alonso (38), double world champion F1 (2005, 2006), and double winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2018, 2019).
After the Loebmania, place at Alonsomania! On this Friday technical checks, cameras and pickups follow the Toyota driver as his shadow. The Spaniard plays the game, with a smile, often escorted by his friend, compatriot and opponent Carlos Sainz. As for Loeb before him, the wait is strong and the speculations are going well on his capacities of adaptation and the performances that he can realize after a few months of practice. Especially since it comes from the circuit!
"The goal is to store experience," says Alonso. The navigation will be important but with Marc (Coma, five times winner of the Dakar on a bike), I have the best co-driver! I feel good in the car, but I still need to understand the terrain and learn. All this is new to me and Marc (first time in the right seat). We will see where we stand in relation to our competitors. And if I'm ready, I'll tackle the Dakar. "
After having multiplied the tests on different terrains these last months (Namibia, Poland, Qatar, Morocco) and to have offered a small fright (barrel), mid-September, on the Lichtenburg 400, all-terrain rally in South Africa, the Spaniard will for the first time compete with the best in the discipline, like Stéphane Peterhansel (Mini buggy), Nasser al-Attiyah (Toyota Hilux), Carlos Sainz (Mini buggy), Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Hilux) ) ...
"We exchanged a lot with Fernando," Sainz observes. He's coming from the circuit, that's for sure, but he's an amazing driver. "
For Peterhansel, aka Mr Dakar, "it is difficult to pronounce for the moment on its potential. We just know he's going fast, but that, we did not doubt. Will he be patient enough and what will his level of risk taking be? We'll see..."
Ogier facing a wall
In addition to struggling against the clock to return to Ott Tanäk, Sébastien Ogier must also fight against the elements, since the rain and fog were invited on the Welsh roads.
In attack all day, the six-time world champion has lost time on Tänak and Neuville and surely his hopes of victory in Wales.
The scene sums up the day yesterday by Sébastien Ogier. Foot on the floor on Sweet Lamb Hafren - key special 25.65 km - the six-time world champion hits his flying fist when he gets acquainted with the gaps with Thierry Neuville, arrived before him. A gesture and words dropped on the camera of the promoter - "I can not go faster" - that say a lot about the feeling of helplessness that lives the driver Citroen, relegated this morning to 17 "3 Ott Tänak and 6 "3 Thierry Neuville.
However, this marathon day, with 151.24 km of specials on the program, was the perfect playground to make the Estonian and his Toyota unravel, sensitive when it comes to lasting time. But neither the rain nor the fog, appeared intermittently in this day on Llandudno tremble, nor the kilometers between links did not make it possible to shake the leader of the World championship.
"The bad news for us is that we regularly lose time and we never manage to answer," Ogier regrets. Even when I feel like doing perfect specials, it does not matter. It's a shame, the battle is beautiful but the tenths are not going in the right direction. "
Tänak loses his temper without consequences
Yet, on two occasions, the Estonian freezer seemed to be getting hot. In S13, behind an Elfyn Evans on fire at home (see elsewhere), Tänak made a special stage (5th to 8 "1 Evans), but neither Neuville nor Ogier grabbed the gift, the French passing besides not far from the correctional.
"We had a big fright in the middle of the stage because I did not understand a note from Julien (Ingrassia, his co-driver) and we hit a slope," he explains. I had lost my attention a little earlier because we had a big shock in front and I thought I had broken a damper. "
No breakage but no rise in the ranking either.
Especially as two specials later, the Toyota finally showed signs of fatigue, with the loss of its rear bumper, letting in a deafening noise in the cabin. Embarrassed according to his words to hear his co-pilot, Tänak lost nothing, if not his nerves at the moment by striking vigorously with his foot the trunk of his Yaris.
"It's the same problem as at the rally in Australia (2018) when we lost the Championship," he pleaded.
"If Tänak does not make mistakes, it will not be possible to overtake him,"
THIERRY NEUVILLE, HYUNDAI PILOT
A concern without incidence since the Estonian will leave with a beautiful car this morning and a precious handful of seconds that his competitors do not seem to be able to pilfer.
"We could not really go faster," said Thierry Neuville, the Hyundai driver. If Tänak does not make mistakes, it will not be possible to overtake because we have been on the same pace all day. "
And even if the Estonian launches that "eleven seconds is nothing", we feel that confidence is in his camp.
"Ott is far away but no one is safe from making mistakes," tries to convince Ogier.
The six-time world champion has five stages and 38.42 km today to be convinced. É
Evans in the back
Under the eyes of his father, settled in the hospitality area of M-Sport Ford, Elfyn Evans (30) made the show yesterday on his roads. Distanced to the general (8th to 51''8 after 10 special) following a first day spoiled by a first missed special and a puncture at the S3, the Welsh, who was driving close to home, did not the detail, winning three of the seven stages Saturday. Moreover, the Ford driver was the only one to do equal to Ott Tänak (+ 0''4 in advance for Evans) on 151,24 km disputed around Newton. However, this rally in Great Britain was that of the return for Evans, injured his back (following a shock) after the rally of Estonia in mid-July, and absent from the WRC since (he missed the rallies of Finland , from Germany and Turkey).
"What happened (his injury) was far from ideal but I could not do anything other than try to get back to work as soon as possible," he said before he left. He has come back and is already going very fast.
"It was really great especially this morning (yesterday), while in the afternoon I had more trouble finding the right lines because it was more slippery. But it's frustrating to have lost time on Friday because of a puncture. "
Sixth this morning (51''4 Tänak), the Welsh can still hope to decamp Andreas Mikkelsen (Hyundai) from fifth place (4''5 behind), to the delight of all his fans, came in number.