Although the Welsh forest stages encourage the drivers to go for it behind the wheel, experience is needed if you are to avoid getting caught by one of the countless changes in grip. The roads are very greasy in places, kept damp by the invariably heavy rain in the thick, gloomy forests. The local gravel stages are reputed for harbouring many tricky sections that thick fog can sometimes make it almost impossible to make out properly! Citroen WRT’s drivers, Mads Østberg and Craig Breen, are not exactly newcomers to the rally. With twelve and seven appearances in Wales respectively, they have a very good idea of what to expect and the challenge that lies ahead.
Østberg has also finished on the podium on two occasions here (runner-up in 2011 and third in 2014), the latter outing when competing for Citroen
He, therefore, comes into the event aiming to produce a similar performance this year. Buoyed by the proximity of his native Ireland – and the large number of Irish fans likely to make the trip – Craig Breen will also want to build on the speed he showed in the C3 WRC last year and get among the leaders in Wales. It is equally true that the drivers are even more comfortable in the car, which has had several significant upgrades (rear sub-frame and front axle geometry) since then.
The weather is once again likely to play a vital role in proceedings. If it rains, Mads and Craig’s starting positions for Friday’s leg (tenth and eleventh respectively) would prove to be a major handicap, with the roads liable to become increasingly slippery as more cars complete the stages. If however, the roads remain dry, there will still be plenty of difficulties to contend with. Average speeds would increase dramatically, but the damp, tricky sections on the forest roads are unlikely to dry out completely!
The other challenge stems from the fact that the crews will have to tackle the 150.24 kilometre-long leg on Saturday – the weekend’s longest day – without a proper service period, which means that any mistake or technical issue can quickly become fatal for their chances. The rally retains most of its iconic stages, but there are a few new speed tests. Such are Penmachno (16.95km) and Slate Mountain (1.63km) on Friday, Elsi (10.06km) on Sunday and some portions on Brenig, Sweet Lamb Hafren and Gwydir that went through some revision.
Pierre Budar, Citroen Racing Team Principal
“Although the weather may affect our performance on the opening leg, we have done all we can to get the best performance possible, particularly by holding some good test sessions in Wales. Both Craig and Mads really like this unusual event and know it very well, so although you need to make sure you don’t get caught out by the slippery conditions, even when it’s dry, I think we can have legitimate hopes of doing well here.”
“This is as near as it gets to a home rally for me, so it’s obviously a special event, especially as I have some very good memories here. I know the roads well and I had a very good feeling during our pre-event test. So I’m very keen to get a good result here. The real difficulty here is trying to assess the level of grip as quickly as possible. You have to trust your feeling, look at the colour of the dirt and gravel, and also rely on your experience from previous years. If the stages are dry, then the ground tends to be pretty rough and you need to look after your tyres.”
The road conditions are starting to get slightly worse and we couldn’t improve our time, going 0.1 slower than our 1st pass. Still, a very respectable time and we hold 4th quickest shakedown time so far. #WalesRallyGB
? @shiftspark pic.twitter.com/JH1DO7cGoj
— Craig Breen (@Craig_Breen) October 4, 2018
“It’s an event that I really like. I’ve had quite a few good experiences here. The C3 WRC was comfortable on these roads last year and our pre-event test here last week was very productive. So I’m feeling confident before the start. At a rally like this, where you are pushing really hard, you need to be at one with your car and completely spot on with your pace notes. You then you have to try and not get caught out by one of the very slippery sections where there is a sudden change in grip.”
“At a rally like this, where you are pushing really hard, you need to be at one with your car and completely spot on with your pace notes. You then you have to try and not get caught out by one of the very slippery sections where there is a sudden change in grip”
? @AtWorldMA pic.twitter.com/rmHkp5Vphz
— Mads Østberg (@MadsOstberg) October 4, 2018