Rallye Monte-Carlo lived up to its reputation, as the first leg proved particularly difficult to manage. In spite of the testing conditions, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team crews made a strong start to the 2014 World Rally Championship.
Although the first two stages were mainly wet, the third – and especially the section through the Col de Perty where there was a lot of snow – handed a significant advantage to the crews that had taken winter tyres. Third after SS2, Kris Meeke moved into second after SS3, stealing a march on his rivals by making the right tyre choice. With his supersoft tyres, Mads Østberg managed to stay on the road whilst losing as little time as possible.
In the afternoon, both drivers went for four Michelin Pilot Alpin 4 tyres and two Michelin Pilot Sport SS2 tyres. Kris Meeke won his battle with Robert Kubica to end the first leg in second place. Mads Østberg took advantage of the afternoon loop to add to his experience and move up into fifth position in the overall standings.
Kris Meeke: “Clearly, running twelfth on the road was a bit of a disadvantage and I had trouble finding the right pace in the early part of the afternoon, because the racing line was covered in mud. I also felt it was better to be very cautious, even if that cost us some time. On such difficult stages, finishing the day in second place is obviously a good result. I’ll have to make sure I get plenty of sleep tonight, because we’ve a very long ahead of us tomorrow.”
Mads Østberg: “It was a positive day. We learned a lot in the conditions which were especially complicated. We didn’t make the best tyre choice in the morning, but we managed not to lose too much time. And although we made a few mistakes, none of them were serious enough to put us out of the rally. We’ll be able to work with the team now to try and continue to improve tomorrow. We know that we have the potential to go faster, but we have to be careful.”
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “Unusually for us, our two cars set off this morning having made different tyre choices. This decision was due to their starting positions. The option taken by Kris was the better one. And that is the main reason for the gap between the two drivers. They both drove well, very much in line with what we asked them to do. They were not to take any risks when the conditions were tricky and then try and push when things were a little easier. They managed the day well. Kris is second overall, and has a good road position for the rest of the rally; Mads is very close to the podium places.”
How the action unfolded
SS1 – Orpierre – Saint-André-de-Rosans 1 (25.49km) – Thierry Neuville was the first driver to be caught out by the very slippery conditions. Robert Kubica set the fastest time, despite sections of the stage being covered in snow. Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke finished in fifth and sixth positions.
SS2 – Rosans – Sainte-Marie – La Charce 1 (17.98km) – No snow on this second test. Robert Kubica extended his lead at the front, as Kris Meeke moved up into third overall. Mads Østberg held onto fifth position.
SS3 – Montauban Sur l’Ouvèze – Laborel 1 (19.34km) – The section through the Col de Perty handed a significant advantage to the crews that had opted to take winter tyres. Bryan Bouffier set the fastest time and moved into the overall lead ahead of Kris Meeke, who was also fast on this stage. Mads Østberg did his utmost on his supersoft tyres but slipped back to eighth overall.
SS4 – Orpierre – Saint-André-de-Rosans 2 (25.49km) – Jari-Matti Latvala went fastest as all the crews opted to fit winter tyres. Kris Meeke defended his second position. Mads Østberg clocked the fourth fastest time to move up into sixth overall.
SS5 – Rosans – Sainte-Marie – La Charce 2 (17.98km) – Dani Sordo was forced retire on the road section before the start of the stage. Sébastien Ogier won his first stage of the rally. Kris Meeke lost a place in the overall standings (down to third) whilst Mads Østberg gained one (up to fifth).
SS6 – Montauban Sur l’Ouvèze – Laborel 2 (19.34km) – The conditions were very different compared to the morning loop. The roads were wet and the snow was melting. Sébastien Ogier claimed his second consecutive stage win. Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke finished third and fourth respectively in their Citroën DS3 WRCs. Thanks to this performance, Kris reclaimed second position overall.