Contesting their first rally with the Abu Dhabi Total WRT, Craig Breen and Scott Martin produced a solid performance on the frozen roads of Rally Sweden.
The crew ended today’s opening leg eighth overall. Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson finished the day 23rd, whilst Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle were stopped in the tracks when running second.
With recce reorganised and the shakedown and eight stages cancelled, the Rally Sweden schedule was radically changed at the start of the week. In fact, the weather conditions were so mild for February that there was prolonged uncertainty as to whether or not the event would actually go ahead!
After the Thursday evening’s ceremonial start confirmed the undiminished enthusiasm of the Scandinavian crowds, the competitors left parc ferme this morning for a leg featuring six stages, contested in Norway and in the Swedish province of Värmland.
The afternoon loop was more complicated with all this snow. It’s pretty incredible to say that there was too much, when we have been waiting for it to fall all week!
Thanks to the hard work of the organisers, the drivers were able to race on entirely safe roads against a snow-covered backdrop.
Embracing his status as the Abu Dhabi Total WRT lead driver, Kris Meeke wasted little time in getting among the leaders. Despite his less than ideal position in the running order, the Northern Irishman held third place at the end of the first loop. In the afternoon, when a significant amount of snow finally began to fall, Kris upped his pace to take the stage win on Svullrya 2.
Having moved up into second position and seemingly on course to challenge Sébastien Ogier for the overall lead, his progress was then brought to a grinding halt after around ten kilometres on Röjden 2 (SS8). His car suffered a broken suspension arm after hitting a hidden rock on a corner… Kris and his team-mate Paul Nagle will rejoin tomorrow under Rally2 rules.
As Kris went quickest on Svullyra, another of the team’s drivers produced an impressive performance: with the third fastest time, Craig Breen confirmed the progress he had been making since the start of the rally. Despite spinning on the next test, the Irishman continued to take the fight to local hero Henning Solberg. He made it back to parc ferme at Karlstad in eighth position, less than two seconds behind his rival.
Driven by Khalid Al Qassimi, the team’s third car ended the opening leg in 23rd place. Improving as he completed more stages, the Abu Dhabi driver was pleased to have completed the day without making any major mistakes, despite the very tricky conditions.
Rally Sweden continues tomorrow, with the traditional stages of Fredriksberg, Vargåsen and Rämmen.
Craig Breen (#15): “The conditions were better than we had been expecting, especially this morning. The afternoon loop was more complicated with all this snow. It’s pretty incredible to say that there was too much, when we have been waiting for it to fall all week! I won’t forget the feeling at the end of SS7 in a hurry! I couldn’t believe it when I was told that I had just set the third fastest time… It’s been a fantastic opening day with the Abu Dhabi Total WRT, even though I made a couple of minor mistakes on the last two stages. In total, I must have lost about thirty seconds but I couldn’t be happier this evening. Tomorrow, my goal will be to keep learning and improving.”
Khalid Al-Qassimi (#14): “It was a difficult day, especially because the stages were so different to what we experienced in recce. The road conditions were good, with a lot of ice. It was more complicated on the second pass. There was a lot of snow and therefore less grip. We played with the set-up of the shock absorbers and we have a lot of information this evening that we will be able to use with the engineers. The aim is to keep working to increase the stability of the car and enjoy driving it even more.”
Kris Meeke (#7): “We had made a pretty good start to the rally. Without pushing too much, we were third after the morning loop, despite having a less than ideal starting position. Our position became an advantage when the snow started to fall in the afternoon and we grabbed a stage win. I wasn‘t taking any more risks when we ran into trouble on the next stage. We hit a stone buried in the road on a slow corner and the suspension arm broke. Obviously, it’s disappointing but we’ll be back tomorrow to get more experience.”
Abu Dhabi Total WRT