Despite the cancellation of one stage, the crews nonetheless covered over 65 kilometres of timed sections on the opening leg of the Tour de Corse between Ajaccio and Bastia.
Since the start of recce, the weather forecasts had been indicating that conditions would be especially poor from Thursday night into Friday. After severe weather warnings were issued for Corsica, the entire island was hit by heavy storms and flash floods, especially in the north and the east.
Setting off from Ajaccio, the World Rally Championship crews were faced with very tough conditions, but no rain. The roads awash with puddles and rocks, Mads Østberg, Kris Meeke and Stéphane Lefebvre successfully negotiated the start of the Tour de Corse, keeping out of the kind of trouble that had already eliminated one of their direct rivals.
I think this has been one of the most difficult days in my career!
Severe flooding in Ponte-Leccia, near the start of SS2, then held up the event. The longest stage of the day, between Casamozza and Ponte Leccia, had to be cancelled. After stopping off in the Corte service park, the drivers got back behind the wheel to tackle the 36.43 kilometre-long Francardo – Sermano stage (SS3), with streaming and standing water in many places. The Citroën Racing drivers managed to make it to the end of the leg, whilst many of their rivals picked up slow punctures.
Mads Østberg arrived back in Corte in fourth place, 38.8 seconds behind the leader. Kris Meeke lies eighth overall this evening, within ten seconds of his team-mate. Stéphane Lefebvre ended the day in thirteenth place, as he attempted to get his bearings on his first Tour de Corse in a WRC.
All three DS 3 WRCs parked up in parc ferme for the night in Bastia. Tomorrow, the crews will head off directly for the morning’s two stages, without stopping off in service. After stopping to change tyres, they will tackle Casamozza – Ponte Leccia (cancelled today) and their second run on Francardo – Sermano. The leg will be split in two by a service in Corte before the crews set off on the rally’s longest stage, the 48 kilometre Muracciole – Col de Sorba test.
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “The Tour de Corse promised to be pretty unusual and so far, it is certainly that! The aim for us is still to close the gap to our competitors in the manufacturers’ standings. It is therefore pleasing to see that Kris managed his day so well. Mads feels more comfortable in conditions like these and he took advantage of that. As for Stéphane Lefebvre, his only real aim is to rack up the miles on all surfaces and in all kinds of conditions.”
Mads Østberg: “I think this has been one of the most difficult days in my career! We managed to be consistent and keep out of trouble. Our position is pretty good so far, although the final stage was really tricky. I hope that the sunshine will dry out the roads so that the second leg can be more enjoyable. Today, we were really looking to get the balance right between safety and performance.”
Kris Meeke: “I have to be pleased to have made it to the end of the first day. SS3 is certainly the most difficult stage that I have ever tackled. There was running water and debris everywhere on the road. Towards the end, however, some sections were beginning to dry out. Our gravel crews did a fantastic job, their help was invaluable today. Anything can happen on this rally, because there‘s still a long way to go.”
Stéphane Lefebvre: “It is very difficult to get to grips with driving the DS 3 WRC in these conditions. I have never driven in the rain with the car. I’m learning on every corner and, with the mud and the streaming water, it was very easy to make mistakes. We didn’t take any risks to try and put together our race, although sometimes it felt like we were just trying to survive out there. The roads are also very technical and narrow. Tomorrow, it’ll probably remain very slippery. So whatever happens, we’ll still have plenty of work to do!”