Wales Rally GB is the thirteenth and final round of the 2014 World Championship.
One of the oldest events in world motorsport, Wales Rally GB was first contested in 1932. Since then, only World War II, the Suez Canal crisis and the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 1967 have prevented it from being held. For a long time, British, Swedish and Finnish drivers dominated the list of winners of the event, previously known as the RAC rally.
Although the Citroën Visa was driven to a few class wins at the start of the 1980s by Maurice Chomat and Mark Lovell, it was with the C4 WRC that the Brand scored its first overall win. Between 2008 and 2010, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena racked up three consecutive wins.
High-speed mud baths
“This thirteenth round of the season provides the crews with the final opportunity to showcase their talents. However, our main goal will be to retain second place in the Manufacturers’ World Championship. Our rivals aren’t too far behind, so we’ll need to ensure both cars are well-placed,” summarized Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal.
Last year, Wales Rally GB left Cardiff to set up base on the north coast of Wales. However, the majority of the stages are very familiar to the competitors. Rain, fog and mud… When the technical team and the crews talk about Wales and the month of November, these words always come up.
“No other round is particularly similar to it,” reiterated Didier Clément, the DS3 WRC’s Chief Operations Engineer. “It’s the rally where you can get the most rain and the most mud. The roads are therefore very specific. And the grip can change all the time! Sometimes, grip levels can be fine. But when the road surface features muddy, greasy stones, the grip can be virtually non-existent.”
The muddy gravel is therefore a very important aspect of this final round. It can become stuck to the side and underneath of the car in a matter of a few hundred metres: “There is no magic solution. The mud gets stuck to the car and cannot be removed without outside intervention. You can take on up to 100 kilograms of extra weight!”
Another challenge posed by this round concerns the set-up. This is because the average speeds reached on the stages mean that you need to keep maximum efficiency whilst also looking for grip: “There isn’t much vertical clearance and there are huge needs in terms of grip, but we can’t afford to sacrifice accuracy. It’s a difficult balance to get right, but we’ll be able to use our experience from previous years.”
Mads Østberg aiming for the podium
Mads Østberg has some very pleasant memories of his previous outings in Wales. The Norwegian has taken part in Wales Rally GB in a World Rally Car on six previous occasions. He was runner-up here in 2011: “It feels like I now have quite a lot of experience at this event. I can remember many good times on these roads. It’s a rally that I really enjoy and that I look forward to every year.”
Very competitive when the road surface is slippery, Mads and Jonas have already racked up podium finishes in Sweden, Portugal and Italy this season. They are expecting to fight for another top-three finish: “It’s a difficult rally. Bad weather and fog can add other risks. Starting with recce, we increase the details in the pace notes so we can maintain high speeds even when visibility is poor. The aim is to finish on the podium again. We have always been on the pace on gravel. So it’s up to us to round off the season with a good result. And I know that the DS3 WRC is fast!”
Kris Meeke “almost” at home
Northern Irishman Kris Meeke isn’t quite the local boy for the Welsh round. The British driver can nonetheless expect huge support from the local fans at this final round of the season: “It’s the closest I get to a home rally in the WRC. I even took part in my first ever rally, the Bulldog, in these forests. So I know the region very well even though I have only competed in Wales Rally GB once in the last eight years.”
Like the entire team, Kris can’t wait to be in Deeside: “The season has gone by very quickly… I love the atmosphere here, the tradition of the event, even the smell of the mud in the forests. These are some of the most beautiful stages in the world, and some of the most difficult as well. You need a car with a perfect set-up. You really have to get the balance right, because you need grip but you also need precision.”
“It would be great to finish the season on a positive note,” continued Kris. “I know I’ll get plenty of support from the many fans who would love to see me win. I’m going to do my best to acquire as much experience as possible, but I think that a podium finish is a realistic goal.”
23 Stages scheduled
Like last year, the service park will be based in Deeside, just a few miles from Chester which hosted the event on many occasions between 1979 and 1996.
The format has changed slightly this year, making it a more compact event. The ceremonial start will be held at Eirias Park in Colwyn Bay on Thursday evening. The action will get underway on Friday with a familiar loop taking in Gartheiniog (14.58km/7.44am and 1.03pm), Dyfi (21.90km/8.14am and 1.33pm), Hafren Sweet Lamb (23.55km/9.24am and 2.43pm) and Maesnant (12.86km/9.58am and 3.17pm). A midday remote service in Newtown will break the day up into two halves.
On Saturday, the stages will be held on roads close to the service park. Two spectacular stages are scheduled in the famous Clocaenog forest, Clocaenog East (8.25km/7.52am and 3.00pm) and Clocaenog Main (13.74km/8.08am and 3.16pm), alongside Aberhirnant (13.87km/9.18am and 4.26pm) and Dyfnant (19.98km/10.10am and 5.18pm). Before heading back for the midday service, a short stage designed for the fans, Chirk Castle Rallyfest (2.06km/12.00pm), will be included in the itinerary. The day’s final two stages will be held after dusk.
On Sunday, the route has changed this year. Two new stages make their first appearance: Brenig (10.81km/8.33am and 12.00pm) and Alwen (10.04km/9.00am and 10.51am). There is no service on Sunday, but sandwiched between first and second runs on these two tests there will be two runs on another Rallyfest stage at Kinmel Park (2.21km/9.55am and 10.04am).
After the Power Stage, held on the second pass on Brenig, the crews will head directly for Llandudno to celebrate the end of this 2014 season on the podium in Mostyn Street from 1.19pm.