Rally Poland, the eighth round of the World Championship, is a popular event with all of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT drivers. Andreas Mikkelsen, Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre cannot wait to drive on the ultra-fast roads of the Masurian region. The Citroën C3 WRC will be running with significant upgrades in Mikolajki.
THE CHALLENGES: UPGRADES FOR THE C3 WRCS
After the end of Rally Italia Sardegna, the team’s engineers and crews immediately headed for Poland, where they spent four days testing in the Mikolajki region. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger, Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau took turns behind the wheel as they adapted the set-up of the Citroën C3 WRC to the specific features of the Polish roads. Following this session, Citroën Racing submitted two upgrades to the FIA: homologation of a new rear differential rail and a mechanical ‘joker’ in order to modify the torque split between the axles. After a series of results that have fallen short of its targets, Citroën Racing has renewed its determination to get back to challenging for podiums.
Having won once and finished as runner-up twice in the last three years, Andreas Mikkelsen has good reason to feel confident of a strong result at Rally Poland. Due to a delay in sourcing the new components, his C3 WRC will be the only one to have the newly-homologated ‘joker’. If roads are dry, the Norwegian is also likely to benefit from a good road position on day one, giving him a chance to be well placed for the following legs.
Seventh at this rally in 2016, Craig Breen will also be returning to an event that he likes. With the fast, flowing roads suited to his driving style, the Irishman will be looking for a similar result to the fifth places he secured in Monte-Carlo, Sweden, Corsica and Portugal. Craig currently lies seventh in the Drivers’ World Championship.
After missing Rally Sardegna, Stéphane Lefebvre returns to action in the C3 WRC. Like his team-mates, the young Frenchman feels comfortable on the Polish roads. In 2016, he was running in a fine seventh place before getting caught out during the particularly muddy third leg. Stéphane will also have a good starting position on day one, provided the fine weather holds up.
RALLY POLAND: FAST FORWARD
Rally Poland is the world’s second oldest rally, just behind Rallye de Monte-Carlo. Created in 1921, the event featured on the very first World Rally Championship calendar in 1973. A long wait then ensued until 2009, when Rajd Polski made its return to the world scene. Following another break until 2014, Rally Poland now seems firmly established on the WRC calendar, much to the delight of the thousands of fans that flock from throughout Eastern Europe to witness the breathtaking spectacle of the World Rally Cars flying past at full speed.
The rally is based in Mikolajki, a small tourist town in the lakes region, near to the borders with Lithuania, Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The route includes extremely fast gravel roads, which wind their way through the fields and forests of the surrounding countryside. The stages are predominantly narrow and the sandy road surface breaks up quite quickly: an additional challenge for the drivers, who have to cope with deep ruts on the second passes.
This year, the itinerary is balanced between roads that are very familiar to the crews and new sections. The rally is due to get underway on Thursday evening, with a run on the Mikolajki Arena super special stage, held right next to the service park. The toughest day looks likely to be on Saturday, during which crews will cover almost half of the event’s total competitive distance. The new stages of Baranowo, Pozezdrze and Kruklanki are certain to play a key role in deciding which of the leading contenders prevails.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: “Our season moves into a new phase at Rally Poland. We needed to take a step back to note that some of the risks we had taken during development of the C3 WRC were not paying off. Our car is unquestionably fast, but the window in which it works efficiently was proving too narrow. We have therefore begun making some major changes to our organisation, our methods and our principles. The first of these was the arrival of Andreas Mikkelsen, who encouraged us to explore some new ideas. After his first proper test session in the C3 WRC, we have introduced some upgrades that supplement the work done over the last few months. With a more versatile car, our drivers will be able to aim for the kind of results that match Citroën’s high expectations.”
Andreas Mikkelsen: “We had a very good test session last week. After spending two days in the car, on the kind of roads we’ll encounter in the rally, I defined a set-up that matches my driving style. Obviously, there is still work to do, but I think Craig and Stéphane were also pleased with the changes. Poland is my favourite rally: I was runner-up in 2014 and 2015, and then won here in 2016. I feel confident on these roads where, as a driver, you really need to commit. After learning about the car at Rally Sardegna, I hope I can fight among the frontrunners this time out. Many factors – such as the weather, the dust and the running order – can affect the outcome of the race, but I’m hoping to go for a podium spot if everything goes well.”
Number of WRC appearances at the event: 4
Best result: 1st (2016)
Craig Breen: “After the rough, winding roads of Sardinia, pre-event testing gave me the chance to readjust to the fast, flowing roads in Poland. Andreas explored some new ideas during testing, which seem to be a move in the right direction. I’m pleased to be competing at a rally where I don’t have to learn about everything. Last year, this event marked something of a turning point in my season. This is where I laid the foundations for my podium in Finland. I feel more confident coming into this event than I did before the last three rallies and I think I can up my pace here. Following a series of fifth places, I’d love to get a bit closer to the podium.”
Number of WRC appearances at the event: 1
Best result: 7th (2016)
Stéphane Lefebvre: “Like Andreas and Craig, I think we made progress during testing. I really like Rally Poland. I have been quick here in the last three years, regardless of the category. Last year, I also had the pleasure of claiming my first proper stage win in the WRC, as the leaders were fighting for first place. I know how to drive on these roads and my confidence was boosted by the test sessions. The stages are quite similar to those in Finland, with narrower roads and looser surfaces. There are also long sections through the fields, which are very fast but with few landmarks. My goal is to make it to the finish and put an end to the poor run of results I’ve had recently.”