The ADAC Rallye Deutschland began on Thursday evening with a super special stage held in the streets of Sarrebruck. On a course unsuited to the wide World Rally Cars, Kris Meeke was the evening’s biggest casualty. The Northern Irishman was forced to stop after hitting a concrete wall and breaking the steering. He was able to re-join the next day under Rally2 rules, but with the disadvantage of a ten-minute penalty.
Friday’s opening leg was mainly held on steep roads winding through the Mosel vineyards. Although being well down the running order, Andreas Mikkelsen immediately joined the fight for the lead. The Norwegian then claimed a stage win on SS4 to move into the overall lead.
The scattered showers of the morning had turned into heavy rain by the time the crews tackled their second runs on the stages. Despite using the Michelin Pilot Sport Full Wet tyres, Andreas Mikkelsen was unable to hold off Ott Tänak, who moved into the overall lead after SS7. By the end of the day, there was only 5.7s between the top two.
Struggling to feel comfortable on a rally with which he is relatively unfamiliar, Craig Breen made several minor mistakes during the day. Behind Neuville, Ogier, Evans and Hänninen, the Irishman held seventh place at the end of the opening leg.
On Saturday, the crews tackled stages held at the Baumholder military base. On the first run on the famous Panzerplatte stage, Mikkelsen lost ground to Tänak due to an overly conservative tyre choice. Andreas then made a few minor mistakes, enabling Sébastien Ogier to narrow the gap behind him.
The C3 WRC driver then pushed to the maximum on the second pass on Panzerplatte, setting the second fastest time to keep the pressure on Tänak and to find a little breathing space clear of Ogier.
Craig Breen enjoyed a better day than on Friday, especially on the second pass with a more consistent tyre choice. Due to various incidents, he moved up to sixth position, less than twenty seconds behind Evans and Hänninen.
In contrast, Kris Meeke’s fortunes took a turn for the worse as his rally ended for good after SS14. Just as he was beginning to get close to the pace of the leaders, the British driver had to retire with a mechanical issue.
Just four short stages remained on Sunday to finalise the standings. Still pushing hard, Mikkelsen moved clear of Ogier whilst closing slightly on Tänak. The positions remained unchanged for the rest of the rally meaning the no.9 C3 WRC secured second place.
Meanwhile, Craig Breen went on a final day charge, closing fast on Elfyn Evans. He edged ahead of his rival on the Power Stage to add to his ever-expanding collection of fifth-place finishes.
QUESTIONS FOR YVES MATTON, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL
Did you meet the targets set in Germany?
“Before the start of the rally, I had asked the drivers to push at a level that would enable them to get involved in the fight for the lead. A certain amount of risk-taking became necessary, given the weather forecast and the fact our drivers were all starting well down the running order on the opening leg. Implicitly, we were aiming for a podium finish and a top five spot for the second car. So yes, in the end, the result is entirely in keeping with our expectations.”
How would you assess the performance of Andreas Mikkelsen, on his third rally in the Citroën C3 WRC?
“During the pre-event test, Andreas was very excited about the potential of the car on tarmac. Despite his lack of experience with the C3 WRC on this surface, he immediately got among the frontrunners at the start of the rally. Just like we had asked him, he managed to push to the right level in order to go fast.
I’m also pleased that he finally managed to master Panzerplatte. He was a bit nervous about this stage, but we were able to improve his confidence by giving him the benefit of Citroën Racing’s experience at this event. I’m delighted that the discussions worked on both sides”
Craig Breen seems to have become a specialist in finishing fifth, are you happy with that?
“After a promising season in 2016, Craig has confirmed that he deserves his place among the elite of world rallying. This series of six fifth places shows his ability to manage races from start to finish.
This weekend, he was competing in only his third Rally Deutschland. His lack of experience, combined with the changeable weather, led to him making a few mistakes during the early stages of the rally. But he kept clear of any serious trouble and went on to claim a fine top-five spot, which helped us to meet our targets for the weekend.”
Kris Meeke had a more difficult weekend?
“Before the rally had properly got underway, he was already ten minutes off the pace because of what he himself described as a stupid mistake. I have to say that I also think that the course for this stage was entirely unsuited to the 2017 WRCs. After such a disappointing start, I understand that it was difficult for him to find the motivation needed to match the pace of the leaders. Friday’s leg was difficult, but he was fast on the Baumholder stages on Saturday. Unfortunately, his race came to a premature end due to a mechanical issue and we retired the car because we didn’t want to risk damaging the engine. It also meant Paul Nagle could head home early to meet his new son, who was born on Saturday.”
There are a few rumours going around the service park regarding potential driver transfers for 2018. What is your position on this?
“I think everyone knows that the next month is likely to be a busy period as regards driver transfers. As is the case with the development of the car, the priority is to prepare for 2018. We now have a break in the WRC calendar, so we are going to use the month of September to draw up our strategy. In doing so, we are talking to the drivers who could help us to reach our goals. For the time being, nothing has been decided.”