Citroen hope to silence their critics with a strong Rally Sardegna after the French squad’s controversial axing of WRC fan-favourite Kris Meeke post-Portugal.
The eight-time teams’ champions unceremoniously severed ties with Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle after the Briton’s high-speed shunt in Southern Europe – sparking a fierce backlash from the rallying community that typified a nightmarish first-half of a disastrous 2018 campaign for Citroen.
Irishman Craig Breen and veteran Mads Ostberg will spear-head Citroen’s two-pronged attack around the volatile Sardinia stages this weekend in the absence of Meeke, with no replacement ushered in to pilot a third C3 leaving the series stalwarts likely to drift further away from the front in the fight for the manufacturers’ title.
Despite losing ground in both championship battles in Portugal, Citroen will be leaning on their nimble Norwegian to deliver another eye-catching result for the team on the Italian Isle – Ostberg impressively sealing second in Sardinia in 2014 after outlasting Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala in a sensational scrap behind runaway rally winner Sébastien Ogier.
“It was perhaps one of the best moments of my entire rallying career,” Ostberg insisted.
“It’s one of my favourite rallies – I’ve always been quick here. You need very good pace notes and then you need to find the right balance between pushing where you can and defending when there is a real risk of smashing the car.”
Having clinched a pair of sixth-place finishes in his only two outings for Citroen so far, Ostberg hopes a strong road position and a greater knowledge of the C3 will aid his pursuit of a first top-five finish of the season in Italy.
“I learned a lot about the C3 WRC in Portugal and ended up by showing some pretty decent speed. The two days of pre-event testing held this week will help me to find the right pace, especially as I fully intend to take advantage of my good position in the running order.”
A fast start failed to yield a positive result for the battling Breen last time out in Portugal – the 28-year-old hampered by an ill-timed puncture that shattered any hopes of a maiden WRC victory having already clinched a career-best second in Sweden earlier in the campaign.
Little experience in Sardinia doesn’t deter the determined Breen heading into this weekend’s contest, and the Citroen hot-shot is relishing the chance to tackle the tight and twisty trails of the Mediterranean’s show-piece event.
“This is one of the WRC rallies where I have the least experience, but fortunately it hasn’t changed much since last year and so I have most of the pace notes already,” Breen said.
“It’s not necessarily my favourite event, because it’s never easy to adopt a fluid driving style on these really narrow, technical stages.
“I have a good road position in eighth in the running order, because it’s one of the events where cleaning is most significant, so I’m going to try and make the most of it on the opening day.“