THE HOME-GROWN HE­ROES WHO

Motor Sport News - - Wrc Preview: Citroen’s Hope -

There’s been a British and Ir­ish takeover of Citroen Rac­ing ahead of this year’s World Rally Cham­pi­onship. North­ern Ire­land’s Kris Meeke and Ir­ish­man Craig Breen will spear­head the re­turn of one of the se­ries’ most suc­cess­ful teams in Monte Carlo this week. In prepa­ra­tion, Motorsport News sat down with the pair to talk all things 2017. MN: How much are you look­ing for­ward to this year?

KM: Let’s get on with it! I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to it. This is the po­si­tion you al­ways wanted to be in: fac­tory team be­hind you and a great car un­der you.

CB: This is a mile­stone in my ca­reer, it’s the start of some­thing com­pletely new for me and I can’t wait. Like Kris says, it’s some­thing ev­ery driver wants from the start of their ca­reer.

KM: Which event are you look­ing for­ward to the most?

CB: Cor­sica. I love Tar­mac, I sup­pose that’s kind of where my heart is and the chance to go to ar­guably the best as­phalt rally in the world in a C3 WRC is a pretty spe­cial feel­ing. Hav­ing said that, I’m look­ing for­ward to ev­ery event with this team.

KM: Same for me. I feel a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent this time: I’m look­ing for­ward to the whole sea­son, it’s more of a global thing for me. I’ve done my [win in] Fin­land; I love Swe­den and some other ral­lies, but this year’s more about the big­ger pic­ture. I don’t care if I’m third or fourth in Fin­land or if Rally GB’S not per­fect – it’s about the sea­son as a whole.

MN: What do you think is pos­si­ble this sea­son?

KM: God knows. Volk­swa­gen’s de­par­ture has blown the whole thing wide open, but my goal doesn’t change: I would like to fight for the ti­tle.

CB: The goal­posts have moved a bit for me. Last year was about the first podium, but I man­aged that in Fin­land. For me, I’ve got to be think­ing about fight­ing for vic­to­ries. There are some of these events where I have good ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge and it’s on those ral­lies where I’d be a very happy chappy if I could be up there push­ing for the win.

KM: There are so many un­knowns this year.

CB: It’s a step into the dark for ev­ery­body.

KM: There’s go­ing to be a real el­e­ment of ‘suck it and see’ this sea­son; Hyundai’s look­ing strong, no­body knows what Toy­ota’s got and then there’s Ogier.

MN: What about Sebastien?

KM: Who knows? He’s com­ing to a new car with the Ford and he’s go­ing to have very lit­tle time to fa­mil­iarise him­self with the Fi­esta, but you’d have to be very brave or pretty stupid to rule him out.

CB: Are there still events where you feel you could do with more ex­pe­ri­ence?

KM: Poland and Mex­ico are prob­a­bly the two for me. I’m go­ing event-by-event this sea­son, try to build the mo­men­tum and stay con­sis­tent. Monte’s a tough old place to start though.

CB: You’re not wrong. I’m quite for­tu­nate in that I’m in the Citroen To­tal Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, but I’m not right at the sharp end; I’m driv­ing a DS 3 [WRC] rather than the C3. I’m kind of there but not there.

KM: That’s quite a good way to gain more ex­pe­ri­ence though…

CB: It is. I’ll get the ex­pe­ri­ence of the event and the ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing for a full fac­tory team. Just be­ing there is such a big deal for me.

MN: Did last year give you a good in­sight into what makes this team tick?

CB: It did. And last year was amaz­ing, but it was still a pri­vate team – this time it’s the real deal. I’ve only done Monte twice be­fore and never in a World Rally Car. Some peo­ple have asked me if I’m fed up about not be­ing in the C3, but I’m still go­ing there in a DS 3 WRC – that’s not ex­actly a slow car as Kris showed last year.

KM: I re­ally en­joyed the event last year. We had a great fight with Sebastien Ogier. MN: Will Ogier be your main ri­val this time?

KM: It would be nice if it were the pair of us fight­ing again, we seemed to be the ones who were up front last year. In all hon­esty, he had the up­per hand, but we were there with him. If you’re us­ing the last Monte as the form­book for this week, I’d have to say yes. But, like we’ve said, who knows what’s com­ing when we get started.

MN: What’s the best thing about your C3?

KM: That’s a dif­fi­cult one to an­swer un­til we’ve seen how it stacks up against the other cars. What do you reckon?

CB: It is dif­fi­cult to com­pare, but one of the big things for me is the con­fi­dence this car gives you – es­pe­cially on Tar­mac. When you were push­ing hard in the 2016 car, it some­times felt a bit edgy and a bit on the limit, but the new one just oozes con­fi­dence. The win­dow to drive this car faster is def­i­nitely wider. With the 2017 car you are trav­el­ling a hell of a lot quicker, but it doesn’t feel like you’re on the limit.

KM: Def­i­nitely one of the best things about the C3 is the team be­hind it. It’s a real priv­i­lege to drive for Citroen. Some­times you have to sit back and look at the guys around you, it’s so im­pres­sive to know what these peo­ple have achieved. This C3 is the fourth gen­er­a­tion of World Rally Car Citroen has cre­ated and the guy who did the orig­i­nal Xsara – Alexis Avril – is still with us. Alexis was Car­los Sainz’s en­gi­neer back in the day and he’s re­mained in the team since then, that sort of ex­pe­ri­ence is in­valu­able.

CB: I still can’t be­lieve the depth of knowl­edge around here and the re­sources to go with it as well. When you have a look about the place you can re­ally un­der­stand how Citroen came to win eight man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tles.

MN: Is it an in­tim­i­dat­ing place to come to for your first fac­tory drive?

CB: No. It’s the best place in the world to be for a driver in my po­si­tion. Look at Citroen’s track record for bring­ing driv­ers through the ranks: it’s pretty strong. I don’t think they’ve had a driver come through here who has re­ally failed.

MN: Does that add pres­sure?

CB: I sup­pose it does a wee bit. But I go back to what I al­ways say about the pres­sure side of things: I chose to be in this sport, I chose to put my­self in this po­si­tion, so I’m not about to com­plain about be­ing in a po­si­tion rally driv­ers the world over would give any­thing for. This is what I’ve al­ways wanted and I in­tend to en­joy ev­ery sec­ond of it.

KM: Last year must have helped set­tle your nerves a bit?

CB: It did. It would have been dif­fi­cult to be in this po­si­tion I’m in now if the speed had been more dif­fi­cult to find. I’ll def­i­nitely be sleep­ing a bit bet­ter the night be­fore the first rally this year than I did last year. You must have taken a lot of con­fi­dence from last year?

KM: Ev­ery­thing felt com­pletely dif­fer­ent last year. Once Citroen put the con­tract on the ta­ble and gave us a long-

Kris Meeke is fi­nally in a po­si­tion to fight for world ti­tle

The C3 WRC is highly de­vel­oped

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