THE HOME-GROWN HEROES WHO
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