Formation finish for Citroen Junior Team
World Rally Championship debut, the Citroen Junior Team has ended up with fifth, sixth and seventh places at the end of day one on the Rally Ireland. Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt led the trio through some typically Irish conditions…

The first day of the Rally Ireland got underway before sunrise and immediately offered up some tricky weather conditions to all the competitors on the 2009 World Rally Championship. Heavy rain meant that traction and grip was at a premium.

Run over three loops of stages, today’s programme was turned on its head by the weather. After two passages through the three stages that were run in the Republic of Ireland, floods forced the rally organisers to cancel the loop of two stages that were then scheduled to take place in the United Kingdom.

Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt were the only members of the Citroen Junior Team to opt for Pirelli’s Sottozero tyres at the start of the opening loop, and these turned out to be the best choice. Having already had a chance to acclimatise to these appalling conditions on the recent Galway International Rally, the Zimbabwean demonstrated his capabilities by returning to midday service in sixth place, before improving to fifth at the end of the day. « Maybe we were a little bit too careful in the first stage, » he reported. « We’ve had no problems at all and the car is working perfectly. I’m actually a bit disappointed that the final two stages were cancelled, as I would have loved to have ended the day with some night stages. I’m very pleased with this first day, but there’s still a lot to do before we can think about the finish. »

Chris Atkinson and Stephane Prevot were confronted with particularly nasty driving conditions on their first appearance with the Citroen Junior Team. « There was a huge amount of water on those narrow roads and pools of standing water everywhere, » said Chris. « It’s not really the best way to get to know a new car. We still need to learn. » The Australian broke a windscreen on the road section to SS2 and subsequently lost three minutes before finding a better pace at the start of the afternoon, with two fourth-fastest times. During the second run through Aughnasheelan, Chris was unfortunately caught out. « We had a spin in a very quick part of the stage and hit the right-hand side of our C4 WRC,” he explained. “We had a bit of a bump but we were able to carry on. It’s a tricky place to get to learn the car and we’re going to need some time to find our pace. »

Sebastien Ogier, who drove a Citroen C2 Super 1600 to the 2008 Junior World Rally title, was competing on his second event with the Citroen C4 WRC in Ireland. Having been the very first leader of the Wales Rally GB back in December, Sebastien endured a rather more torrid time on the other side of the Irish Sea. « We didn’t choose the right tyres in the morning and our set-up wasn’t ideal for the first loop of stages, » he explained. « Our start position wasn’t an advantage either as the roads were very dirty by the time we came through. But we’ve learnt a lot, even if it’s been quite frustrating. »

On the second run through the stages, things improved considerably for Sebastien. He found a much better feeling with the car to rapidly rise up the leaderboard. Tonight he occupies a provisional sixth place. « By working with the team, we managed to turn it round, » he said. « We found the right set-up and chose the correct tyres for the conditions this afternoon. I’m almost disappointed that we can’t carry on this evening. So now we’re going to continue trying to make up the time lost in the morning. »

Benoit Nogier, the Citroen Junior Team Manager, drew a positive conclusion from the opening day. « The day started well with a good tyre choice from Conrad in the morning, » he concluded. « Conrad has ended up in an excellent position. As for Chris and Sebastien, they managed to improve their placing over the course of the day. In terms of the team, everything went like clockwork. We all worked well together despite the fact that we are now only allowed four mechanics per car, which is obviously a limiting factor. We’re very hopeful heading into day two at this point. Today’s conditions were especially bad, and there’s a lot more good work that we can do tomorrow. »

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