The Citroen Junior Team makes its mark
Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot spearheaded the attack from the Citroen Junior Team on the second day of the Rally Ireland. Having stepped their pace up a gear, the Citroen C4 WRC crew now ends the second day of the event just a few seconds off fourth place. Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia conclude their day’s work in sixth place overall.

After an opening day that was characterised by bad weather on the Republic of Ireland stages, conditions were no better for day two, which was held in the United Kingdom close to the lakes of Fermanagh.

The crews faced two loops of three stages in Ulster today, including the fearsome Sloughan Glen: a 27-kilometre stage that got underway in darkness this morning. Chris Atkinson quickly settled into a rapid pace, stopping the clocks fourth-fastest at the end of the stage. By contrast, Sebastien Ogier and Conrad Rautenbach endured a more troubled start. The Frenchman was caught out by a tricky section of road, dropping two minutes. « After a slippy braking area, which wasn’t marked in our notes, we got the car stuck on a bank, » he explained. « We were bogged down in the mud for more than a minute. When we got going again, my door refused to close. I had to finish the stage by holding it shut in the right-hand bends. »

Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt did not get the chance to show their full potential today. They also slid off the road on Sloughan Glen, but unfortunately the Zimbabwean and the Briton were not able to get their Citroen C4 back onto the road. « It was quite a quick jump, » reported Conrad. « The car got away from me and ended up in a ditch. It wasn’t damaged, but we couldn’t get it out. »

The remainder of the loop went well for Chris Atkinson. « We set two third-quickest times, » the Australian recounted. « The more we drive, the better feeling I have with the car, and I can tell that we’re also going quicker and quicker. I’m not at the limit yet. We’re just taking it step by step. »

Sebastien Ogier was eighth by the end of SS9 and climbed gradually back up the leaderboard. On the following stage he got past Irish driver Gareth MacHale and then set off in hot pursuit of Matthew Wilson. « At the start of the day, we were aiming for the fourth place occupied by Henning Solberg, , » said Sebastien. «But with the time we lost this morning, there was no question of attacking in the same way. With each day that passes though we gain more experience. By the end of the day, we managed to keep up a consistent pace in order to get back to sixth place overall. It’s not bad for what is still only my second WRC event. We’re starting to feel comfortable in the car now. There are still a few things to improve of course, but we’re going to work on the set-up together with the team. »

Having already impressed in the morning, Chris Atkinson continued to make rapid progress on the second loop of stages in the afternoon, still run under wet conditions. The Australian was never slower than fourth-quickest, with notably a second-fastest time in the 25-kilometre Ballinamallard test. « I’m feeling good with the Citroen C4 WRC, » he said. « We’re not taking stupid risks and we’re just keeping up a sensible pace. The car feels very well-balanced and I’m not really playing with the set-up at all. For the moment, I’m just trying to learn the C4 WRC. I think you need to be at full confidence with it in order to look for those last few seconds. Even though we’re just going to stick at our pace, our goal on the final day will be to overtake Henning Solberg in the overall classification. »

At the end of the second day, Citroen Junior Team Manager Benoit Nogier summed up the progress made by his charges. « Conrad unfortunately fell into one of the many traps that are a constant feature of these stages, » he said. « The damage is only cosmetic, so he will re-start tomorrow under the super rally system. Sebastien Ogier made a lot of progress throughout the day and was steadily getting quicker. Given that he still has fewer than two rallies of experience behind him in this car, it’s all very positive. He’s learning the job under difficult conditions, against the best drivers in the world. My biggest satisfaction tonight though comes from Chris Atkinson. He faced big pressure yesterday, but like the true professional that he is, he just relaxed and came back stronger today. The times subsequently came and fourth place is now well within his reach… »

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