A rewarding day for the Citroën Junior Team
Rally Norway provided perfect conditions for a winter rally, the three Citroën Junior Team crews showed themselves to be competitive throughout the opening day of the Rally Norway. Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have brought their car home in ninth place, a few seconds ahead of the identical machines of Evgeny Novikov/Dale Moscatt and Conrad Rautenbach/Daniel Barritt.

Rally Norway got underway on Thursday night with a short spectator superspecial held in Oslo in front of a packed crowd, despite temperatures that dipped as low as -15°C. During the curtain-raiser for the main event, the trio of Citroen Junior crews wisely decided not to take any risks.

Following the overnight parc ferme in Hamar, the three Citroën Junior Team C4 WRCs set off in the direction of Kongsvinger this morning, which is about 100 kilometres south of the rally’s host town. Throughout the opening loop of stages, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia served notice of their intentions. Were it not for a troublesome hairpin bend that they struggled to negotiate in Finnskogen (SS4), the reigning Junior World Rally Champions would have enjoyed a fault-free run, setting times within the top 10. « For the moment, we’re not pushing too hard, » commented Sebastien at the remote service halt in Kongsvinger. « We’re just going to try to improve our pace as the rally goes on. On the fourth stage, I stalled the engine on a hairpin bend that caught out quite a few drivers. Apart from that, everything has been absolutely fine. We’ve got a good feeling with the car. »

Evgeny Novikov and Dale Moscatt enjoyed a successful debut with the Citroën Junior Team, bringing their yellow Citroën C4 WRC to the fringes of the top 10. « We didn’t make a very good choice of suspension settings, » reported Evgeny. « We’re going to work on that so that we feel more comfortable in the quick sections. We’re still getting to grips with the car, as this is still only our first day at the wheel of a WRC challenger. »

Just behind the 18-year-old Russian, Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt were 12th at the midday service halt. « I’m gradually building up confidence, which is allowing me to push increasingly harder, » said the Zimbabwean. « I’m having a lot of fun on these stages, which are great to drive. »

After service, the three crews set off again for a repeat of the morning’s stages – but this time in a different order. Evgeny Novikov continued to make progress to end the day with a second-fastest stage time on Kirkanaer 2 (SS9) and 11th in the overall classification. « My feeling with the car is improving all the time, » he said. « But I’ve got a few mixed emotions about today because I still think we could have done better. Tomorrow, our objective will be exactly the same: to build up precious experience. »

Conrad Rautenbach returned to Hamar in 12th, just behind his Russian team mate. « We increased our pace after service, » said Conrad. « In fact, we only took one spare wheel in order to save weight. But the end of the day was really hard on our tyres and so we lost a bit of time. Tomorrow’s stages are really nice. I’ve got a good feeling with the car now so I hope I’ll be able to push a little bit more. »

Sébastien Ogier concluded the day with five stage times in the top 10. « It was a very rewarding day, » he commented. « The learning curve continues and I’ve got a very good feeling now with the Citroën C4 WRC. I just made two mistakes in Kongsvinger 2 (SS8) by getting stuck in the snow twice. We were able to get going again quite quickly, but those vital seconds always seem to fly past! Our biggest satisfaction is the fact that we can stay within a second per kilometre of the frontrunners. »

CitroŽn Junior Team manager Benoit Nogier was full of praise for all three of his crews at the end of a truly demanding day. ę All our cars have come back perfectly intact this evening after a long day away from the service park, Ľ he said. ę The crews not only did what we expected of them but even exceeded their objectives. They gained a lot of experience in these conditions without making any mistakes and while putting in some very promising performances. Evgenyís second-fastest stage time at the end of the day is quite remarkable, given that heís only contesting his first rally in a WRC car. I hope that all our crews can continue to make their presence felt tomorrow. Ľ

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