Citroen technical director Laurent Fregosi has blamed a lack of preparation time for its worst-ever start to a full-time World Rally Championship campaign.
The French manufacturer has struggled to make an impact on the first two rounds of the championship and lies fourth of four manufacturers at the start of this week’s Rally Mexico.
Ahead of this campaign – and following a year-long sabbatical to test and develop its all-new C3 WRC – Citroen was among the favourites for 2017 silverware. The reality, however, has been a car the drivers have struggled to get the best out of in Monte Carlo and Sweden.
Craig Breen was Citroen’s highest-placed finisher at the first two rounds – netting fifth in an ageing DS 3 WRC in the French Alps before posting a similar result when he took the controls of the C3 in the snow.
Kris Meeke ran at the sharp end of both rallies before a non-competing car drove into his Citroen on the Monte and he then slid off the road in Sweden.
Citroen technical director Laurent Fregosi said: “Our results in the opening two rounds of the season mainly come down to a lack of preparation on our part for the actual race conditions.”
Fregosi is confident of a turnaround in fortunes in Mexico this week, where Meeke and teammate Stephane Lefebvre will look to collect Citroen’s first big points haul.
“The situation,” Fregosi continued, “will be different in Mexico, because the C3 WRC has done most of its running on gravel. For this, the season’s opening gravel rally, we think and hope that we will enjoy better performance.”
Team principal Yves Matton said plenty had been learned during the squad’s pre-Mexico test in Spain late last month.
Matton said: “During the test session we held, we questioned certain principles of the set-up and that helped us to identify the areas in which we can improve. We are striving for a good performance level in Mexico. Given his [preferable] starting position for the opening leg, Kris will be trying to get among the leaders in the hope of kick-starting his season.
“Meanwhile, Stephane [Lefebvre] will need to go for position to score points for the manufacturers’ championship.”
Having only competed in Mexico twice before, Meeke will be looking to make the most of his advantageous position on the road – the flip side of having just two points to his name.
Meeke said: “Mexico is one of the rallies I know the least, but it’s a course that I like. I think that we headed in the right direction during testing and I’m looking forward to checking that in racing conditions.”
While Breen will be present in Mexico for the recce, he will sit out the Leon-based event in favour of Lefebvre. Those roles will be reversed in Argentina, where the two-time WRC class winner gets the nod for a sole C3. The two trans-Atlantic trips aside, Citroen will field three cars on all rallies from next month’s Tour of Corsica.
Away from the WRC, Breen is chasing a childhood dream of contesting an Irish rally in a Metro 6R4 similar to the one his father Ray used to drive in the late 90s.
Breen Jr said: “Since I was five or six years old watching dad in his Metro, I’ve held this ambition to win a rally in a 6R4. I’d love to find a really nice 2.5-litre car, one of the original international spec cars. They were just an awesome piece of kit. I want to experience the same sounds, smells and everything that I remember from when dad was competing.”