After a strong start and looking once again like it would make a serious challenge for overall victory – winning three of Friday's six proper stages – Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT paid a heavy price for three punctures.
After spending so many years surveying the stages of the world rally championship, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT's engineers are familiar with their specific features. They had therefore quickly identified those contested on Friday's leg – renowned for their tendency to break up substantially – as being the potentially decisive stages of the weekend. They turned out to be right and although, unlike many competitors, all three Citroën C3 WRCs made it safely to the end of the leg, the team's weekend was immediately and irreversibly compromised by three costly punctures.
Craig Breen collected a stage win on SS6 and on SS7 was third overall with just 4.4s off the pace before one of his tyres suddenly lost pressure after hitting one of the many embedded rocks loosened by cars running through the stages.
Faced with the unenviable task of running first on the road for the next two days – and therefore sweeping the loose gravel and sand off the road surface – Craig was unable to finish any higher than seventh overall.
We are all now preparing together to go again at the next round of the championship in Sardinia, convinced that we'll be in with a good chance there once again.
The statistics of the C3 WRC speak for themselves: six rallies into the season that begin in January at Monte, it has topped the timesheets at five rounds, including Portugal, the total now standing at eighteen stage wins. It is therefore abundantly clear that the car is competitive on all surfaces.
After Meeke's Power Stage victory on Monte's tricky mountain roads, Breen then grabbed three fastest times on the Swedish snow. Loeb and Meeke claimed a total of eight stage wins on the dusty, hot roads of Mexico, which are also high above sea level, before Loeb again topped the timesheets on three occasions on the atypical Corsican tarmac.
In Portugal, on the opening leg's particularly sandy, rough stages, Kris claimed two stage wins whilst Craig took one (together tied with Neuville).