Mads Østberg has set his sights on a return to the Wales Rally GB podium as he attempts to cement Citroen's position in the WRC manufacturers' championship.
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team has confirmed a third Wales Rally GB entry for Stéphanes Lefebvre and Prévot as it seeks to hang on to second place in the WRC manufacturers' standings, but it is the regular crews of Østberg/Jonas Andersson and Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle that will lead the team on the final round of the 2015 season.
With five podiums, including an important one-two finish in Argentina, Østberg and Meeke have taken the Citroën team to second position in the manufacturers' standings, but need to defend a four-point lead if they are to finish second, ahead of closest rival Hyundai, in the final reckoning. Wales Rally GB is not the easiest event on which to hold such a slim advantage, however, with both the challenging route and unpredictable conditions well known to the competitors. Rain, fog and mud combine to make the stages through the Welsh forests some of the trickiest on the calendar, with crews needing to identify the sections that provide sufficient grip and those that are as slippery as ice if they are to keep out of trouble.
“The main objective of this final round of the season is to hold onto our second place in the manufacturers' standings and we will be able to call upon the experience of our team at this specific event,” team principal Yves Matton insisted, “Mads and Kris have had the opportunity to prepare for the final round with a test session, to help them get a feel for what is a very demanding, slippery and muddy course, and our strategy will be similar to the one we have used successfully since September.
“This is practically Kris' home rally and Mads has always been quick here, so their aim will be to keep their rivals at bay and maintain our lead in the championship. How we manage things from a sporting perspective will obviously need to be fine-tuned as the race unfolds.”
Currently fourth in the drivers' table, one spot and 16 points ahead of his team-mate, Østberg has always enjoyed good results in Wales. In nine previous starts, he has produced some fine performances, finishing second in 2011 and third last year in the DS3 WRC.
“Wales Rally GB is always a great event,” the Norwegian admitted, “I really like this rally and have done well there several times in the last few years. The character of the roads is rather particular. It's quite easy to get a good rhythm, because the stages are pretty smooth and the roads are very fast, but the weather also plays a big role.
“In 2011, I remember finishing second and, since then, I have been competitive every year. I think we have a chance of getting another good result. It is important to finish the season well, but we mustn't get side-tracked from our main goal, to defend our second place in the manufacturers' standings. I'm going to push, whilst also focusing on the job I have to do for the team, and it would be great to finish on the podium like last year.”
Lefebvre, meanwhile, rejoins the line-up having been driving a DS3 WRC since Rallye Deutschland, and will look to continue his learning process at the top level. In Wales, the reigning FIA Junior WRC champion will be able to call upon the experience acquired over the last year in four-wheel drive cars, as he looks to continue learning about rallying in the World Championship.
“Like in Germany, I'll have the advantage of being familiar with some of the stages at Wales Rally GB,” the Frenchman noted, “Above all, it will be a return for me to the place where I first contested a full rally in four-wheel drive car.
“I loved competing here last year in the tricky conditions and, this time, I'm going to try and have a good race and use the experience I have acquired throughout the season. My aim will be to get as close as possible to the leading drivers' times and produce a few good performances.”