Reigning WRC2 champion Mads Østberg packed his own dampers into his flight luggage ahead of claiming the Citroën C3 Rally2’s first world championship victory on last week’s Rally Croatia.
Ahead of the first event of his WRC2 title defense in Croatia, Østberg competed on the Boldogkő Rally in Hungary as he plans to use the Hungarian championship as a testbed. But he and the TRT World Rally Team needed to see all of the other manufacturers in action on the global stage to see how Citroën’s car compares on asphalt.
“I think we are in a very good place,” Østberg told DirtFish. “We know the car is performing really well on Tarmac, but we thought this rally would be a challenge to us: more bumpy, and with the Citroën we don’t have too much experience with this bumpy and narrow and muddy roads.
“So we expected Škoda and maybe the Volkswagen to be really, really strong for that. But we had a very good development test just a week before we came here, so I actually brought the suspension in my own bag from the test to the rally!
“I finished my development test in France, and I was flying directly to Hungary to do a rally there, so I said to the development team ‘guys, you have to take those dampers off because I’m bringing them in my luggage’. And they did. They prepared them, packed them, I put them literally in my bag, checked it in and brought it with me.”
Did that additional luggage cost Østberg as much in travel costs as it gained him in performance?
“I was lucky to have a gold card, so I could have an extra bag,” he quipped.
Some late brake troubles aside, Croatia was the perfect start to Østberg’s title defense as he won and championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen broke his suspension on the second stage, eventually salvaging fifth.
We didn’t dominate, but we never tried to dominate this rally. We believe it’s a well-deserved winMads Østberg
“We took the lead very early on the rally, and we kept it for a long, long time,” Østberg said.
“We didn’t dominate, but we never tried to dominate this rally. We wanted to be on the safe side all the time, and we saw quite early that Nikolay [Gryazin, driving a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5] was really the only guy that could keep this good pace. And so did we. So we had a big fight with him.
“But we were waiting a little bit for a mistake, because I felt some places I had to back off and I saw on his times that he didn’t. I thought to myself on my first rally this year I will not take those risks, and I never did, I always played it safe.
“But still we won many stages, we showed really well [the] performance from the car and from the crew as well. We are very happy and we believe it’s a well-deserved win.”
Discussing the final-day brake problems, Østberg added: “The brakes were not pre-bedded. When we came from service to the first stage, the road section went through the middle of Zagreb, so there was no chance to warm the brakes and bed them in.
“When you go to the stage like this, it makes it very difficult. It was a tough day without perfect brakes, but we know what happened and it won’t happen again.”
Østberg will compete again on the next round of WRC2 in Portugal where he will be up against 11 other drivers including Mikkelsen, M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen, Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg and his former M-Sport WRC team-mate Eric Camilli.