Cédric Robert and Matthieu Duval proved worthy favourites as they won the opening round of the Clio R3T France Trophy. Despite a lack of experience in the Clio R3T, the crew managed to hold off strong opposition from Florian Bernardi/Xavier Castex, who finished as runners-up. Jean-Paul Monnin/Mickaël Chatelain took the final podium spot at this Rallye du Touquet.
Before the rally had even started, people were talking about Julien Fébreau’s off on the shakedown. The Canal+ F1 Grand Prix commentator was caught out after landing a jump and rolled his car off the road ! Thanks to the work of his team, he was nonetheless able to line up at the start on Friday morning, ready to tackle the opening corner of his fledgling rallying career.
Leader after SS1, Cédric Robert then made a mistake on the following stage. The Saint Etienne driver picked up a puncture after hitting a rock and lost around forty seconds. Florian Bernardi therefore moved into the lead, ahead of Jean-Paul Monnin and Kevin van Deijne.
Stung into action, Robert went on the offensive to try and make up ground on the young Vaucluse driver, who in turn made a mistake of his own, hitting a hay bail on SS3. The battle between the two men continued throughout the afternoon. They even tied for the stage win on SS6 ! At the end of the second loop, the gap between the leaders was down to just 19s.
The third loop, contested at night, would prove to be decisive. On soft compound Michelin tyres – unlike his rival – Cédric Robert won all four of the evening’s stages and had reclaimed the lead by end of SS10. The advantage in the fight for third place – which was just as exciting and close as the one for the lead – went to Kevin van Deijne, who moved ahead of Jean-Paul Monnin !
A way back from the top four, Damien Tozlanian was just a few seconds ahead of Frédéric Perriat. Julien Fébreau was seventh, ahead of Frédéric Flajolet and Sara Williams. Meanwhile, William Pitot had retired from the race after going off on SS4.
On Saturday morning, the setting changed for the second leg. The spring-like weather of the previous few days was replaced by cold, wet conditions making the roads particularly tricky. Seasoned campaigner Cédric Robert dampened the enthusiasm – and hopes – of his rivals by starting the day with two stage wins. Jean-Paul Monnin also started the day in good form, since he stole third place from Kevin van Deijne on SS12.
The positions remained unchanged for the rest of the rally, meaning Cédric Robert took the overall win, ahead of Florian Bernardi and Jean-Paul Monnin. Damien Tozlanian held onto fifth place followed by Frédéric Perriat, who won the final stage held on the seafront at Le Touquet. Julien Fébreau’s won his own personal battle by making it to the finish, and set some good times on Saturday’s leg. Frédéric Flajolet claimed the last spot in the final standings, in eighth position.
Sara Williams’ debut appearance outside of the UK and in a Clio R3T went unrewarded, as she did not make it to the end. Despite improving over the course of the stages, she retired after going off on SS15.
The next round of the Clio R3T France Trophy will be held on 12-14 May, at the Rallye d’Antibes.
Tarik Aït Said, Customer Racing Programme Motorsport Manager, Renault Sport Racing : "The Clio R3T France Trophy got off to a great start this weekend at Le Touquet. We had ten crews in the starting line-up – including a British driver and a Dutch driver – and we are expecting more entries for the next few events. The results were unpredictable until the closing stages and more than met our expectations, despite the fairly difficult weather conditions on Saturday. Congratulations to the drivers and co-drivers, who once again demonstrated the qualities of the Clio R3T. We would also like to thank the FFSA and the organisers for this fine event. See you at the Rallye d’Antibes !"
Cédric Robert : "I’m really happy with this win ! We only got the car last Monday so I wasn’t able to do any testing before the shakedown. On SS2, I picked up a puncture after hitting a rock that I had never seen before. And yet, I have driven this stage dozens of times already ! I didn’t let it upset me, because I knew there was still a long way to go. Friday evening’s loop was the decisive point. I went with soft Michelin tyres and I was able to pull clear by pushing a bit harder. The Clio R3T is both a reliable and fast car, and we can’t wait to continue the season in Antibes."
Florian Bernardi : "Like Cédric, I had never driven the Clio R3T before coming here. After a good start, I damaged the car slightly after a minor impact on SS3. Then, for the evening stages, we didn’t make the right call on tyre choice, especially as it started to rain on the final stage. Saturday’s leg was especially difficult. Once the gaps were established, we decided to try various set-up options. We knew that Cédric would be tough to beat, but it’s great that he is involved for the level of the Trophy."
Julien Fébreau : "I’m pleased to have made it to the finish, because it didn’t look good after the shakedown ! On Thursday evening, I didn’t think we’d be able to start, but the team did a fantastic job to repair the car. I’d like to thank them for their hard work. The Clio R3T is a solid car, both in itself and for its occupants. We adjusted our approach at the start of the rally with a much less aggressive set-up. As I grew in confidence, I was able to up the pace and managed to set a few good times on the second day. We had the full gamut of conditions, with day and night stages, driving on dry roads and in the rain. The last few days have confirmed just how difficult rallying can be. You really do learn about patience. It was a humbling experience."
Rallye du Touquet standings
1. Robert / Duval 2:11:22.8
2. Bernardi / Castex +1:04.8
3. Monnin / Chatelain +2:58.8
4. Van Deijne / Botson +4:35.1
5. Tozlanian / Millet +7:01.5
6. Perriat / Bessonet +7:18.5
7. Fébreau / Boué +9:48.6
8. Flajolet / Leroy +12:22.3
Clio R3T France Trophy standings
1. Cédric Robert 30 points
2. Florian Bernardi 21 points
3. Jean-Paul Monnin 15 points
4. Kevin van Deijne 13 points
5. Damien Tozlanian 10 points
6. Frédéric Perriat 8 points
7. Frédéric Flajolet 6 points