A ROUND THAT MAY ALREADY PROVE DECISIVE
Wales Rally GB – usually host to the climax of World Rally Championship season in November – has been moved in this year’s schedule to a mid-September slot. The British round may still prove decisive, however, in determining the winner of the ‘Manufacturers’ title, which Citroën Total World Rally Team can secure if the team enjoys a good result in Wales.
Winners of the last five rounds, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be looking to equal their own record of six consecutive victories. Among their rivals, they will first and foremost have to hold off their team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who have been particularly quick here in recent years.
As was the case in 2004 and 2005, the Wales Rally GB will be held at the end of the summer. Conditions at this time of year, therefore, may well be radically different to the 'wind, rain and mud' that usually greet competitors at this event. “Given that we even had rain on the Acropolis Rally, however, we’ll need to be prepared for all types of situation,” warned Didier Clément, the DS3 WRC’s Chief Operations Engineer at Citroën Total World Rally Team.
“The weather was fairly mild on both occasions when the rally was held around the same time of year, which meant the stages were even quicker than usual. The dry road surfaces were extremely hard on the tyres”. For this rally, the crews will however be able to put together their choice of tyres from hard and soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres, available in sufficient quantities to deal with all eventualities.
Although the date has changed, the route remains more or less the same, except that the rally base has been moved to Cardiff. Like last year, the ceremonial start will be held on Thursday evening in Llandudno, over 300km from the service park. The competitors must then make it through three long days of racing. The only new stage is at Celtic Manor, on roads located close to the course used for the Ryder Cup in 2010.
With five one-two finishes this season, the Citroën Total World Rally Team and its crews line up at the start of this, the tenth round of the WRC looking to add an eighth world title to the brand’s impressive competitive record. To achieve their goal, the Loeb/Elena and Hirvonen/Lehtinen crews must score six points more than their rivals. There are many potential outcomes, but a repeat of the result achieved at the ADAC Rallye Deutschland – first and third places – would, for example, be enough to secure the title.
Seven-time winners in 2012, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will also be going for a fourth win in Wales. “It’s a rally that I like and we’ve got some good memories from the last few years”, confirmed the man from Alsace, who claimed the title in Cardiff last year despite having to retire from the rally following an incident unintentionally caused by spectators on a road section. “This year, it would be good to win and secure an eighth world title for the team. That would also make us ideally placed to win a ninth championship at the Rallye de France. However, I’m not obsessed by that, by any means. I’ll be approaching this rally just like any other.”
“Having a chance of winning the Manufacturers’ title with four rallies to go demonstrates the quality of the work done by the team since the start of the season”, confirmed Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Having said that, we won’t allow ourselves to get too carried away. We are all too aware how strong our rivals are on this kind of surface to do that. We are expecting it to be a difficult race, during which tyre management may well play a key role, depending on what the weather is like.”
THREE QUESTIONS FOR… MIKKO HIRVONEN
You have already won this event. So, is this somewhere you feel particularly at ease? “Yes, I like this rally even though it is difficult. The top speeds are extremely high, which is exhilarating for the drivers. All the stages are great, I don't think I could even single one out. In the conditions that you usually get here towards the end of the year, the road surface is so muddy and slippery that you can go off on almost any bend. It probably won’t be the same at this time of year. If it stays dry, I think it’ll be a little bit easier… but it’ll also be even quicker. Although there are hard tyres available for us to use if the weather is sunny, we'll need to manage their wear.”
Your win here in 2007 enabled your then team to win the Manufacturers’ World Championship title. Would you like to experience that again? “It is undoubtedly one of the highlights of my career. Since then, I have raced against Sébastien at this rally for the Drivers’ title, but I haven’t managed to beat him yet! I would really love it if we can secure the World title for Citroën in Great Britain. It would be a real team effort and it would take some of the pressure off me for the final few rallies…”
With seven podium finishes out of ten rallies, perhaps you are not far away from your first win? “To win, I’ll need to have an absolutely flawless rally! If we secure the Manufacturers’ title for Citroën in Great Britain, I will no longer need to think about points. That will allow me to relax a bit more, especially on tarmac. We saw in Germany that I really need to make progress on this surface. To do that, I need to take a few more risks so I can drive closer to the limit.”