Time to jump for the C2 Super 1600... The entry list for the fifth round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, Neste Rally Finland, features three CitroÃ«n C2 Super 1600s, namely two Team Kronos Racing cars for Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson...
Time to jump for the C2 Super 1600...
The entry list for the fifth round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, Neste Rally Finland, features three Citroën C2 Super 1600s, namely two Team Kronos Racing cars for Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson and Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti, plus a third P. H. Sport-run car for Conrad Rautenbach/Carl Williamson.
Five weeks after the punishing stages of Greece, the Juniors are looking forward to the softer going of Finland. Even so, they know that the former 1000 Lakes Rally is no easy ride. The ultra-fast stages and concealed corners make taking good notes during the two low-speed passes particularly difficult and, for the rookies, all the jumps tend to look alike. To avoid unhappy landings, however, it is essential to call every one of them as precisely as possible. Sébastien Loeb remembers likening the crests as "walls that appear in front of the car" when he won the Super 1600 category in Finland in 2001.
To optimise the C2 Super 1600's preparation for Finland, the engineer Alexis Avril and his technical team began by concentrating on those points which posed a problem on the Acropolis. Once that was done, they headed for Tampere, 130 km south-west of Neste Rally Finland's host town Jyväskylä, where the Tampere Rally is judiciously organised a week before the WRC round and which serves as a valuable dress rehearsal for many competitors.
Kris Meeke drove Citroën Sport's development C2 Super 1600 during the test session organised upstream of the Tampere Rally before competing on the event itself. Meanwhile, Dani Sordo is due take over from his team-mate for two further days of testing after the rally. "The Tampere Rally is a full-scale test for us," says Alexis Avril who was the Customer Competition chassis engineer when Seb won the Super 1600 category in Finland four years ago. "This is the C2's first time in Finland so we have had to adapt its set-up. Because of the speeds involved, steering precision has to be optimised without compromising traction. Also, the jumps and landings naturally mean you have to work on suspension performance at maximum travel."
P. H. Sport has a similar programme planned for the young Conrad Rautenbach: a test session followed by an entry on the Tampere Rally. His car will also naturally benefit from the lessons learned by the Customer Competition's technical squad.
For Neste Rally Finland itself, Kris, who has competed on the event twice, and Dani, a Finland rookie, can be expected to cross swords with Per-Gunnar Andersson and Guy Wilks. Between them, these four drivers have won all four rounds of the 2005 JWRC contested to date, but 'P-G' and Guy were both present in Mexico and have taken part in one more event than the Citroën pair. On the other hand they will miss Corsica. "With three asphalt rallies to come," says Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Manager Yves Matton, "it won't be up to us to take the initiative in Finland. Without being overly cautious, we will see how it goes to begin with and we will do everything we can to be at the finish, well placed if possible in order to keep our chances alive for later..."
Questions to Kris Meeke...
You have been to the land of the thousand lakes on a number of previous occasions, both for the Tampere Rally and for Neste Rally Finland...
"I love the Tampere Rally. To my mind, it has the best stages in the world. It's also great fun and very satisfying event from the driving point of view. About half of Rally Finland is similar to the Tampere Rally's beautiful, wide roads. The rest, however, is narrower and the surface is softer. These past two years, the latter type of stage has produced a high number of punctures amongst the JWRC runners, partly because of the sharp stones that come to the surface after the WRC cars have been through. A puncture in Finland, like anywhere else, can lose you to lose a lot of time! To sum up, Finland for me is incredible stages and the risk of punctures..."
This year again you will contest the Tampere Rally which takes place a week before Neste Rally Finland. In what ways does taking part in this event help the driver and the car?
"Given the speeds you get up to in this rally, it is more a confidence booster than anything else; confidence in yourself, your own ability, your driving, the car and the crew as a whole. The other very positive thing is that it allows you to work on the set-up in rally conditions after testing. It's here that we will decide on the optimal set-up for the car for Rally Finland."
Rally Finland marks the start of the second phase of the Junior Championship with a fast gravel event followed by three asphalt rounds. What will your strategy be? What sort of result will satisfy you in Finland?
"This type of rally is really difficult to call. I will try to do my best, which basically means being careful not to pick up a puncture and being quick without making any mistakes. If I finish in a good position after that, then so much the better!"
...and to Dani Sordo
You are competing on two fronts at the same time. Tell us how your Spanish Championship bid is going?
"In addition to the FIA JWRC, Marc and I are effectively competing in the Spanish Rally Championship. We are currently 2nd in the provisional standings with three events to come. It won't be easy to beat the current leader Alberto Hevia because he comes from Asturias which is the region where the next three rallies will be held! He will consequently have better local knowledge than us, but we will do all we can to score good results with the C2 which is increasingly competitive."
What do you know about Finland and in particular Rally Finland? What have Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti told you about its famous jumps?
"They say it's a tough, very fast and technically demanding rally. It would seem that the main difficulties are indeed the jumps and the high-speed corners. It will be a first for me; I have never competed on this rally and I've never actually been to Finland. Everything will be new. The two days of testing planned by Citroën after the Tampere Rally will serve as an accelerated training course!"
You are one of the top asphalt specialists in the JWRC, and the championship ends with three rounds on this type of surface. Can you content yourself with playing a waiting game in Finland?
"My main objective is to finish. But we will naturally be out to obtain the best result possible, although I'm clearly not the favourite in Finland. My team-mate Kris knows the event quite well, as do our rivals, P-G. Andersson and Guy Wilks. You never really know though where the opposition stands on this type of terrain, so we will do everything we can before the next three rounds on asphalt for which I feel a bit more confident."