Rally de Portugal
The Citroën DS3 WRCs top the bill in Portugal
After its victory in Rally Mexico, the Citroen DS3 WRC could be considered as a benchmark on gravel in the World Rally Championship. On its return to Europe, the Citroen Total World Rally Team has but a single aim continue its winning streak. The two crews entered by the French squad, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia, will both be gunning for victory in view of the Manufacturers' and Drivers' World Championships.
The organizers of Rally Portugal are determined to promote their race and they have innovated for the 2011 event. The start has been moved to Lisbon, 270 kms north of Faro. The change to the capital of the country for the first time in 37 years is highlighted by a super special in the centre of Lisbon opposite the Mosteiros dos Jeronimos and the Belem cultural centre. On Thursday, several promotional activities are scheduled with autograph signing sessions and a parade in the town itself. In the evening, the teams will leave the estuary of the Tagus and head for the Algarve on the south coast.
Less than a year ago, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia scored their maiden world rally championship victory in the Algarve, and they will start this year's event as favourites to repeat this success as the layout is 80% identical to that of 2010. "It's a great memory, one that I'll never forget," admits Ogier. "We drove an almost perfect rally, and we pushed from start to finish. Even though we were first out on the road on days two and three, we still managed to fight off our rivals."
After their accident in Mexico, they will have a better starting position in Portugal: "Although we didn't score points in Mexico there are a number of positive conclusions to be drawn from the first gravel rally of the season. Despite having to do a lot of sweeping, I think we showed our competitiveness. Here in Portugal, I'm determined to make the most of our starting position on the opening day. It will help us to plan our rally more easily than in Mexico. We've only competed in two out of the thirteen events on the calendar, so there are still plenty of opportunities left to score good results"
Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, who won this event in 2007 and 2009, are currently lying second in the world championship after their victory in Rally Mexico.
"The Citroen DS3 WRCs were very quick in Mexico, but they have always dominated their rivals in this rally. If the weather is good in Portugal, we'll find out just how competitive the cars really are in fairly standard conditions: namely, those similar to the ones we'll have to cope with in several other rallies. This race combines all the difficulties we'll meet in the championship. The rhythm changes often from quick sections to more twisty ones with lots of crests that require very accurate pace notes. Our aim is to do as well as in Mexico and that means only one thing - victory!"
Three questions to Olivier Quesnel
One of the DS3 WRCs finished on the topmost step of the rostrum and the other retired on the last day. Would you describe the result of Rally Mexico as a half-full or half-empty glass?
"What will be remembered above all are the DS3 WRC's first victory and Loeb and Elena's sixty-third success. In addition, this event confirmed in the best way possible just how competitive the DS3 WRC is; it's a point that should not be underestimated. Obviously, we'd have preferred to score a `one-two', but rallying isn't an exact science! As was the case on several occasions in 2010, Citroen made the sportsmanlike choice. Sebastien Ogier, who does not have no.2 status in the team, made a mistake. It was a blow to the team, but a much bigger one for him. It doesn't help his chances in the Drivers' World Championship chase. It'll give him a good starting position in the next few rallies, although that won't make his fight back any easier. It's not the first time that one of the Citroens has retired in Mexico, and that hasn't prevented us from winning the world title six times."
How are you going to handle this rivalry in the future?
"Rivalry between two drivers of this caliber is inevitable. Sebastien Ogier is a very ambitious guy, but up against him is Sebastien Loeb who's at the top of his form after winning seven world titles on the trot. Seb' Loeb is absolutely determined to prove that he's still the best driver in the world. We knew we'd be faced with this situation but we didn't think it would arise so quickly. In Mexico, their rivalry didn't lead to a totally positive outcome for Citroen. I'm convinced, however, that it will help the team score great results in the coming rallies. Handling this situation is part of my job as Team Principal. I have to make sure that the interests of the make are privileged above all else. We have to stick together and keep working to give our two crews the best possible chances to score victories."
In these conditions, what's Citroen's aim in Portugal?
"It's no different from the previous or the next rally: we start the event with the intention of winning. Our drivers know what's at stake; they have to help Citroen score another Manufacturers' World Championship title. If they achieve this aim, then it's obvious that one or the other or both will be in a position to bag the drivers' title. In Portugal, they must score a big haul of points. To do so, they have to start the rally with the intention of winning!"