CitroÃ«n on Aphrodite's island. Round 7 of the 2003 World Rally Championship takes the Xsara WRC to Cyprus where, according to the legend, the goddess Aphrodite was born. The finish of this event will mark the season's mid-point and ...
Citroën on Aphrodite's island.
Round 7 of the 2003 World Rally Championship takes the Xsara WRC to Cyprus where, according to the legend, the goddess Aphrodite was born. The finish of this event will mark the season's mid-point and three Citroëns have been entered for the team's usual crews, Colin McRae/Derek Ringer, Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti.
The Cyprus Rally is a recent addition to the WRC calendar which it joined in 2000 when the Rally of China was cancelled at a late stage. For Citroën, it's another event where everything will be new to the team. The Xsara WRC has only visited the island on one previous occasion, for a short test session organised shortly after last year's Rally of Great Britain. Colin McRae, who had just joined the team at the time, took turns at the wheel with Sébastien Loeb: "That test enabled us to collect data concerning the lie of the land," explains Sébastien. "Since then, the Xsara has evolved enormously. It's a completely different car and I'm looking forward to measuring how much progress has been made."
Less than two weeks after the recent Acropolis Rally, the Xsara drivers will find themselves some 1,000km further to the east where the Mediterranean island's loose-surface tracks will be every bit as hot, abrasive and rough as those that made the Greek round so awesome. The Cyprus Rally has its own specific features however. Its stages, the vast majority of which take place in cedar and pine forests of the Troodos Mountains, are amongst the twistiest, narrowest and slowest of the championship. Which in turn means that the heat will be an even bigger challenge for drivers and machines alike.
Citroën came close to scoring an excellent overall result in Greece. With two stages remaining, the Xsara WRCs of Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae figured in second and fourth positions respectively and appeared to be on target to achieve the objective set by Guy Fréquelin, i.e. two cars inside the top five, including one on the podium. However, a last minute incident deprived Colin McRae and the team of reaping the benefits of what, until that point, had been a very strong performance.
The short lapse of time between the Greek and Cypriot rounds has seen a sharp acceleration in the team's workload at its Versailles-Satory base. In addition to the usual preparation of the three cars sent to Cyprus, it has been necessary to solve the problems encountered during the Acropolis Rally. This done, the team is in a particularly upbeat mood for its maiden appearance in the Mediterranean event and has every intention of coming away from Aphrodite's birthplace with the excellent result that slipped through its fingers in Greece.
Telefónica Movistar, Michelin, Magneti-Marelli, Kinetic, OZ, AIS and Citroën Financement are Citroën-Total's partners in the World Rally Championship.
Questions to Guy Fréquelin.
The way the Acropolis Rally went for you in Greece was a bit like the story about the bottle being half-full or half-empty.
"You can effectively look at it from both angles. On the one hand we came away with an excellent second place for Carlos Sainz, while the Xsara not only proved strong but also set two fastest stage times and eight second bests. Compared with our previous results on the same rally, there is no doubt whatsoever that we have progressed.
"There is also the half-empty side if you take into account that there is still room for improvement in terms of performance and that there were also of course the electronic problems that cost Colin two places right at the end of the rally."
The Xsara has been very reliable so far. How do you explain the troubles you had in Greece?
"The problem that forced Sébastien out was a typical yet isolated and identified case of a component failing without warning. With this sort of problem, there is no such thing as zero risk, however many precautions you take. The reason for Colin's problem was that certain electronic components suffered in the heat. I often say that the only real test bench is actually competition and this is just a further illustration of that. The same components have been tested in many situations and on many events now, but they just hadn't been exposed to the very specific conditions we saw in Greece."
You'll find similar conditions in Cyprus. Will you have found the solution in the space of just ten or so days?
"I certainly believe so. We have been exploring a number of avenues and this work will produce a certain number of solutions. We will then be able to choose the most appropriate one, or a combination of the best. That said, as was the case in New Zealand and Argentina, Cyprus will be a completely new experience for the team. Once again, we find ourselves with a clean sheet of paper on which I expect we will note a myriad of details, some things we will certainly discover, and perhaps also some surprises."
Questions to Sébastien Loeb.
As in New Zealand and Argentina, your experience of Cyprus amounts to just two recce runs through last year's stages.
"Absolutely! I admit I wasn't very impressed by the very twisty nature of the stages. For me, the only positive point of this type of route is that previous knowledge doesn't play such a key role. That said, this will be my first time with the Xsara WRC on such a slow event and I have got to work out whether to be quick it is best to drive smoothly or, on the contrary, to adopt a more sideways style to help the car turn in. I am going to have to find the answer and adapt very quickly."
For the first time in your career, you have failed to finish two consecutive rallies. What does that feel like?
"On the spur of the moment, being forced to retire is always bitterly disappointing. I made a mistake in Argentina, but at least up to that point we had had a chance to show what we were capable of. In Greece, there was a sense of frustration mixed in with the disappointment. I was expecting such a lot from the weekend but we were halted before being able to show what we could do. We also lost an opportunity to score extra championship points. It's such a shame. We have dropped back a little way from the top of the classification now, but the chase is by no means over and when you retire, once it's been digested, your motivation is even higher!"
How do you see Cyprus?
"When you do an event for the first time, it's difficult to go for victory. In our situation, it is vital to score points. On top of that, Cyprus, like the Acropolis, can be a rally where anything can happen. So I won't be taking any undue risks to begin with, while at the same time I'll try to stay as close as possible to the front-runners."
Questions to Colin McRae.
What features do the Acropolis Rally and Cyprus actually share and in what ways are they different?
"The two events aren't really comparable. OK, they're both gravel rallies, but the stages in Cyprus are much twistier and average speeds are far lower than they were in Greece. I personally think they're a bit too slow. If it's the fact they're both tough events you're talking about, Cyprus can actually be rougher than Greece, especially second time through the stages. The surface is effectively softer and the roads tend to cut up more quickly."
Which of the two do you prefer, and why?
"I prefer Greece, mainly because of the speeds you can get up to on the stages. Cyprus is well organised and it's a very nice place, but I honestly don't enjoy driving so slowly."
You have already won once in Cyprus, and you came close to winning again last year. What in your opinion is the secret?
"What you need in Cyprus is a totally reliable car capable of getting through the three days without a problem. On this type of event, it's pretty much impossible to make up ground if you lose time. So we'll be counting on the strength of the Xsara."
Questions to Carlos Sainz
Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are all rough. Greece and Cyprus are hot. What special ingredient does Cyprus bring to the table?
"Cyprus is effectively a combination of Greece and Turkey, but slower. Average speeds are very low and, since we are slower, there is less air flowing through the car which means we suffer from the heat even more than we did in Greece. That's what makes it more of a challenge."
You were very successful both in Turkey and on the Acropolis Rally, and you have also already won in Cyprus. Is the well-documented precision of your pacenotes an advantage over this type of terrain?
"I think everyone has good pacenotes. It's just that mine suit me well. Today, the majority of the crews know Cyprus well because we've already been there three times. There's no special secret. It's just a tough, physically demanding event."
The current points-scoring system favours consistency. Since the start of the year, you have finished on the podium four times from six starts. Do you sometimes think winning the title is a possibility?
"It's a bit too early for that. The team and the drivers have shown they are capable of winning and even fighting for one of the two titles, perhaps even both. The next two or three rallies will be crucial. It will also be important to prepare thoroughly for the asphalt rounds at the back-end of the year."
Facts and Figures:
Time difference: Cyprus is one hour ahead of continental Europe and two hours ahead of the United Kingdom. When it is midday in Madrid, it is 1 o'clock in the afternoon in Limassol. When it is midday in Manchester, it is 2 o'clock in the afternoon in Limassol.
The 31st Cyprus Rally is the fourth to count towards the World Rally Championship.
The event is based in Limassol (Lemesos), the island's principal port and second biggest town. The majority of the stages take place in the Troodos Mountains.
The three legs of the route total 1184.53km, including 18 stages totalling 341.05km (11 different stages).
Shakedown will take place on Thursday June 19th near Stavrovouni, between Lemesos and Larnaca.
The start ceremony takes place on the sea front in Limassol at 20.30 on the evening of Thursday June 19th.
The event's single service park has switched from its former seafront setting to Limassol's new harbour.
Total length of the first leg is 329.62km and includes 4 stages (99.84km) split into two loops of two ('Platres-Kato Amiantos' and 'Lagoudera- Spilia', both run twice).
Leg 2 (549.61km, including 158.35km against-the-clock) includes eight stages and is divided into three loops: one of three stages ('Kourdali- Asinou', 'Asinou-Nikitari', 'Orkondas-Stavroulia'), a second loop that also includes three tests ('Akrounda-Apsiou', 'Foini-Koilinia', 'Galatereia- Nata'), and a final group featuring two of the stages from the previous loop ('Foini-Koilinia', 'Galatereia-Nata').
The third leg (305.30km, including 82.86km against-the-clock) programmes two runs through the same three stages ('Vavatsinia-Mandra Kambiou', 'Macheras-Agioi Vavatsinias' and 'Kellaki-Foinikaria').
Colin McRae has taken part in the three Cyprus Rallies that have counted towards the WRC: 2002 (6th), 2001 (1st), 2000 (2nd). For the record, the McRae family has claimed two wins on the island: Colin's father, Jimmy, won there in 1983 when the event was a European Rally Championship qualifying round.
As in New Zealand and Argentina, Sébastien Loeb's previous knowledge of the event is limited to last year's recce.
Like McRae, Carlos Sainz has taken part in the three Cyprus Rallies that have qualified for the WRC: 2002 (11th), 2001 (3rd), 2000 (1st).