The Juniors' high-speed toboggan ride After the game of 'hide-and-seek' that has marked the 2006 JWRC until now, all the favourites are at last poised to compete together in Finland. When shakedown begins at 10.30am on Thursday morning at the...
The Juniors' high-speed toboggan ride
After the game of 'hide-and-seek' that has marked the 2006 JWRC until now, all the favourites are at last poised to compete together in Finland. When shakedown begins at 10.30am on Thursday morning at the foot of the Laajavuori ski-jump, the most notable absentee will be sixth-placed Bernd Casier, while the young Aaron Burkart (13th ) will be missing from the Citroën camp. On the other hand, all the main title contenders have made the trip to Jyväskylä after nominating the Finnish toboggan ride in their respective programmes at the start of the year.
Meanwhile, with Brice Tirabassi sidelined after his off in Germany, the Citroën line-up has changed with the transfer of PH Sport's entry for Tirabassi to Fabien Fiandino/Sabrina de Castelli and their C2-R2. The Nice-based Frenchman, 22, was already down to start at N°96 but this change has given him the N°55 slot driving Citroën Sport's Competition Department's newcomer, the C2-R2, which makes its debut in the Junior World Rally Championship.
There have been no changes however regarding the Citroën C2 Super 1600s. The cars of Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson (superb winners last week in Germany, and now up to 5th in the championship) and Julien Pressac/Jack Boyère (8th) are as usual run by PH Sport, while the machine of Czechs Martin Prokop/Jan Tománek (7th, winners in Catalonia) will be tended by Jipocar Racing.
"Our preparation for this event included an entry for Kris on the Kouvola Rally, near Lahti," explains Customer Competition Technical Manager Alexis Avril. "In addition to that, we completed a two -day test during which Brice and Julien shared the driving. This began with a very fast stage with some good jumps and we then moved on to a stage of the type that tends to cut up during the event. All this work proved very fruitful and gave us a good overview while we focused on the car's damping and adapting to the BFGoodrich tyres we are using this year."
"Rally Finland is the first showdown with our potentially most dangerous rivals and promises to set the tone for the rest of the season," adds Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Manager Yves Matton. "Given Julien and Fabien's lack of experience of this event, Kris obviously carries our best hopes. He has always been very quick here but has never been rewarded for his efforts. He followed in Dani Sordo's footsteps by winning in Germany and I hope he can pull off the same thing in Jyväskylä. We will also of course be keeping a close eye on the C2 - R2 which is making its debut at world level."
"There's a great deal at stake and all the favourites will set off at a very fast pace," predicts the Citroën squad's spearhead Kris Meeke. "We will have to find the ideal speed straight away and also resist the temptation of overdoing it." Before falling foul of the terrain, the Briton led last year's event and has so far claimed the highest number of fastest stage times this year and is feeling particularly buoyant. Sufficiently, in any case, for him to 'resist the temptation'...
What the drivers say...
Fourth season in the JWRC. Finished 3rd in the 2005 championship. You had a bit of a rough ride in Germany where things occasionally didn't seem to want to go your way. You were delayed twice. Did you have any moments of doubt before you finally succeeded in fighting your way back to first place?
"It was quite tough on the nerves, that's for sure! After our brake problems on the Friday, I have to say that a little bit of doubt did creep in, but that's as far as it went at the time. We had the speed and there was still absolutely everything to play for. When we picked up our puncture on Saturday morning though, I thought that was it. But the two passes over the Baumholder army ranges enabled us to get back into the race and any lingering doubts just faded away. Following our win in Germany, anything is possible in Finla nd."
This will be your fourth Rally Finland start. What do you think about this event? "The combination of the smooth stages and the amazingly high speeds we reach makes this a very special event for the drivers. And all those near-blind jumps only serve to make it even more interesting. I really enjoy driving on this type of rally and it's even more rewarding when you get a good result here against the locals who know the stages by heart..."
Your win in Germany puts you firmly back in the title chase. How do you see the situation evolving as you prepare to tackle all your rivals head on in Jyväskylä? "There are now six of us grouped within just ten points and Rally Finland, which is wide open, promises to be a turning point. There's a great deal at stake and all the favourites will set off at a very fast pace. We will have to find the ideal speed straight away and also resist the temptation of overdoing it. Otherwise we could only end up losing too much ground! I feel confident though. Our pre-event testing went well and I am very pleased with the set-up we have found. Our win in Germany was a tremendous morale booster and a great way to prepare for this weekend's legendary event. I don't feel any pressure and I am totally focused. I intend to give it my best shot and I hope to come away with a top result. The car can do it, so it will be up to me to continue to exploit its potential."
Winner of the 2005 C2 Rallye Challenge. First season in the JWRC. For the fourth time in as many events, the podium narrowly escaped you in Germany. Frustrating?
"To see a top-three finish slip from my grasp on the very last final stage was so annoying, I must say. But looking back, I have to recognise that it's over the weekend as a whole that I lost my chance. Given the speed of the C2 Super 1600, we should have sealed a podium finish much earlier. We didn't because of the odd small mistake I made here and there. The positive thing is that I believe I h ave progressed through the soiled, deeply cut apexes. There were a lot of them in Germany and I saw that you just mustn't hesitate to cut. The car's balance allows you to do it. So I did progress, but I've still got lots of work to do."
You have started recce for Rally Finland. What do you think of the Finnish stages? "I'm over the moon to be here but I've got so much respect for this event. I mean it's the Holy Grail of rallying, no? We've read so much about it; the legendary performances here of the past have long fed our imaginations. And here we are! It's fantastic. Apart from that, we have already seen how important the vertical notion regarding the jumps is in the pacenotes. We will try to ensure that we note them in sufficient detail, but not too much because the stages are so fast. We will need to make sure that Jack [Boyère] hasn't got too much to call out! In a word, it's such a thrill to be here and we will try to give the best account of ourselves."
How do you intend to approach your first atte mpt at Rally Finland? "Our main objective is to go all the way with a view to gaining as much experience as possible. After that, we will try to enjoy these fantastic stages. If it turns out to be fun, that will mean we're not doing too badly... for novices. But I don't want to get carried away. Everyone has told me how difficult this event is and nobody has asked me to do anything other than learn all I can. That said, I must admit that I'm curious to see where we stand at the end of Day 1, even though we will possibly be some way back..."
You were a last-minute call up... "I was down to do the event running at N°96. My thoughts are with Brice [Tirabassi] and I wish him a speedy recovery but his withdrawal means I now find myself at N°55 and in the JWRC pack. For us, that's obviously a bonus. The stages won't be so damaged, especially the portions that cut-up easily. We won't be changing our car so we will have the honour of giving the C2-R2 its JWRC debut. It would be nice if we succeeded in getting its world class career off to a flying start."
It won't be easy. The stages are all new for you... "Yes, but what stages! We have just started recce and they are exactly what I was expecting. You have to have confidence in your note-taking, especially the approaches to the blind jumps where all you can see is sky and nothing of what comes next. It's clearly not easy. While we are noting them for the first time and then checking them second time through, those who have been here before are double checking and optimising their notes. But you've got to start somewhere. For me, the objective was always to get a feel for the terrain and that hasn't changed as a result of my switch to JWRC status."
So the objective is to learn... "Exactly, and that means I must make it all the way to the finish! In performance terms, we are the only crew with an R2 category car, so we won't be able to compare our times with the Super 1600 runners. What will be interesting for us, however, will be to see how we adapt to the terrain, how we progress over the weekend and by how much our times improve second time through..."