Five CitroÃ«n C2s in Cardiff After a year's absence, the JWRC returns to Wales Rally GB which will provide the setting for the finale of the championship's sixth season and also decide who follows in the footsteps of the inaugural JWRC champion...
Five Citroën C2s in Cardiff
After a year's absence, the JWRC returns to Wales Rally GB which will provide the setting for the finale of the championship's sixth season and also decide who follows in the footsteps of the inaugural JWRC champion Sébastien Loeb and the most recent winner of the series, Dani Sordo.
Two of the four Citroën C2 S1600s present in Cardiff will be competing in the JWRC, since both Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson (PH Sport) and Aaron Burkart/Tanja Geilhausen (Prinz Rallye Technik) listed Wales Rally GB in their respective programmes of six events at the start of the year.
Although they will be competing to the same regulations, the other two C2 Super 1600s in Wales will be running outside of the championship's framework. Martin Prokop and his co-driver Jan Tománek (Jipocar Racing) have already completed their programme but added Wales Rally GB to their calendar, just as they did the Tour of Corsica, to gain extra experience and see how they compare with their fellow JWRC runners. Finland's Juho Hänninen/Marko Sallinen entered for similar reasons. Juho, 25, is seen as a truly promising youngster in his home country and has already taken Group N honours in Sweden and Sardinia this year. He recently finished 2nd in the Production category in New Zealand too and, in Wales, he will drive the PH Sport-run car used so far this year by Julien Pressac.
The fifth C2 in Cardiff will be the PH Sport-prepared C2-R2 entered by Fabien Fiandino/Sabrina de Castelli who, in addition to their outings in Finland and Turkey, see the British round as a chance to continue their apprenticeship of the series with a view to contesting next year's championship with the C2-R2.
Programmed this year just three weeks before Christmas, Wale s Rally GB has every chance of taking place in cold weather and even the four-drive runners will be wary of its high speed stages over which the likelihood of mud and ice will do little to alleviate the probable lack of grip. So it comes as no surprise to learn that the event is equally held in awe by the drivers of front-wheel drive cars, although at the same time it's an event that will enable the most gifted of them to gravitate to the fore.
Kris Meeke falls incontestably into the latter category. The Ulsterman will more or less be on home ground in Wales and he is also the driver who has posted the highest number of fastest stage times to date in this year's JWRC. Ill luck, however, has prevented his natural speed from paying dividends in his bid to cla im the 2006 title.
"Kris doesn't have too much choice," observes Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Manager Yves Matton. "He will have to keep up the fight until the very end to try to win and once again showcase the potential of the C2 Super 1600. I am also looking forward to seeing how Juho Hänninen fairs once he gets a feel for the car and I will be counting on Fabien Fiandino to profit from the balance of his C2-R2. If the conditions are as difficult as some are predicting, its exceptional handling promises to be a big advantage." Total, BFGoodrich, OMP and OZ are the partners of Citroën's programmes in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship.
What the drivers say...
You chose Wales Rally GB as part of your JWRC programme at the beginning of the year. Did you want to conclude the championship on home ground?
"It wasn't just that. At the start of the year, we nominated the events we knew the best and Wales Rally GB was one of them. I was obviously hoping to be in a stronger position in terms of the championship by the time Wales Rally GB came around but it hasn't been the simplest of seasons. That won't stop me though from giving it my very best shot to try and win this rally which is one I particularly enjoy."
You have competed on Wales Rally GB four times; twice in November and twice in September. Which time of year do you prefer?
"It's difficult really to compare the two because the conditions are so different. In September, the stages tended to be dry and the average speeds we reached made Wales Rally GB one of the fastest rounds of the season. It's a very different picture in December when it becomes a far more complex rally. When it rains, the stages are very muddy, so there isn't much grip, plus the fact that there's occasionally ice and very often fog to contend with. When the conditions are like that, it's one of the toughest rallies I know. Whether it takes place in September or December, the main thing is to enjoy it. Wales Rally GB has lots of character and the drivers generally like it."
According to the way P-G Andersson's appeal goes, the JWRC will either be wrapped up before the start or else it will be an extremely interesting finale, with as many as six drivers in with an arithmetic chance for the title...
"In either case I will be out to win. And if we do, if the championship is still undecided, it will all depend on the results of the other five contenders and there's nothing we can do about that. I hope the situation will still be wide open. If it is, we'll see how it goes..."
You competed on Wales Rally GB for the first time last year...
"I am told that last year's event was not typical of the 'RAC Rally'. The conditions were dry, the weather was pleasant and the stages were in good condition. I drove a Group N car but my weekend was troubled by a spate of mechanical problems, altho ugh I managed to cover most of the stages in rally conditions, so I won't feel too unfamiliar with the terrain when we start recce. The conditions obviously won't be the same as they were when the rally took place in September. I expect them to be tougher but I have to say I'm really looking forward to the experience."
Finland and Turkey gave you a chance to sample the C2-R2 in contrasting conditions ...
"In Finland, I was impressed by the car's balance, even at high speeds, as well as by how easy it was to control through the corners. It also coped particularly well with the mud in Turkey. Its narrow track and wheels meant its traction was excellent, while its handling was effective and predictable even through the deeper ruts. The other things I like about the car are its sequential gearbox and outstanding suspension which really make it fun to drive. In the faster portions, when you're not slowing and re-accelerating all the time, its performance isn't that far off certain Super 1600s. Wales Rally GB is a fairly fast event, so that will be good for us."
The word is that you intend to drive a C2-R2 in the 2007 Junior Championship...
"I'm trying to put a programme together and my objective is to compete at world level. I may as well aim straight for the top. I have seen for myself that knowledge of events is a key parameter. Competing with a C2-R2 will enable me to play myself in gradually while at the same time building up a knowledge base of the World Championship rounds for a budget that is obviously lower tha n would have been necessary with a Super 1600 car. I was somewhat on my own in the R2 category with my C2 this year but that probably won't be the case in 2007. And that will mean that in addition to familiarising myself with the different events I will also have a fight on my hands..."