A Turkish bath for the C2
As the eighth and penultimate round of the busy 2006 JWRC calendar, the Rally of Turkey will once again see the Juniors' two-wheel drive machinery in action as it did in 2003 and 2004. Inasmuch as its debut on the world scene only dates back to 2005, this means the C2 will be sampling the heat and humidity of southern Turkish for the very first time. Five C2s have been entered for the event, namely four C2 Super 1600s and the fledgling C2- R2 which made its world class debut in Finland last August. PH Sport, which counts two previous visits to Kemer under its belt (2003 and 2004), will run the Super 1600 cars of Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson and Julien Pressac/Jack Boyère, as well as the C2-R2 of Fabien Fiandino/Sabrina de Castelli. The car of Czechs Martin Prokop/Jan Tománek will be tended by their own operation, Jipocar Racing, while Germany's Aaron Burkart/Tanja Geilhausen, whose programme skipped Rally Finland, will once again sport the colours of PRT (Prinz Rallye Technik).
World Rally Car chassis engineers catalogue the Rally of Turkey as a 'rough gravel' round which features relatively soft stages that enable buried rocks to become increasingly exposed with each passing car. As in Sardinia last May, the JWRC runners can consequently expect a particularly tough ride. "I know the Turkish stages quite well," says the Technical Manager of Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Department Alexis Avril who was the chassis engineer for Colin McRae's Xsara WRC in 2003 before doing the same job with Carlos Sainz the following year. "That said, we didn't compete here last year with the C2 Super 1600 so, following our usual pre-event test, we decided to prepare a range of set-up options." As is sometimes the case when the going gets this rough, the outcome could well depend on the lottery regarding punctures. But reliability also promises to play a big role and the survivors at the finish will not necessarily be those who emerge as the front-runners early on. The key question all the Juniors face is how to drive as quickly as possible without denting the car's performance potential?
Citroën will clearly be pinning its main hopes on Kris Meeke. The Ulsterman has led all the rounds he has contested so far in 2006, has claimed the highest number of stage wins and also tops the so-called 'sprinters' standings. "The only option Kris really has is to go for victory," believes Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Manager Yves Matton. "He needs to win, both for the championship and also to continue showcasing the competitiveness of the C2 Super 1600. He needs to finish, and in first place. I would also like to see Julien Pressac finally bag the podium result that has tantalisingly eluded him so far and see Fabien Fiandino follow up his performance in Finland by showing off the C2-R2's balance, speed and reliability all the way to the flag."
With more and more teams and drivers showing an interest in its latest challenger, Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Department has decided to take a second C2-R2 to Turkey for display in the Kemer service park.
What the drivers say...
Fourth season in the JWRC. Finished 3rd in the 2005 championship.
So far this year, you have led all the rounds in which you have competed and won just
once. How do you analyse your season to date?
"The overall result unfortunately doesn't reflect the potential the Citroën C2 Super 1600 has shown on the stages! Everyone says that the car and the driver are the quickest of this year's JWRC but our season has been troubled by a variety of incidents. I'm more frustrated than disappointed, both for ourselves and the team. That said, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that rallying isn't circuit racing and that we are more exposed to outside factors. Examples include when we ran into a car concealed by a blind bend in Spain, or our awkward landing after a jump in Finland. Even our win in Germany wasn't all plain sailing during the early stages!"
How did your two previous visits to Turkey go and what lessons have the Turkish stages
"If you look at the photos, Turkey appears to be very similar to the Acropolis Rally or Cyprus. However, there are some big and quite contrasting differences. The stages are smoother and faster but there are more stones and rocks. It's a tough event, especially for the Super 1600 cars and prior experience doesn't really give you an advantage. The roads tend to cut up a lot with each passing car and become increasingly difficult to drive on. You've got to be on your guard all the time but we will all start on a level playing field and it will be down to us to steer clear of all the pitfalls."
You still have an arithmetical chance of winning the title. In what state of mind will you
tackle the two remaining events on your programme, which of course includes Turkey?
"Our approach won't change. We will begin at our own pace and try to score as many points as possible. We won't start totting up the points until the finish."
Winner of the 2005 C2 Rallye Challenge. First season in the JWRC.
Turkey is the last event on your 2006 programme . How do you analyse your year so far?
"We'll see at the end of the Rally of Turkey, but my feeling so far is positive. I was asked to focus on learning, getting as many kilometres under my belt as possible and finishing events without any precise objective regarding my result. I've finished every event to date, with the exception of Catalunya where I was halted by a technical problem while lying 2nd. In the four other rallies, I was in a position to finish on the podium. However, I made a small error which cost me a lot of time in Sardinia and I was caught by surprise on the last stage in Germany. In Finland, had I been told before the start that I would have finished 4th , I been signed at once!"
What about your learning curve regarding pacenotes and your feeling with the car. Is
there room for improvement there ?
"Pacenotes have never been a major issue. My system is based on that of Sébastien Loeb and works perfectly over the wide variety of terrains we have come across so far. I don't think I have a problem there. Regarding my feeling with the car, I needed to get used to driving a Super 1600. They are quite pointy to drive. And even though they are easier on asphalt, I still need to improve in soiled conditions. I don't let myself go enough. At the same time, I have had to accustom myself to driving a two-wheel drive car on the loose and here too there is room for improvement, especially over the rougher, cut-up portions. Without wishing to appear overly confident, I am following the same approach I used in the French C2 Rallye Challenge : I profited from the first year to learn and the following year I won..."
The Rally of Turkey promises to be tough going for the Super 1600s cars...
"That's what I've heard and it's also what the videos show. Happily, the C2 Super 1600 is extremely strong, both in the ruts and over the bumps. I still don't know how I will approach Turkey. I hesitate between two options. I tell myself it could be a lottery and that if I show I can finish then I could perhaps obtain a good result. Or maybe I will try to end the year with a bit of panache and show that I have learnt enough to be competitive next year and perhaps at last claim the podium finish that has eluded me all season."
Turkey is Fabien's second JWRC outing.
August saw you discover Finland and the C2-R2 at the same time...
"That's right. I also hadn't driven on gravel for ten months. During recce, I was a little concerned about whether my pacenotes would be adapted to the terrain but I was quickly reassured on that point after the first couple of stages. I was even pleased with my positioning of the car leading up to the blind crests. I was also surprised by the C2-R2 and it was great to feel so comfortable with the car despite the little opportunity I had had to drive it. Its handling was very balanced and it landed nicely after the jumps. It responded perfectly, even whe n I added a little lock in the middle of corners. I soon felt confident and we set a few good times."
Turkey is a very different type of event...
"So I hear and I've seen a few videos too. In Finland, we went for three days without the slightest mechanical trouble with the car, but Turkey will doubtlessly be more tougher. That said, I am reassured by the fact that in the few badly cut-up portions where you needed to lift, we were still able to post a few decent times. I think the car goes well in difficult conditions. Similarly, if Turkey turns out to be wet, I don't think we will be overly troubled either. In rained quite hard on Day 1 in Finland and everything went well. It's not a problem for me, especially with such an easy to drive, nicely handling car as the C2-R2."
You seem very enthusiastic and optimistic. What is your objective in Turkey?
"The C2-R2 is not a Super 1600 so I can't say I will be battling with the top JWRC runners, especially as the rally is new to me. I will nonetheless keep a close eye on the gap that separates us from the leaders. We were about 2s/km behind them in Finland. Had I not made a mistake when my concentration dipped on the last stage, perhaps we might have finished inside the top-eight, that is to say in the points. It would be nice if we could do that in Turkey to give PH Sport and Citroën the satisfaction I should have given them in Finland."