The 2013 World Rally Championship kicks off at the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo in a season that promises many significant changes. Among the four Citroën DS3 WRCs entered in the rally, three will be driven by former winners of the event (Loeb, Hirvonen and Bouffier).
Leading the way, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be looking for a seventh win here in the no.1 DS3 WRC.
Nominated to score points for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT, the nine-time World Champions will line up alongside Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who begin the season with their sights set on claiming the Drivers’ title.
The DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT will be driven by Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio on their return to the Citroën Racing family.
Next Wednesday, competitors will set off from Valence on three stages held on roads through the Ardèche, the Haute-Loire and the Drôme departments.
Although it is still a little early for weather forecasts, ice and snow are likely to feature in the rally, making tyre choice a complicated affair. The crews left standing after the first two days will head south on Friday, arriving in Monaco in the evening.
The final leg will be disputed in the hills above Monaco, with three runs on the famous Col du Turini. These four long days of racing will provide some 465km of timed stages, which should be more than enough to separate the men from the boys!
Just ten years after their first win in the Principality, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are set to begin their ‘testimonial’ year with one of their favourite rallies.
“We therefore prepared as usual, with some test sessions which enabled us to test out the new range of Michelin tyres. Given that we have won six out the last seven times we have competed here, it is difficult to imagine achieving any other result than first place!”
In the second DS3 WRC nominated by Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team to score points, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen begin the season with clear ambitions.
Winners of the rally in 2010, the Finns would dearly love to repeat the feat now that the event is back on the WRC calendar. “The team wants to defend both world titles and they are counting on me for the Drivers’ title.
I feel ready to take on this responsibility. In fact, I have never felt so motivated at the start of a season,” confirmed Mikko.
“However, I don’t intend to change my approach to the rallies. As they say, more haste, less speed... I feel very confident in the DS3 WRC, but this is not the only factor that matters if you want to win in Monte-Carlo.
The team has an enormous amount of experience on these roads and I think that we are very well placed to start the year with a good result.”
Nominated to score points for the works team when Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are not competing, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio will begin the season in the DS3 WRC reserved for the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team.
Second here in 2007 and 2012, Dani is just as excited as his team-mates about the first rally of his racing programme this year: “I couldn‘t be happier to be back in a car capable of winning rallies.
I was pleased to get back in the DS3 during testing and now I can’t wait to start competing in it. I am starting the year in relaxed mood, determined to win my first rally as soon as possible.
It’s always difficult to make predictions for Monte-Carlo, but it is a rally where I feel comfortable. So I’ve got high hopes!”
Entered privately in a fourth DS3 WRC, Bryan Bouffier and Xavier Panseri will boost Citroën Racing’s presence at this year’s Monte-Carlo. Winner here in 2011, the man from the Drôme will be taking part in his first WRC rally in a World Rally Car.
Three questions for... Yves Matton
So, the age old question at the start of a new season: what have you been set in the way of targets for 2013?
“Just as in previous years, we will be aiming to win the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ World Championships. After nine consecutive titles, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will only be taking part in four rallies, which therefore signals the start of a new era for the WRC.
We will be doing all we can to ensure that Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen succeed them as world champions. They have finished as World Championship runners-up in four out of the last five years, so I think we can therefore say that they are ready to take the final step.
With Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio joining the team, I think we have three quick and reliable crews, all capable of scoring big points at each rally. That will be the key to winning a ninth Manufacturers’ title.”
You are therefore going to 'juggle’ three crews from one rally to the next. Aren’t you worried that might be disruptive for the team?
“The team has always been organised in such a way that no-one is irreplaceable. I think we are lucky to be able to count on Seb and Daniel at a few events.
Quite apart from the points contribution we can expect from such a crew, their presence will allow us to make the transition gradually.
Mikko will be able to take on the role of no.1 in relaxed fashion and Dani will be able to get back into the swing of things at the first two rallies before competing as one of the works drivers in Mexico.”
The World Championship is due to get underway without Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin, who will begin their WRC season in Sweden. What is the reason for this?
We drew up the racing schedules for our crews taking into account our human and physical resources, which are not unlimited. Khalid is going to have a busy season.
He has already completed several test sessions in the DS3 RRC and his test programme is set to continue until the start of the Middle East Rally Championship, which begins on January 25-26 in Qatar.
The MERC is an important programme for Citroën Racing and we all believed that it was necessary for him to concentrate totally on this first objective.”