A first class finale!
After sewing up both world crowns in Corsica, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their trusty Xsara WRC clinched another resounding victory today in Perth. The result takes the number of wins secured by the pair during the 2004 season to six, which equals the score of Didier Auriol, the first Frenchman to become World Champion exactly ten years ago.
Sunday morning brought summer weather to Western Australia and, despite the final leg's early start (5.30 am), the sun had already risen over Perth with the promise of a fine, hot day to come. And for the fourth time since the pre-start shakedown session, competitors headed east to Mundaring and the forests in the Helena River region for a loop of two stages of approximately 20 km each - 'Flynns' and 'Helena East' - which had already been covered once this weekend.
"Where the gravel had been cleared aside, the surface was as hard as concrete," commented Guy Fréquelin. "However, the end of the braking zone where I was standing was sandy. That's not easy for a driver arriving at something like 200 kph!" Sébastien Loeb agreed: "I prefer gravel events which allow you to choose your own lines, but it's interesting to have to drive tidily as you do here. In places, the precision required is similar to that needed on asphalt". Daniel Elena added: "We are going really well; quickly but without taking any risks through the trickier portions..." ...an approach that enabled the Xsara crew to add two further fastest stage times to its score for the weekend...
After the following service halt, the rally switched to a new location for its finale in the celebrated Sotico Complex far to the south of Perth where the two loops of two stages were split by a Remote Tyre Fitting Zone (RTFZ). For 'Bannister North Short' and 'Bannister Central 1', Seb and Daniel chose the Michelin Z, a slightly wider tyre than the Michelin ZE option taken by their rivals. However, there was apparently more surface gravel to be cleared than expected which tipped the balance in favour of those who had gone for the narrower choice. For the event's last two stages ('Bannister North Long', the longest of the weekend at 35.64 km, and 'Bannister Central 2'), the Xsara went out on the same tyres as its rivals... and bagged two more fastest times, taking its score to 13 from a possible 25. The 2004 finished as it had begun... with a victory!
Emotion had run high prior to the start of the rally following the last minute withdrawal of Carlos Sainz, and the weekend ended on a similar note. The team's Technical Manager, who had announced that this would be his final rally actually on an event, had difficulty holding back a tear when Sébastien radioed in to thank the team: "Carlos said that he wanted to be greeted in Madrid with the news that we had won. Once again, you gave us a perfect car which meant we were able to make that happen. Thanks to everyone!"
"Although the two titles were already in the bag, the team gave another demonstration of its ability and professionalism," added Guy Fréquelin. "They remained perfectly motivated. I'm very proud of every one of them!"
Michelin, Magneti-Marelli, Kinetic, OZ, AIS and Citroën Financement are Team Citroën Total's partners in the FIA World Rally Championship.