- Citroen will return in 2007
Citroen has confirmed the rumours are true. The team that has dominated the World Rally Championship in recent years will return to the sport in 2007. Citroen, along Peugeot, announced earlier this year that this would be their last season due to escalating costs that Chairman of the Managing Board of PSA Peugeot Citroen, Jean Martin Folz, said could not be justified. The 2006 season will consequently be a year of transition with, on the one hand, the presence of a Citroen Xsara WRC for Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena run by a private team and, on the other, the re-staring of the new Citroen C4 WRC's development programme. Citroen Sport will return to the championship full time from 2007.
- World Motorsport Council WRC Shakeup
The World Motor Sport Council met in Rome on October 26, 2005. The following decisions were taken in regards to the World Rally Championship.
1. In order to score points in the Championship, each manufacturer must take part with two cars of the same make in all the event rallies.
2. The driver of the first car should remain the same throughout the season. The driver of the second car may be changed for each of the rallies in the Championship.
3. In order to be classified at the end of the season, a manufacturer must have competed in all the rallies.
4. The 2007 season will be made up of eight or nine rallies run from January to May. The World Champion for each of the titles will be known at the end of that period. The 2008 season will be run over two calendar years, beginning in August 2007 and ending in May 2008.
Just one week after the Tour de Corse, crews will start another WRC asphalt event, Rally Catalunya, based in southern Spain, from 27-30 October. For the first time this season two FIA World Rally Championship events will be run 'back to back' and this will also be the first time this year that the same engines and chassis will be used for two consecutive rallies.
Although this year will be the 41st Rally Catalunya, next week marks a significant change to the format of the event. After years of being based in the Costa Brava area, the rally moves to the Tarragona region, with a single service area at the PortAventura theme park. Many of the special stages take place in the mountains around the host town Salou, with some sections previously used in 2001 and 2002 making a reappearance. Two stages, the Querol and El Montmell passes, use roads that have not been part of World Championship rallying for ten years.
Although Spain and Corsica are both sealed-surface events, the two are very different in character. While Corsica is twisty and narrow, the roads in Spain are much wider, faster and more flowing. Catalunya is likely to be the fastest asphalt event of the season. The majority of the Spanish asphalt is newer and smoother than the more abrasive Corsican surface and this event is the closest the WRC gets to a race track rally. Getting the right line into a corner is crucial and cutting corners is commonplace as drivers look for every advantage.
With its late October date, the weather could be bright sunshine and blue skies or lashing rain and fog, anything is possible. The rallying action kicks off with the ceremonial start in PortAventura on Thursday night, with the competitive action starting at 0828hrs the next day. The rally comprises 15 stages, with six on Legs one and two and three on the final day. Only one stage is used once, Pratdip on Leg one is also the longest of the rally at 28.35km. The podium finish will be in Salou on Sunday at 1330hrs.
Citroen is hoping that Round 15 of the 16-round FIA World Rally Championship will turn out to be a decisive step in its bid to secure a third consecutive Manufacturers' title. To this end, the French team has entered two Xsara WRCs for the two-times World Champions* Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and their Belgian team-mates Francois Duval/Sven Smeets. The objective of the Versailles-Satory team in Spain is to try to wrap up the Manufacturers' championship in its attempt to add a third crown to the titles it won in 2003 and 2004. Its current cushion of 30 points at the top of the provisional standings effectively puts it in a very comfortable position.In its bid to take the title, the team will be able to count on a number factors, from the current competitiveness of the Xsara/Michelin package and the sparkling form of Loeb/Elena to the fact that Francois Duval led during last year's visit to Spain. But in order to be able to capitalise on these strengths, it will first be necessary to get a firm grip on the tyre/weather situation, an equation which includes one important unknown factor: Citroen's three previous visits to the Tarragona region were all in spring.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "...given our current successful run, the strength of the team, the fact that the Xsara and our tyres couldn't be more competitive, nobody would believe me if I said I wasn't hoping to win. So, yes, we will try. It's an asphalt rally and, even though the Spanish stages are different to those of Germany and Corsica, the fundamentals are still pretty much the same. We are aware of course that we have some work to finish off in the Manufacturers' championship too. We really want the team to keep the title, so we won't do anything reckless. But a win would effectively be nice."
Francois Duval/Sven Smeets: "First of all, I hope I will feel better physically (Than in France). That should be OK. I drove during the team's pre-Catalunya tests and I think my car will be to my liking and competitive from the start. I was quite competitive on the stages further north last year, so I don't see why I shouldn't be competitive again this time round. I will be looking for a good result to make sure that Citroen wraps up the Manufacturers' title here in Spain."
The Subaru World Rally Team had an encouraging Tour de Corse, achieving its best asphalt finish of the year with Petter Solberg third and Stephane Sarrazin fourth. Stephane's result equalled his best-ever WRC finish, which he recorded last year in Spain on his WRC debut. The Subaru World Rally Team will enter a three-car team on Rally Catalunya. The three Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), Stephane Sarrazin (co-driven by Denis Giraudet) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). On this event Petter and Stephane will be eligible to score points in the 2005 FIA Championship for Manufacturers. Petter had a largely trouble-free run on this event in 2004 to finish fifth, just behind his current team-mate Stephane Sarrazin, who made his WRC debut at the event in a privately entered Impreza. Catalunya will be another new rally for Chris Atkinson who starts his third-ever sealed surface event after Germany and Corsica.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I think Spain will be a very interesting and exciting rally. The new roads look very good and it's always fun to try out fresh rally stages. Coming so soon after Corsica I'm still feeling positive about the way the latest tyres and suspension set-up worked. The guys at Subaru and Pirelli have worked very hard and together we've made a significant step forward in the asphalt performance. We achieved our objectives there, and I hope that we can deliver another good result in Spain. I'm looking forward to it."
Stephan Sarrazin/Denis Giraudet: "Prior experience is so important in the WRC, but the fact that this rally is largely new to all competitors should help me in Spain. It's much more of a level fight and that's better for me. My performance in Corsica has given me a lot of confidence about the car and tyres, when I push I know I am capable of getting good times. I prefer the smoother roads in Spain and I think that I can improve on my Corsica result - maybe another step up the podium - who knows."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Catalunya will be another now event for me, and another opportunity to learn more about the car and tyres in some unfamiliar conditions. From what I know of the event, we're going to be facing some very different stage conditions to the ones we saw in Corsica. They're a lot quicker and we'll be taking a lot more cuts, but I think we learned some useful things last week that will help us get off to a good start."
Just four days after the finish of the Ford Focus World Rally Car's centenary event in Corsica, the current model will make its farewell appearance as a works car on Spain's Rally Catalunya - Costa Daurada (27 - 30 October). An all-new Focus RS WRC, based on the Focus ST road car, will make its first public appearance on the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Australia next month. The BP-Ford World Rally Team has scheduled that event as a major test ahead of the car's introduction for the 2006 series. Thirty-year-old Gardemeister claimed his first finish in Spain when the rally last visited Tarragona and has memories of the stages. Kresta finds himself in a position that is far from new for him this year - tackling stages for the first time. His only previous start in Spain was in 2003 when the rally didn't visit Tarragona.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "Two of the stages in this year's route were also on the schedule in 2002 but I think much will have changed in those three years," said the Finn. "I remember the roads as being more abrasive and more flowing than those near Lloret de Mar. But I have heard that work has been done on the roads since then, so the asphalt is likely to be smoother."
Roman Kresta/Jan Mozny: "It will all be completely new to me," said the 29-year-old Czech. "I'm quite used to that this year because I've started several rallies for the first time. It means myself and Jan have to concentrate extra hard during the recce to make fresh pace notes and ensure they are as precise as possible. But in other rallies I have been at a big disadvantage as a first-timer because most of the other drivers have more experience than me. Here, many of the stages will be new to everyone and if the roads have been resurfaced, as we have been told, then I think most drivers will want to make new notes. "Once the rally has started, I will take no big risks. It's important for me to finish and complete the full stage distance so that I can learn as much as possible about the rally and the characteristics of the roads. My confidence increased every day in Corsica and I hope I can take that with me to Spain," added Kresta, whose fifth place in Corsica was a career-best finish.
Nicolas Bernardi deserves more than his eventual eighth place on the Rally de France-Tour de Corse, after a final leg in which he was twice in the top three stage times. After playing himself in over the opening day, Nicolas showed himself to be entirely worthy of the trust that team principal Jean-Pierre Nicolas had placed in him. Now the young Frenchman is eagerly looking forward to the start of the Catalunya Rally in a few days time. With Marcus Gronholm retiring early in Corsica, Catalunya is there for the proving. Marcus placed second in 2004.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: Peugeot have not made a quote available. Apologies.
Nicolas Bernardi/Jean Marc Fortin: "I cannot wait to get to Catalunya next week, where I can show what I am capable of on stages that nobody has ever driven before."
With no chance to draw breath after Corsica the ©koda Motorsport World Rally Team heads to main- land Europe for the penultimate round of the 2005 World Rally Cham-pionship, the Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally (October 27-30). The same three crews will contest this final asphalt event with Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha leading the team as usual while the second Fabia WRC 05 is driven by the French crew of Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero and a third Fabia will be in the hands of Czech Champions Jan Kopecký/Filip Schovanek.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: Catalunya is a completely different character to Corsica. The stages don't have the same rhythm but they are still very fast. Most of the surface is new so the roads aren't as abrasive as they used to be. Any of the stages I knew from the past seem to be being run in the opposite direction this time so I think this rally will be as new for me as everyone else.
Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero: This will be a very interesting rally for me. I only did the recce before but this year everything is new! Hopefully that will mean that no one has a real advantage. The roads are much faster than Corsica but there are still a lot of corners and if the grip levels are good then we can go quite well.
Jan Kopecký/Filip Schovanek: I have done this rally once before but the stages this year will be new for everyone so different levels of previous experience won't matter so much. After having to drive carefully in Corsica it will be nice to be able to really try my best in Spain and I'm looking forward to it very much.
While the nature of this year's rally has changed, Harri Rovanpera has useful experience of the Spanish roads. The Finn has competed here on no fewer than four occasions and while seventh overall is his best result (2002), the experience and knowledge he gained on Corsica of sealed surface competition will once again assist. This will be the fourth time team-mate Gigi Galli has competed in Spain, the Italian fourth in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship category in 2002 and a fine seventh overall in the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 in 2004. He has been nominated for the event to gain additional experience.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "I remember some of these Tarragona stages from years before, where there is good grip and nice rhythm", said Harri. "Spain is a much faster rally than Corsica, so the stages should suit our car more. With Pirelli we have also made progress with the tires and we now know we have a good option for dry conditions and our wet tire was always working well".
Gigi Galli/Guido d'Amore: "I have to keep in mind my experience; that's the best attitude to have and if things feel okay, then maybe we can do something good", said Gigi. "I go to the rally with good memories as last year I achieved what was then my best result in the WRC. But for sure it will not be an easy event for everyone, as the route is very different and we have to start with new pace notes. I remember some of the stages from 2002 and when I have tested there many years ago, but that is not really a great help. I am however confident that Spain will be better than Corsica for us; we have some solutions and the stages are faster, which will help".
- The 41st Rally Catalunya marks a turning point in the event's history because, for the first time, Lloret de Mar is not the host town. The event has effectively upped camp from the Costa Brava to head south to the region of Tarragona where it has established a new base in Salou, on the Costa Daurada.
- The total length of the new route is 1,341.56 km, including 358.75 km divided into 15 stages (8 different).
- The stages feature a mixture of tests previously run in 1995 ('Querol', 'El Montmell'), 2001 ('Vilaplana', 'Colldejou') and 2002 ('Pratdip', 'El Lloar/La Figuera', 'Riudecanyes'). The 2005 versions of de 'Pratdip' and 'Colldejou' are actually the same stage but run in opposite directions. The same goes for 'Vilaplana' and 'Capafonts'.
- The single service park is located in the Port Aventura theme park, 4.5 km from Salou. The same location was used for the southern loop of the 2001 and 2002 events.
- The engines and chassis are the same as those used in Corsica, except in cases where a failure led to retirement on the Mediterranean island. In that case, replacements are authorised without incurring a penalty.
- Tyres. Two tread patterns are authorised (dry weather and intermediate/wet weather patterns). The barcode references of each driver's quota of 75 tyres (of which 45 may be used) were communicated to the FIA on October 24th, the day after the finish of the Tour of Corsica.
- Recce is scheduled for Tuesday October 25th (08:30 until 19:00) and Wednesday October 26th (08:30 until 19:00).
- Shakedown (Thursday October 27th, 08:00 until 11:00) uses a 4.5 km stage on the T-740 between Porrera and Falset, some 30 km from Port Aventura. There will be a specific service park for this session in the village of Falset.
- The start ceremony takes place on Thursday October 27th 20:00 (Passeig Jaume I, seafront, Salou).
- One safety car crew per driver is authorised to cover each stage once in keeping with a timetable laid down by the clerk of the course (World Council decision of 29/06/05 relative to asphalt events).
- Leg 1 (Friday October 28th): 590.93 km, including 155.82 km divided into 6 stages. Starts from the Port Aventura service park at 07:15. SS1 (Querol 1, 25.43 km) and SS2 (El Montmell 1, 24.14 km). Regroup in Port Aventura (10:46, 8 minutes). Service A (10:54, 30 minutes). SS3 (Vilaplana 1, 28.33 km) and SS4 (Pratdip, 28.35 km). Regroup in Port Aventura (14:47, 8 minutes). Service B (14:55, 30 minutes). SS5 (Querol 2) and SS6 (El Montmell 2). Service C (19:11, flexi-service, 45 minutes). Cars enter parc ferme (Port Aventura) before 21:30.
- Leg 2 (Saturday October 29th): 501.15 km, including 134.85 km divided into 6 stages. Starts from the service park at 07:30. Service D (07:30, 10 minutes). SS7 (El Lloar/La Figuera 1, 20.01 km) and SS8 (Capafonts 1, 27.54 km). Regroup in Port Aventura (11:06, 8 minutes). Service E (11:14, 30 minutes). SS9 (Colldejou 1, 28.48 km) and SS10 (Riudecanyes 1, 11.27 km). Regroup in Port Aventura (14:12, 8 minutes). Service F (14:20, 30 minutes). SS11 (El Lloar/La Figuera 2) and SS12 (Capafonts 2). Service G (18:26, flexi-service, 45 minutes). Cars enter parc ferme (Port Aventura) before 21:00.
- Leg 3 (Sunday October 30th): 249.48 km, including 68.08 km divided into 3 stages. Starts from the service park at 07:30. Service H (07:30, 10 minutes). SS13 (Colldejou 2) and SS14 (Riudecanyes 2). Service I (10:11, 30 minutes). SS15 (Vilaplana 2). Service J (12:59, 20 minutes). Rally finishes at the service park out control at 13:19. Podium ceremony in Salou at 13:29.