A second serving of ice for the Citroën C4 WRC
Citroën Sport has entered two Citroën C4 WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí for Rally Norway which starts just four days after the finish ceremony in Sweden.
For the first time since the creation of the World Rally Championship, the calendar features two winter fixtures based close to the Arctic Circle. These two rallies, which are situated just 250km from each other, make up the first 'event pairing' of the season.
For most of the WRC's regulars, Norway will be a brand new experience, but those who have already contested it say that its stages are globally slower and narrower than those of last weekend and that there are numerous technically demanding portions. The landscape is also hillier than on the Swedish side of the border. Indeed, the stage near Lillehammer known as 'Mountain' sets the scene and crews can look forward to a menu of steep climbs, plateaux and sharp drops. On the other hand, the stages near Kongsvinger to the south-east of Hamar are apparently more undulating with the occasional tighter portion, while the majority of the stages use either forest or private land. In addition to the fact that this even is new to practically everyone, another unknown element is the amount of snow competitors will find. The most optimistic forecasts predict bitter cold temperatures and lots of snow, and consequently plenty of big snowbanks.
The recent Swedish Rally gave Citroën Sport a clearer picture of the Citroën C4 WRC's potential on ice and snow. As on January's Monte Carlo Rally, the team's new car proved competitive last weekend despite occasionally unfavourable conditions, such as when Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena had to run first on the road on Day 1, but everyone at Citroën Sport is keen to build on the promise shown by the new car in Sweden.
Last weekend's event also served to underline the importance of the tyre factor on this type of surface, and one of the key considerations in No rway will be to make the most of BFGoodrich's range of g-Force Ice tyres and their different stud combinations . Although they tip the scales at only 4 grams each, these tiny tungsten tips give the drivers amazing grip and enable them to do practically what they want with their cars despite the extremely slippery conditions. That said, choosing the right amount by which the studs protrude from the tread's rubber blocks is vital, otherwise the result can be very costly in terms of stage times.
This will be a key factor for Citroën and Sébastien Loeb in their bid to mix it with the winter rally specialists and the local stars in Norway. Meanwhile, Dani Sordo is only half looking forward to this second serving of ice and he is keen to get on with the rest of the championship which promises to be much more to his liking .
Three questions to....
What is your analysis of the Citroën C4 WRC's first outing on snow?
"Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena showed that were capable of taking the fight to Marcus Grönholm on his favourite hunting ground. Despite running first on the road, they were level with Marcus on Day 1 and the following day saw them close the gap by six-tenths of a second after 44km of stages. So, yes, the weekend was very positive and showed that the Citroën C4 WRC is competitive on snow. At one point we made a deliberately different tyre choice to our rival in a bid to break away but the move had the opposite effect. Even so, what we saw up to that point was reassuring for the future."
Do you think the fact that Norway is a new event will make it more of a level playing field and give Dani Sordo a better chance?
"It could. The slower speeds compared with Sweden will no doubt make life easier for Dani. Of the few competitors who have already done the event, there are some locals we will need to be wary of, but I think the fact that the stages are twistier shouldn't prevent Sébastien and Marcus from continuing the duel they started in Sweden."
Sweden and Norway are the first paired events of the season. What does that imply and why was this system introduced?
"Having two rallies that take place close to each other geographically and on an identical surface enables you to cover them with the same squad. We have to use the same car that contested the Swedish Rally, and Norway will be the engine's third outing in a row, as specified in the regulations. All this is aimed at cutting costs."
...to Sébastien Loeb...
Looking back, how do you view your performance in Sweden?
"It was very positive. The C4 WRC was competitive and that's the main thing. After the Monte Carlo Rally, we knew where we stood on asphalt and now we have shown that we can take the fight to Grönholm on snow. The fact that we were able to do that is a good indication that the car is well sorted and that's encouraging for the rest of the season. We were wide of the mark with one of our tyre choices but that's all part of the game. Sometimes we have won rallies in this way in the past. It's nice to have eight more points in the bag."
You have often been strong on new events. Does the fact that Norway is a brand new fixture give you more of a chance?
"It's true that new events tend to go well for me, but do I really have an advantage on new events? I'm not so sure. I think the likes of Marcus Grönholm and the Solberg brothers will also be strong in Norway. The main thing will be to take good notes."
Will your objective in Norway be the beat Marcus and add another event win to your record?
"That would be very nice! I hope that we can be competitive again and that we will succeed in finishing a step higher on the podium than we did in Sweden. The stages tend to be twistier, so we shall see if that suits us or whether we still have work on our hands in that area. If we are competitive, the objective will be to try to win."
...and to Dani Sordo.
You now have two winter rallies under your belt. Will that be sufficient to have a good run in Norway?
"The fact that Sweden and Norway are back to back is a good thing because it allows you to carry on on your momentum and keep your feeling with the car. That said, I don't think I have found my marks sufficiently yet to be totally comfortable in Norway. My three days in Sweden were good for my apprenticeship but I still have a lot of work on my plate."
Norway is a new event for practically all the drivers. Isn't that a good thing for you?
"It could perhaps have been an advantage on another type of surface, but I still don't have enough experience on snow to be able to benefit from the situation. Against more experienced drivers, it is still quite a delicate challenge. The fact that the stages are twistier and therefore slower than Sweden might play in my favour, but I wouldn't want them to be too slow because I'm not completely at ease either on snow when the going's slow."
What will your objective be Norway?
"As in Sweden, it will be important to finish, especially since it's a new event. With regard to future visits, I want to contest all the stages. Maybe I will manage to score a few points for Citroën, but I am looking forward to getting the wintry events out of the way and moving on to gravel on which I should be more competitive."
The 2007 Rally Norway in brief...
* This is the 22nd edition of this event which, until 2006, was known as the KNA Rally Finnskog Norway and featured as a qualifying round of the European Championship. This year's Rally Norway counts towards the World Rally Championship for the first time.
* All the rally's key facilities (service park, parc ferme, media room, HQ, etc.) are located in Hamar (population: 28,000), the Hedmark region's biggest town. Located on the shores of Norway's biggest lake, Lake Mjøsa (362 sq. km), Hamar is situated 127km north of the capital, Oslo, and 60km south-east of Lillehammer which hosted the 1994 Winter Olympics. The start ceremony (20.00, Thursday February 15) and the finish podium (from 15.00, Sunday February 18) will both take place in Stortorget, in the centre of Hamar.
* The total length of this year's event is 1,109.57km, including 355.99km divided into 18 stages (13 different).
* The time in Norway is GMT +1, the same as Western Europe. The local currency is the Norwegian Crown (NOK). NOK10 1.22.
* Recce is scheduled for Tuesday February 13 and Wednesday February 14. Two passes are authorised over each stage.
* The 3.71km shakedown stage (Thursday February 15, between 08.00 and 12.00) is located near the village of Nydal, 9km north of the service park.
* Sweden and Norway make up the first 'pair' of rallies of the season. The engines are the same as those used on the Monte Carlo and Swedish Rallies. The chassis used in Norway also competed in Sweden. The system of event pairing also features restrictions concerning the front and rear subframes and the steering racks. Four of each (one per car, plus two spares) were authorised for Sweden and Norway. They are not allocated to a specific car, however, and can be used for either.