Kronos faces up to another challenge!
Doubtless penalised by the temporary absence of number one team-mates Sébastien Loeb/ Daniel Elena, the Kronos Total Citroën WRT has no intention to give up in Turkey. The Belgian team, currently leading the `Manufacturers' rankings, is firmly decided to face up to this real tough break and has chosen to enter British team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist to drive the number 1 Xsara. Dani Sordo/Marc Marti are the second nominated crew to score points as since Germany. Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio take the start behind the wheel of the 2005 Xsara with active differentials.
Colin McRae has been Sébastien and Daniel's team-mates in 2003 and has contributed - with Carlos Sainz as well to the Xsara's fast progress on gravel. The Scot has an excellent knowledge of the car. He was able to update this knowledge and to discover the passive differentials version during a test session organised by Citroën Sport's development team this week in Great-Britain. Colin takes his 146th start in world rallying in Turkey and records 25 wins. In 1995, he became the youngest world rally champion of history. His Australian comeback last November has shown he has lost nothing of his legendary attack and that his speed remains as remarkable.
Located in between Greece and Cyprus, the Turkish round makes it the final of this year's trilogy of hot and rough Mediterranean fixtures. Its route crosses a superb natural decor with the sea on one side and the balneal town of Kemer, and the impressive Bey Dalari Mountains on the other side. In between the special stages wind through a plateau dominating the Mediterranean Sea just like a balcony. The stages reach an average altitude of a thousand meters with a maximum at 1800 m in `Pergé SS1/4'. There are also some interesting downhill speed-tests, but generally speaking they are less slow and less rough than in Cyprus, even if they can be `classified' in the rough gravel category. Usually the road surface is compacted by the organisers before hand but it is never completely stable. This gives a gravel layer on top of the surface to be cleaned, with a possible apparition of stones and in case of rain a very slippery ground. As an example last year the `Pergé' stage has presented on the first passage a dozen kilometres of thick and sticky mud.
As far as weather conditions are concerned, this year's edition takes place in October, unlike for the previous years: a late February slot in 2003 and a move to late June in 2004 and 2005. If the tourist information advertise for a mild Mediterranean weather at that time of the year, it also recommends warm clothes for those willing to experience a walk through the mountains. It's a common knowledge that the proximity between warm sea and mountains leads to changing weather conditions. This could make tyre choices very tricky in Kemer...considering the fact that the actual stages take place some thousand meters higher.
This will be anything but an easy job. However, the Kronos Total Citroën WRT has some good cards in hands. The Xsara WRC is at ease in Turkey: it won the three world editions of the event and it showed in Cyprus a performing pace after the last rough gravel tests in Spain. With the valuable help of BFGoodrich and Météo France, the team usually does wise tyre choice. On top of that, the motivation is multiplied with what happened to Sébastien and deprives the team for a short while of its charismatic leader...
Marc Van Dalen, Kronos Racing
Sébastien Loeb's accident doesn't make life easy for your team?
"For sure! It's really hard and it happens just when Seb had everything in hands to clinch a third Drivers' title in a row. All the team is behind him but the most important thing is that he recovers completely and for that he shouldn't go faster than reasonable. Of course, we are hoping for the quickest and complete recovery as possible. We are confident and Sébastien has kept from the time he was a gymnast exceptional physical feature and I can assure you that he will be helped with the best people..."
How did decide for Colin McRae to replace him?
"To replace Seb is impossible, that's clear! And finding a driver who could help during his absence was nothing but an easy task. Together with Guy Fréquelin, we have deeply thought and drawn a list of names. For each candidate, we have listed the pros and cons. We thought about it again over the weekend and both of us reached the same conclusion. With his knowledge of the car and his experience, Colin seems to be the one being able to perform in such a short period of time. He is extremely motivated faced to this situation which he considers like a personal challenge. We know his speed, but also know that his job won't be easy. We will ask him to put the maximum pressure on Marcus Grönholm, as well as thinking of the `Manufacturers' points for which we are still fighting."
How do you see the `after-Cyprus' of your two young Spanish drivers?
"Despite two small mistakes during the first leg, Xevi has found back his confidence and his smile. Considering his position, he cleverly chose a steady pace and didn't make any more errors on the next two days. He deserved his sixth place and it's not his fault if he couldn't achieve it in the end. Xevi's fuel is confidence. Now I'm convinced he will do a good result in Turkey, a rally where he performed really well last year in the Production category. I had a very long conversation with Dani, very affected by his Cypriot mistake. He went through a bad phase. It cannot last for long. He is a clever and gifted guy and I am sure he will come back in top form. The fact that Seb will not be in Turkey will give a higher sense of responsibility. He knows we need him more than ever and I am convinced he will bring back as many points as possible considering his lack of experience on the Turkish ground..."
Welcome aboard Colin ! How did you feel when you knew you would be back
behind the wheel of a Xsara WRC?
"I felt very excited of course and impatient too! It's not very often that you are given such an opportunity to drive the World champion car. It's also nice to see that some people think I am still capable to achieve the result they want to me to produce. Maybe, I also felt a bit surprised, because I have faith in myself but I know there are other competitive drivers out there who could maybe have had the job! Anyway, I'm very pleased."
You have just tested the car. Did you find it was changed? What was your feeling
about the 2006 `passive' differentials version?
"It felt rather familiar to be driving the Xsara! It's also quite surprising but the 2006 version didn't seem to be very different from the one I was competing with in 2003. The test was important to know how to play with those passive differentials and everybody has tried his best to make me feel as comfortable as possible before Turkey. The session was planned originally for the C4 WRC but Citroën Sport's development team has brought one Xsara for me to use."
What memories do you keep from your single participation in Turkey in 2003? Do
you think you can be in the `pace' straight away?
"I don't know but the good thing about Turkey is that I should have a good position on the road the first day. If I should start with Marcus [Grönholm] and Mikko [Hirvonen], I think it would be harder. Hopefully the conditions will be dry and I could take profit of starting around the fifteenth position. It might be enough to make the difference on the first day and give me time to get back in the pace for the second day. That's exactly what happened in Australia last year. On the first leg I found clean roads, built up my confidence and I could match the front runners pace the next day. I didn't remember much from Turkey but I watched the video and the TV programme of the event and I realised that I actually remember it quite well. I know that the stages have changed a bit because people say that the organisers have been working a lot since 2003. But I will watch this footage as much as I can and I'm sure it will help me."
What do you think of your race in Cyprus?
"Generally speaking, I am happy with our performance. The first day we started on a very good pace but we lost two minutes. One after we spun and got stuck against a ditch and one other after breaking the suspension wishbone and the connecting arm against a rock in the last stage of the day. On Saturday and Sunday, we drove with the target to maintain our sixth position, keeping a consistent pace and avoiding any mistake. For us what we have to remember is this: consistency in our performance. We were lying amongst the second group, behind the extra terrestrials Seb and Marcus... Ok we experienced a transmission problem in the last stage. It's a pity but that's rallying...."
You have competed twice in Turkey before, with a very good result last year in
the Production category...
"For a group N car, the pair of events Cyprus/Turkey is very tough. The driving should include a huge concentration on preserving the machine. It's true I set some suite good times in Turkey, and some fastest Group N times. This rally is one of my favourite. Unfortunately, like most of the group N drivers, I paid so much attention to my car, that I was loosing the pleasure of driving. As I said, those events are so hard for the cars, that sometimes the result depends on fate as well..."
To which other terrain can you compare the Turkish terrain? What is your target
in Turkey now that your confidence is back?
"In the Turkish rally, you find a bit of Cyprus and a bit of Greece. We can say that it's a difficult event. To perform well, you have to drive without being too aggressive... The average speed should be higher than in Cyprus and I think it's good news. I'm hoping for a better result than seventh. However, I will drive a World Rally Car for the first time in Turkey and I will see how it goes on Friday. Then my target will be to increase the rhythm progressively and keep it consistent. In such a tough rally, the machine reliability can be the key and this is one of the Xsara's strongest points..."
-credit: kronos racing