Kronos hopes to extend its winning streak... After the first six rounds of the 2006 FIA WRC, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Kronos Total Citroen team stand in first place in both Drivers' and Manufacturers' championships thanks to four ...
Kronos hopes to extend its winning streak...
After the first six rounds of the 2006 FIA WRC, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Kronos Total Citroen team stand in first place in both Drivers' and Manufacturers' championships thanks to four consecutive wins. To defend these positions and to try to extend its winning streak, the Belgian team enters in Sardinia two 2006 specifications Xsara WRCs for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio.
Like it is the case since the start of the season, a third Xsara is entered by Dani Sordo and Marc Marti supported by their Spanish partners. The Junior World Champion participates with his usual car, in compliance with the 2005 regulations (electronic differentials).
For its third edition, the `Rallye d'Italia Sardegna' keeps its specific repartition, with a challenging final leg including two loops of three special stages with just a regroup in between and no service. If the structure remains the same, the rally route changes and offers this year a first day in the South (Nuoro), a second going West (Gallura) and finally the last day in the North (Tempio). "For me, 52% of the pacenotes are new" declares Daniel Elena, who has equalled the biggest number of wins for a co-driver since Argentina.
Most teams know extremely well the Sardinian terrain as they have been competing there since three years, and often use some of the roads for testing. They became familiar with the characteristic which was the most surprising at the start, that means the constant evolution of the sandy grounds. As usual, Citroen Sport's test team has prepared the Xsara WRCs for the event with Sebastien Loeb and Xevi Pons. On that same test, the team has worked with the BFGoodrich technicians to try the tyre range.
Winner in 2005 and current leader of the Championship, Sebastien Loeb will start first on the road on Friday and will have to face the inevitable `road sweeping' throughout the entire first loop comprising 65 competitive kilometres. "Usual strategy" has planned Seb. "And to be honest I only have one which is to start as fast as possible. After the first group of stages and on Friday night, we will see where we stand and what's possible to try. In any case, I hope a fight for a win will still be possible..."
Xevi Pons has experienced various misfortunes over the past two gravel rounds. Having retired very early on a technical problem in Mexico, he had to stop during the first leg in Argentina after hitting something. Fortunately and thanks to the `superally' regulations, he was able to compete in the next two legs and won his first world rally stage in difficult conditions. "For Xevi, the benefits were double" explained team principal Marc Van Dalen. "He could pile up kilometres on gravel and has set a fastest time, which will boost his confidence. He counts two participations in Sardinia and has also taken part in the pre-event tests... In a word, all the conditions are gathered for him to achieve a good result, important for him and for the team in the Manufacturers' championship."
Marc Van Dalen, team principal...
What comes to your mind after the win in Argentina, the fourth consecutive for Kronos?
"The most important fact is the one which also gives more confidence for the rest of the championship: thanks to Citroen Sport's development work, the 2006 Xsara remains competitive on all surfaces against its rivals. So far, Kronos' work has also allowed the car to keep its reliability, which has always been its main characteristic. The battle is very tight. We have to work harder as ever to give Seb and Daniel the best `weapon' possible for them to continue like that."
Did you expect leading the Manufacturers' championship after six rallies?
"When we welcome Seb and Daniel in the team, our main concern was to allow them to defend the Drivers' title. The Manufacturers' one wasn't a real target for us at the start of the season. Sebastien's wins, the Xsara's performance and reliability made that after six events it is a possible goal to achieve. Of course, we will do anything to maintain our lead. Seb is absolutely fantastic and Xevi can bring us the little `thing' on top to help. He hasn't been really fortunate so far but he won a stage in Argentina in front of Marcus Gronholm who encountered the same difficult road conditions as him. I'm convinced of the psychological impact of this performance. It will help Xevi to find the self- confidence he still lacks."
People say that it would be wiser to nominate Dani Sordo...
"If you think `figures', you will come to that conclusion for the moment, yes. But you also need to take into account that Dani drives the 2005 Xsara with electronic differentials. Sebastien has already noticed several times where those add to the performance. Dani is very talented but he still has a lot to learn and realised that in Argentina. After two outstanding results on asphalt, he experienced a difficult terrain with tricky weather and road conditions. Carlos Sainz has said when Dani clinched the JWRC title that he needed time to learn. That's what we are doing by letting him drive with no pressure on his shoulders..."
...to Sebastien Loeb...
The worst moment of the start of the season has been...Friday night in Monte Carlo.
Since then what a dream...
"Since my mistake in Monaco, it's true everything went fine. Last year, we didn't do really well in Sweden and Mexico. The idea of the car being out of date suddenly came to our mind. I remember saying that for me we simply lacked fortune and we proved it later. To come back to this year, we have to take into account the fact that amongst the first six rounds we've done, two took place on tarmac. For me, it was important to win them and insure the points we were relying on. It wasn't easy but we finally made it. On gravel in Mexico, we had to catch Petter back. In Argentina, we saw we were able to match the fastest drivers' pace. But I remain cautious. This situation can change quickly with a progress from one of our rivals. Everyone here is working hard, so nobody can afford to relax."
What do you think of the Sardinia rally ?
"The country itself is superb with a nice Mediterranean atmosphere. In 2004, we started with a disappointment. We were told the rally will use the beautiful roads of the former `Costa Smeralda rally' but we encountered a difficult, selective, narrow and unpleasant terrain where sliding was almost impossible. Last year, the worst stages had been eliminated. In the recce, we still found it was bit tricky but during the rally we had fun on roads demanding an extreme precision. This year, Daniel [Elena] told me half of the stages are new. It's exciting, maybe we will drive on those famous fantastic stages..."
All the teams have undergone tests in Sardinia, including `pre-event Argentina'. Can this
terrain still bring any surprise?
"I don't think so. The choice for Sardinia as tests base, for Argentina for example, can be explained by the grounds similarity. To simplify, I would say that there is a characteristic with a sandy ground which constantly cleans off. After a day of test, the terrain still evolves in spite of the various passages. Just unlike Greece where once the first layer is cleaned, we drive on a hard and constant ground. So the surprise can only come from the skies. The rally takes place almost at the same period as last year. It's not yet summer and the weather can be unstable as usual. We will have to manage that on top of the probable tight fight..."
... and to Xevi Pons
In 2004, you have discovered the Sardinian event in JWRC. How did you find the rally
route, how did it go for you there?
"Yes it's true that I competed in JWRC in Sardinia. No doubt that the stages there, with narrow roads and lot of stones aren't the best for the small S1600. It was a very tough rally for us. During the first two legs, we experienced heavy gearbox problems. I remember having completed two or there stages in second and third gear on Saturday. We were fighting with Kris Meeke to finish inside the points, but on Sunday, a big stone broke our radiator two stages before the end of the rally. We were forced to retire."
In 2005, you took part in the event with a WRC. Has this participation with a `big car'
made you change your mind on the event and your pacenotes?
"The WRC I drove was a 2003 car. Jumping from a S1600 into a WRC really increased the pace! My opinion on the rally route has changed a bit. A WRC, with better chassis and suspension, absorbs more easily the roughness of the terrain. However, the time for reaction in case of a mistake is inferior. For that reason, the narrow Sardinian roads are extremely difficult for a young driver who has no experience of the WRCs. The pacenotes have to be very precise but without excessive information either due to the high speed."
Given these two participations and also given the two previous gravel event this year ,
what is your own target ?
"As I always say, I like gravel as much as tarmac. We weren't able to score any points for the team during the last two gravel events. This really frustrates me. In Mexico, we competed in only one stage when a technical problem stopped us. In Argentina, we started at a good pace but a mistake on Friday a small hit on the rear left wheel made us loose any chance to achieve a good result. Saturday and Sunday, we have shown a good speed on gravel. We `simply' lack consistency. We must avoid making mistakes. I have a fantastic car, BFGoodrich supply the best tyres and the team supports me 100%. For these reasons, I need to be at the finish in Sardinia and bring back to the team the maximum number of points for the Manufacturers' Championship.