Discovering uncharted WRC territory! Three Xsaras have been entered for Colin McRae/Derek Ringer, SÃ©bastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti on the Rally of Turkey, an all-gravel event that has been promoted to WRC status for the...
Discovering uncharted WRC territory!
Three Xsaras have been entered for Colin McRae/Derek Ringer, Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti on the Rally of Turkey, an all-gravel event that has been promoted to WRC status for the first time this year.
For the championship's regulars, this event will be a chance to discover new stages high in the Beydaglari Mountains that rise above the Mediterranean coast south of Antalya. The event also sees teams face a triple challenge: the collation of as much data concerning the event as possible prior to the start, the matching of the cars' set-ups to what is already known about the stages and the ability to react swiftly once the event has started should the event prove to be different from what was originally thought--
Citroën is one of the few teams that enjoy a small amount of previous experience of the Rally of Turkey thanks to the judicious 'exploratory' entry of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena on the 2002 event at a time when the organisers' chances of obtaining WRC status were looking increasingly stronger. Invited by Baylas Automotiv, Citroën's Turkish importer, Sébastien and Daniel competed in a gravel-specification Saxo Challenge.
This experience should come in useful as the Versailles-Satory based outfit prepares its return to gravel, a surface for which it continues to work without letup with a view to progressing as quickly as possible. Three gravel tests have been run since the 2002 Rally of Great Britain. The first was in Cyprus, immediately after last November's visit to Wales, the second was organised in Spain between the Monte Carlo and Swedish Rallies, while a third test took place in Portugal just prior to the team's departure for Antalya. In addition to these three tests, Philippe Bugalski also put in valuable work at the well-known venue of Château de Lastours in the south of France.
All three Xsaras in Turkey will feature the interconnected antirollbar system introduced on the Monte Carlo Rally, as well as fine-tuned suspension and transmission management systems. The latest addition to the WRC calendar poses a number of questions, but Guy Fréquelin is neither pessimistic nor optimistic about his team's chances before the start. "We have worked well," says the Director of Citroën Sport. "I am eager to see the fruit of our efforts and I am hoping for a pleasant surprise. I would be truly delighted if we got two Xsaras into the top five, including one on the podium!"
Telefónica Movistar, Michelin, Magneti-Marelli, OZ, AIS and Citroën Financement are the partners of Team Citroën-Total in the World Rally Championship.
Questions to Guy Fréquelin--
How do you view your situation two events into the season? Would you say that Citroën is ahead of its game plan?
"If you look at the number of points we have scored so far, it is true that we are doing a little better than anticipated. Our 1-2-3 finish in Monaco also surpassed our objectives. Meanwhile, the way our drivers reacted in Sweden after spending the opening day brushing aside a clear line in the snow really showed their motivation. But I would rather wait until the end of the Rally of Turkey before coming to any initial conclusions. By then we will have had a first chance to see how the car runs on asphalt, snow and gravel, that is to say the three types of surface that make up the championship--"
The third round of the championship follows the first two events in quick succession. What is your global judgement of the way your team has performed?
"On the first two events, the cars were perfectly reliable. The whole team worked very well and, as a result, we didn't come across any problems of any significance. Once again though, we will only get a clearer picture after the Rally of Turkey which is very different from the first two rounds. Also, after Turkey, we travel to a couple of events that are practically unknown territory for the team, New Zealand and Argentina. Turkey will in fact be the first of a sequence of three events that could well prove to be the most difficult of the season for us--"
You have carried out three gravel tests, while Philippe Bugalski has also worked on the car at Château de Lastours. What is your view of the Xsara's progress on gravel?
"The objective of three of the tests was to give Colin and Carlos a chance to familiarise themselves with the car on gravel and to benefit from their experience to take the Xsara's development further. We particularly targeted improving performance over rough terrain and we have effectively made progress in this area. But as always, it is difficult to evaluate where you stand exactly until you're in the heat of the action on an event. That's why I am cautious about making any judgement about where we stand in relation to our rivals, but I'm very impatient to find out--"
--to Colin McRae--
Have you ever been to Turkey? Do you already have an idea of what the stages are like?
"I've never been to Turkey before. This will be my first visit. Before a new rally, or a new stage, I tend not to take any notice of what people say about them. In my experience, the descriptions you hear rarely resemble reality. We'll just have to wait and see--"
How do you recce new stages? Does the way you take notes differ? Do you use in-car video footage at all?
"I take my notes in the same way as usual. I don't do anything special. What we do in addition is to make a description of the stage, note down our impressions and summarise its overall character and special features. I don't really use video footage. I don't think it gives you a sufficiently accurate view of the lie of the land, of the jumps and corners. It's not a close enough picture to what the stages are actually like at rally speeds. I only use it to commit the general setting to memory."
Have you made any changes to the Xsara's handling during your test work on gravel? Do you think the car will be competitive on narrow, twisty stages? How do you see your chances in Turkey?
"We have worked a lot on the transmission and suspension set-up. The more I get to know the car, the more I have been able to fine-tune the settings. I think the Xsara will be competitive. We will be fast in Turkey, but we will have to wait and see where we stand in comparison to our rivals--"
--to Sébastien Loeb--
Did you imagine you would be leading the World Championship going into the third round of the season?
"No! It's quite a surprise, but I'm delighted of course. After confirming our 2002 performance in Monaco, Sweden was also quite positive for me. I fought hard to finish in 7th place! Unfortunately, there wasn't very much I could do in the fresh snow of Day 1. Any driver in the same situation would have lost all chance of winning. On Days 1 and 2, our times were on a par with those of Colin and Carlos. In fact in stage performance terms, Daniel and I were the third best performers of the weekend behind Marcus Grönholm and Tommi Mäkinen. For only my second visit to the event with a WRC car, I'm very happy about that!"
You took part in the 2002 Rally of Turkey. What are the stages like?
"They are narrow and quite twisty in places, although they're not twisty all the time as in Cyprus. The stage varies from rocky portions to hard-packed, slippery gravel. You can't stray too far off line because you've got the mountain on one side and drop-offs on the other. Having said that, that's what I remember from last September. Back then, the going wasn't all that rough. It could be different after winter but the organisers are certainly making a special effort to ensure the stages are in as good a condition as possible--"
Your knowledge of the event is a an asset, but you will be first on the road during the first part of the rally--
"OK, having done the recce in 2002 and having covered five stages in a Saxo Challenge last year is a 'plus' but not a major advantage. Being first on the road on the opening day won't be ideal. I will be sweeping aside the loose top layer. That will be a problem for sure, but it won't be the insurmountable handicap it was in Sweden. We have worked well on the car, and I think my team-mates will be in the thick of the fight at the sharp end. My objective will once again be to match their pace--"
--to Carlos Sainz--
The Rally of Turkey is another event on the long list of new events you have discovered during your career. Do you enjoy taking part in events for the first time, or is it an extra workload you would rather do without?
"It's not quantity that counts, but quality. I have no problem doing new rallies so long as they are quality events. It's perhaps not the ideal moment to be going to Turkey, but well--! As far as taking pace notes is concerned, understanding the stages and finding out their little secrets represents additional work for sure. But it's also an exciting challenge--"
You've now driven the Xsara on gravel. How does it feel? In what areas would you like to see improvements made to feel a hundred percent comfortable?
"I haven't driven it enough on gravel, so I was really glad to get a chance to do the final tests before coming out to Turkey. I feel confident, and with a bit more time everything will be fine. The Xsara has all it takes to be competitive on gravel very soon--"
The narrow and twisty parts of the Rally of Turkey mean it is being compared with Cyprus, an event you have won. Do you think you will be in a position to challenge for victory on this type of terrain?
"I believe I am capable of winning anywhere! I just need to drive the car more and more to feel totally at one with it --"
Facts and figures:
* The 2000 Rally of Turkey, based in Izmir, was an all-asphalt event. To have a chance of gaining World Championship status it had to switch to gravel, which it did by giving its name to the former Anatolian Rally, based in Antalya, on the country's south coast.
* Nejat Avci finished the 2001 event in 3rd position driving a Saxo Kit Car entered by the Turkish Citroën importer, Baylas Automotiv.
* With the strong likelihood of the Rally of Turkey being granted a slot in the WRC calendar, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena competed in the 2002 event driving a Saxo Challenge belonging to the importer. They figured as high as 3rd overall when their run was halted on SS5.
* Total route length of the inaugural Rally of Turkey as a World Championship qualifier is 1251.57 km, including 380 km divided into 18 stages (10 different stages).
* Time difference with France is one hour; when it is 10 a.m. in Antalya, it will be 9 a.m. in Paris.
* Documentation takes place on Wednesday (11:00 until 17:00) at the Mirage Conference Centre (Rally Headquarters). Scrutineering will also be held on Thursday (18:00 until 22:00) at the Limra Hotel, Kiris.
* Shakedown will be held from 08:00 until noon in the vicinity of Kemer. This seaside resort, located about 40 km south of Antalya, will also host the service park throughout the event.
* Thursday's ceremonial start in Antalya (Cumhuriyet Meydani, 18:00) will also mark the actual start of the rally. Competitors will go straight into the Efes super-special (SS1, 1.55km) before checking into the overnight parc fermé in Kemer.
* Leg 1 will total 441.67 km, including 118.52 km divided into 6 stages, including the longest test of the rally (Perge, 32.63 km).
* Total length of Leg 2 will be 483.35 km, divided into 7 stages for a total competitive distance of 158.72 km.
* Leg 2 features 5 stages totalling 102.76 km from of a total distance of 326.55 km.
* In addition to the Efes super-special, six of this year's stages were run in 2002: Simena (SS2/14), Silyon (SS4/6), Perge (SS5/17), Olympos (SS7/12), Myra (SS10/15) and Kemer (SS11/18).