Having had a difficult day on Saturday, the Citroen team had to cope today with the retirement of SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena just two stages from the end of the Swedish Rally. The second Xsara of FranÃ§ois Duval and StÃ©phane PrÃ©vot was the...
Having had a difficult day on Saturday, the Citroen team had to cope today with the retirement of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena just two stages from the end of the Swedish Rally. The second Xsara of François Duval and Stéphane Prévot was the first to run on newly-fallen snow on Sunday morning but thanks to their tenacity the Citroen team left Sweden with one point in the Manufacturers' Championship.
"Only one point," said Guy Fréquelin, not even attempting to hide his disappointment. To score only one point here when the two cars were running third and fourth at one point was difficult for the team to accept. "It is a disaster," said the head of Citroen Sport. "It is really bad luck. One car retired and another delayed. That has never happened since we came to the World Rally Championship fulltime!"
Analysis of the event reveals that the Citroen Sport was in a good position to claim a good result here without these misfortunes. Three drivers were clearly ahead of the rest, battling for tenths of a second. Sébastien Loeb was one of these.
Although he went straight and lost 18 seconds on the 'Likenäs 2' stage (SS4) he was still able to close within 12.2secs of the leaders by the end of 'Sunsjön' 2 (SS12), his fourth stage win. It was during 'Vargåsen' (SS13) that he noticed the first engine problems and gave away a few seconds on the super stage of Hagfors Sprint 2 where he decided not to push to help the engine a little. The 45 minutes service gave the team the time to diagnose a problem as the engine was using too much cooling fluid. They tried to solve it.
"I did not sleep very well!" Seb acknowledged this morning. It soon became clear that the car was tending to overheat and so Loeb tried to manage the problem as best he could, with one eye on the times of his nearest challenger and another on the temperature gauge and as little use as possible of the throttle. Despite this he had inherited second place by the end of SS18 but his engine finally stopped and refused to start again. "It is very frustrating, when you are in a good position with just two stages to go and you can't do anything. We did our best. Now we have to overcome this setback."
At the request of Guy Fréquelin, François Duval approached the rally in a different manner. The up-and-coming Belgian chose to maintain a fast but safe pace which took him up into fourth position but the 'Fredriksberg/Lejen' loop, the toughest of the rally, defeated this strategy.
"We were obliged to go in the inside of the corners as the other cars did so But we did not have the tyres nor the wheel rims to deal with the lack of snow."
There were punctures everywhere and Francois unfortunately experienced three. The third one resulted in the foam from inside the tyre coming out and the wheel had to be changed in the stage. That dropped them to 15th, which was exactly the position that should be avoided because this morning they were the first to run after new snow had fallen. To their credit François and Stéphane continued to fight and one point in the Manufacturers' Championship is a just reward...