More Mediterranean asphalt action for Citroen Barely had the Citroen C4 WRCs of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti rolled off the finish ramp in Catalonia and no sooner had the Citroen Sport mechanics packed up their tool...
More Mediterranean asphalt action for Citroen
Barely had the Citroen C4 WRCs of Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti rolled off the finish ramp in Catalonia and no sooner had the Citroen Sport mechanics packed up their tool cases and their engineer colleagues switched off their computers than it was time for the team to turn its gaze to the Tour de Corse round 13 of the 2007 World Championship for which both Citroen crews have been entered.
The French event has figured on the WRC calendar ever since the creation of the series in 1973 and stands out as one of the sport's legendary fixtures. Although its current, compact Ajaccio-based route has seen the Tour de Corse lose some of its former splendour, it continues to be one of the championship's emblematic encounters and this reputation is fed by its magnificent backdrop, its unique stages and the warm welcome given to competitors by the enthusiastic islanders.
The region visited by this season's event is basically identical to that of recent years. However, some 57% of the stages are either new or haven't been used for some time. And even though much of the island's aging, abrasive asphalt is gradually being res urfaced, the reputation of its road network hasn't changed. Although twisty, the stages are covered at a sprint-like pace, with corners feeding directly into each other, leaving drivers precious little time to catch their breath. "For the first time this year, we've got two asphalt events following each other," observes Citroen Sport Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon.
"There are some significant differences, however, between Catalunya and Corsica, not the least of which is the amount of grip that is available and the profile of the stages. There are fewer places in Corsica where the cars corner really hard and the surface is often bumpier. The roads are much twistier and do not call for a circuit-type driving style to the same extent. Another key factor we have had to take onboard is the fact that we will be using the same cars in Corsica as the ones that competed in Catalonia."
As in Spain, it will also be important to take the weather into account. Following its switch from a spring to an autumn slot, this year's Rallye de France could well take place in unstable weather and the familiar cocktail of bright sunshine in Ajaccio and showers or fog high in the mountains promises to make tyre choice particularly difficult!
"All these ingredients make the Tour de Corse a very complex event," agrees Guy Frequelin. "lt's a tremendous rally and it's also nice to be competing in France, in front of French fans. That doesn't make the weekend any easier, however. Contesting long loops of three stages at a time with the same tyres in conditions that can differ from one test to the next is clearly very stressful. We will need to be as spot-on in our tyre and compound choices as we were in Spain. To obtain a good result in Corsica, I will be counting on the excellent contribution of everyone at Citroen Sport and the performance of our BFGoodrich tyres. As for our objective, it will be the same as it was in Catalonia: to do our best to finish first and second... "
In Spain, the Citroen C4 WRC's one-two finish was by no means as easy as it might have appeared?
"It really wasn't. Although the sun was shining by then, the first loop of Day 1 took place in very delicate conditions. The stages were still wet following overnight rain and offered little grip, yet they were not sufficiently wet to warrant fitting rain tyres. Tyre choice was again difficult for the second loop which featured a mix of dry and damp portions and the situation became even more complex for the third loop, since SS5 was entirely dry while SS6 took place in pouring rain! Thanks to their tactics and tyre choices, however, both our crews succeeded in pulling out a big gap on the first leg's final stage. After that, the second and third legs perhaps seemed easy, but neither Seb nor Dani could afford to relax and they both had to keep up a quick pace."
The Rally Catalunya is followed immediately by the Tour de Corse , another event on which Citroen has traditionally gone well...
"Of the three asphalt events we have already contested this year, we have won three and scored two one-two finishes, on the Monte Carlo and in Spain. The Rally Catalunya once again revealed how competitive the Citroen C4 WRC is on sealed surfaces and means we will be amongst the favourites again in Corsica. Over the years, the Xsara Kit-Car and the Xsara WRC have effectively gone well on this event and, judging by what we have seen of the C4 so far, as well as by what we saw during pre-event testing here on the island, we hope we will be in a position to challenge for victory again."
Despite the fact that the Rally Catalunya and the Tour de Corse have certain specific features, will the objective be the same in Corsica?
"Our objective has to be the same as it was in Spain. To keep their title chances alive, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will need to try to win and Dani Sordo and Marc Marti must try to finish between Seb and Marcus Gronholm. As far as the stages are concerned, recent work on the Spanish roads and the new Coll del Grau stage (SS8/12, 26km) compounded the differences that exist between the two events. The Rally Catalunya calls for a more circuit-racing driving style, while the Tour de Corse stages are much twistier and bumpier."
You scored four more points than Marcus in Spain which means you have reduced the gap in the Drivers' championship standings...
"The combination of our win and the second place of Dani and Marc in Spain have effectively enabled us to reduce the gap. The Rally Catalunya was decided in the rain on SS6 thanks to a judicious choice of tyres and the addition of extra grooving to the tread pattern. That's what gave us the edge. After that, we still needed to keep pushing to keep Marcus at bay but we didn't drive quite as hard as we did towards the beginning of the rally. It would be nice if the scenario unfolded in the same way in Corsica..."
How big is the difference between Catalonia and the Tour de Corse ?
"You could be forgiven for thinking they were identical, but there are some significant differences. The principal difference is that the Corsican roads are bumpier, while those in Catalonia were even smoother this year than they have been in the past. The pace will be fast in Corsica, and even very fast in places, but we tend not to take the same racing lines as we take in Spain. The asphalt itself is very different, too. The quality of the asphalt in Catalonia is very good, whereas the Corsican stages are rougher and more damaged."
You will no doubt be hoping to continue on your momentum in Corsica?
"We started as favourites in Spain and we ended up winning and achieving our objective. We took points off Marcus but we are still behind in the championship. Our aim in Corsica will once again be to finish ahead of him and hope that Dani Sordo and perhaps other drivers succeed in splitting us in the final results."
What is your analysis of your performance on your home round in Spain?
"For a driver, competing in your home country is always something special. You feel more pressure because you don't want to disappoint your family, friends and fans who are out on the stages. This year's Rally Catalunya was especially important because it was vital for me to finish ahead of Marcus Gronholm to help Seb reduce the gap in the Drivers' championship. That obviously added to the pressure and Sunday afternoon's finish came as something of a relief!"
The rally went very well for you; you finished in second place and even led briefly...
"I was really keen for the first stage to start, and I will never forget what it felt like to find myself in the lead of a World Championship event for the first time! It's a strange sensation and I hope I will get a chance to experience it again some day. Although winning wasn't our objective last weekend, it was nice to be in front. We ended up finishing second, ahead of Gronholm, so we achieved our goal; that's the main thing."
Is the Tour de Corse a rally you enjoy and what will your objective be ?
"I like any rally on asphalt, wherever it takes place! Last year, we posted some decent times in Corsica and I don't see why we shouldn't be competitive again. The stages are different but I do enjoy all the corners. Our result in Spain means we are extremely motivated to try to finish ahead of Marcus Gronholm again."
The 2007 Rallye de France Tour de Corse in brief
* This year's event will be the 51 edition. The Tour de Corse was first organised in 1956.
* This year again the rally focuses on the Ajaccio region. The town hosts all the event's facilities. The Rally HQ and Media Room are based in the Palais des Congrès by the harbour side which also hosts the service park. The parc ferme (Place du Diamant) is in the town centre.
* The total length of the 2007 event is 1,116.93km, including 359.32km divided into 16 stages (8 different).
* The chassis and engine of the two C4s were sealed and are the same as the cars used in Spain. They will also go on to contest the Rally Ireland. Regarding the front and rear subframes and steering racks, the Tour de Corse is twinned with the Rally Ireland.
* Two gearbox/differential assemblies were sealed per car for Corsica and Ireland.
* Tyres: the quota per driver is 65 tyres, of which 42 may be used (event and shakedown). The list of nominated tyres and patterns (two) had to be registered with the FIA on Monday October 8.
* Before the creation of the World Rally Championship, Citroen took two victories in Corsica (Rene Trautman/DS 19 in 1961 and 1963). Since 1973, it has added four more wins to its record: 2006 and 2005 (Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena/Xsara WRC), 2001 (the Xsara's first WRC win with Jesus Puras/Marc Marti) and 1999 (Philippe Bugalski/Jean-Paul Chiaroni/Xsara Kit-Car). Citroen clinched its second world title in Corsica in 2004.