The Citroen Junior Team completes its first season
The2009 World Rally Championship drew to a close today in Great Britain. Two of the C4 WRCs entered under the Citroen Junior Team banner have finished in the points. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills occupy fourth place while Conrad Rautenbach/Daniel Barritt are eighth. The team therefore ends its first season in the WRC on a positive note.
The third day of the Rally Great Britain was similar to the two that preceded it, but the stages were tougher than ever for the teams that remained in the thick of action. As Phil Mills Petter Solberg's Welsh co-driver had confidently predicted: "The last day is certainly the most difficult one of the rally: a real challenge to end this year's World Rally Championship with."
The 2003 World Rally Champions set off with the ambition of getting closer to Dani Sordo's third position. In the 17.41 kilometres of Port Talbot (SS13) the Norwegian gained 2.0 seconds and he continued to make up ground by pulling back 7.4 seconds in Rheola (SS14). By the end of the morning's loop of two stages, Sordo was only 14.6 seconds ahead of him. Solberg said: "We're getting more and more time back! I'm pushing as hard as I can to get close to Dani. We're going to stop at nothing. The stages are very slippery, but we really want that third place."
On the second run through the two stages, Solberg was forced to concede a bit of ground. "There was so much rain at the start of Port Talbot: it was incredible!" he reported. "I'm very happy indeed with the final result though. The Citroen C4 WRC is a super car and we've made a lot of progress with it throughout the rally. I'd like to thank Citroen for having given me the opportunity to drive the C4 WRC on the last two events of the season. I gave it everything I had to beat Dani, but it was difficult. He drove a fantastic rally."
Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia started the day fifth, leaving Cardiff this morning with the firm ambition of adding to their recent string of points finishes. But some stones that were right on the racing line in SS15 (Port Talbot) prevented them from reaching the end of the rally. "The cars that set off in front of us must have pulled out the rocks onto the line in a corner," recounted Ogier. "It was impossible to avoid them." Despite a puncture and two rolls the reigning Junior World Rally Champions managed to finish the stage, but they had to retire before the start of the final test.
Sebastien Ogier's retirement allowed Conrad Rautenbach and Daniel Barritt to score points on a rally for the fourth time this season. "It's good to end the year with an extra point," said Rautenbach. "We got to the end of a really difficult event by driving consistently and not making any mistakes. It's a good result and I'm hoping for more of the same next season."
Aaron Burkart was entered by the Citroen Junior Team through the Citroen Junior Experience programme, as a reward for his second place in the 2008 Junior World Rally Championship. The German driver managed his first experience of the Citroen C4 WRC perfectly. Burkart was set to finish ninth before making a small mistake. "I lost concentration while I was trying to get past Sebastien Ogier," he said. "So we got stuck off the road and lost four minutes trying to get the car out of the mud. I really enjoyed myself throughout this rally. I'd like to thank Citroen for giving me the chance to drive the C4 WRC alongside the best drivers in the world. I've learnt a lot from all of the team during this great experience."
At the end of this first season, which has seen Sebastien Ogier, Conrad Rautenbach, Evgeny Novikov, Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson and Aaron Burkart drive the Citroen Junior Team C4 WRCs, team manager Benoit Nogier draws a positive conclusion. "We've got four cars to the finish today," he said. "Only Sebastien Ogier is missing, but we cannot hold that against him after everything he has achieved this season. What happened was neither a driving error nor a mistake with the notes: just a trap that is easy to fall into in these tricky conditions. Sebastien and Julien have once more shown us what they are capable of and we would like to congratulate them on their successful season. We're very proud of Conrad Rautenbach's rally. He's made a lot of progress over the last couple of years and he's scored a point on one of the most difficult events of the season. Aaron Burkart has successfully got to the finish of his first event in a WRC car. By accumulating as much experience as possible, he has achieved his objective. The icing on the cake for the Citroen Junior Team was the presence of Petter Solberg in Britain. He showed his talent by fighting for a podium all the way to the finish. We would like to continue this adventure following the solid foundations that we have built this year. We'd like to continue working with Sebastien and other drivers, so it's now down to us to put everything into place so that we can carry on."