CitroÃ«n: looking to make it five... After its victories in the last four rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship, CitroÃ«n Sport moves on to Greece where it will be out to extend its current winning run. Consecutive successes with the Xsara...
Citroën: looking to make it five...
After its victories in the last four rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship, Citroën Sport moves on to Greece where it will be out to extend its current winning run. Consecutive successes with the Xsara in New Zealand, Sardinia, Cyprus and Turkey have taken Sébastien Loeb 13 points clear at the top of the provisional Drivers' championship standings, while Citroën has moved to within just 4 points of top spot in the Manufacturers' table.
Guy Fréquelin's bid to prolong Citroën's remarkable series will be in the hands of the magic foursome who make up the crews of the two Xsara WRCs entered for the Acropolis Rally, namely Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena, Carlos Sainz and Marc Marti. Indeed, Sainz has responded favourably to the request from the Citroën Sport team boss to take part in one last event and the vast experience of the two-times World Champion, which includes three wins and ten podium finishes in Greece, promises to be a valuable asset on an event that sees itself as the most the demanding of the season.
In comparison with its Cypriot and Turkish counterparts however, just how justified is the Acropolis Rally's claim to still be the WRC's toughest challenge? Citroën Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon believes it hasn't necessarily been surpassed: "The Turkish organisers did a big job to make the stages smoother, while Cyprus, on the whole, is clearly rougher than Greece but it is also significantly slower. The problem with Greece stems from the fact that the cars take the pot-holes, rocks and bumps at much higher speeds. That said, the Xsara's basic set-up for these three events is very similar. Our Cyprus and Turkey set-up was actually finalised after a test in Greece, near Corinth, where we prepared for all three events."
Any attempt to evaluate the difficulty of the championship's eighth round must also take onboard the fact that the organisers have introduced some 80 km of new stages (nearly a quarter of the total distance) and Sunday's action will in no way be a formality since 72 km of these new roads will be run on the final day. Another indication of the challenge represented by the Acropolis is that it is the only round since the disappearance of the Safari Rally to permit two spare wheels. Last but not least, although it rained during last year's event, which took place three weeks earlier, the Greeks themselves believe that those were freak conditions. This year's late June date should guarantee traditional blistering sunshine and sun-baked stages.
In conditions like that, caution can often pay dividends. And that is something that Citroën is very much aware of. In 2001, when looking to give the Xsara WRC its first non-asphalt outing, Citroën wanted to put its car to the toughest test possible... and chose Greece. But despite its underlying caution, the Versailles-Satory team is extremely motivated in its bid to claim a fifth consecutive win and conclude the first half of the 2005 season on top of the provisional points table.