Kronos ready for the Greek challenge before the season break... Eighth and last round of the first half of the championship before a two- month break, the Greek event offers with a completely new rally route and apparently tougher, a real ...
Kronos ready for the Greek challenge before the season break...
Eighth and last round of the first half of the championship before a two- month break, the Greek event offers with a completely new rally route and apparently tougher, a real challenge to the FIA World Rally Championship's teams.
Leading the `Manufacturers' classification, the Kronos Total Citroen WRT will enter two Xsaras on the Hellenic ground : one for reigning World Champions Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena who are also leading the drivers' rankings and another one for young Catalan driver Xevi Pons, co-driven by experienced Carlos Del Barrio. Lying in a great third position in the championship, Dani Sordo takes part in the Greek event with Marc Marti and thanks to its faithful supports (Grupo Labaro, Banco Santander, Gobierno de Cantabria, RACC and Wurth) on the same Xsara which allowed him to clinch his first podium on gravel in Italy.
After their excellent performance on the Sardinian terrain, the three Kronos Racing Xsara WRCs left the island to rejoin Athens. Given the fact that the same chassis and engine must complete two events, the team has decided to conduct the cars' checking directly in Greece.
First of the Mediterranean trilogy this year, the Acropolis rally has undergone a complete facelift for its 53rd edition. After leaving Athens and the Acropolis sumptuous decor, theatre of the 2003 ceremonial start, the rally comes back to the capital. This year, the Olympic Stadium facilities become the rally's epicentre. This brings the rally to the doors of a big metropolis but however leads to give up the Mount Parnassus stages and those of the area of Lamia, which now stand to far away from the single `Olympic' service area.
The reconnaissance starts Tuesday May 30th and stages will be new for most of the drivers, even if Daniel Grataloup, former co-driver and Kronos Racing's coordinator, remembers having competed in some of the stages around 1990. The event promises to be exciting and the drivers' opinion will be awaited impatiently after the recce. The shakedown, if representative, could also know more action than usual if the teams want to fine-tune the cars' set-up there.
To tackle the new stages close to Athens, which seem to be the roughest, the Kronos Total Citroen WRT, as all teams equipped with BFGoodrich tyres, will benefit from a very new product. The `g-Force Profiler H2', tested beginning of May in Sardinia and in Greece, offers the newest complete package (tread pattern, compound and dimension 225-60/15: everything is new). This very resistant tyre should bring a significant advantage in the second passages on clean and abrasive roads, especially in stages like `Kineta' covering almost 37 km of a 70 km loop in total.
In 2001, Citroen started its apprenticeship of gravel in Greece, the European most demanding event at the time. The Versailles-Satory men have progressively improved their knowledge of the Greek terrain. Since 2003, there has always been one (2003, 2004) or two (2005) Xsaras on the podium. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won here last year. Continuing this successful streak is Kronos team's target, which they hope to achieve in Greece like in the past seven events.
Marc Van Dalen, team principal...
You were delighted at the finish of the Rally of Sardinia...
"The raw and excellent result would have been sufficient to delight me but another satisfaction added to that: I'm very satisfied to see that the team is working really well. I'm also very thankful to Citroen Sport who rent us performing, reliable and strong cars but also to all the guys who have done their best on-event. I think about the technical team who has succeeded in repairing the damage caused by the `famous' rock on SS8, about the BFGoodrich technicians and of course about our three crews who have all reached their respective objectives. Having achieved this in an event where all our rivals have experienced problems deserves some congratulations."
The beginning of the Italian round wasn't favourable to the team. Does this worry you?
"Worries me no. But I take this into account for sure. Before trying to understand deeper, I think Marcus' performance is very useful: it allows us to prevent from relaxing! In the event where we would tend to think that we are the best and imagine that it's all here, this is a good kick! Our rivals have worked, Marcus has driven very aggressively. It's been said that he tried really hard to follow Seb's lines in the traction and braking phases. This time it was different than Argentina. What will happen in Greece? How much will `pay' Seb for sweeping the road on Friday? On a new terrain, no one can really know. We have done a lot of work since Sardinia and we hope to fight for a win. But the championship is really long and everyone experiences good times and bad times. We have to take profit of the first ones and target `big points' if we're a bit less successful..."
What do you think about the fact that an event like the Acropolis is entirely renewed?
"For all teams, these changes represent more work of course, especially on the logistics point of view. This creates a competition before the competition. In a championship where every single detail counts, you have to try to match the new requirements as well as the other competitors or even better. On another hand, the proximity of such a big metropolis, and the fact the rally camp is set close to the famous location of the Olympic Stadium, are with no doubt very positive points. On the sporting side, I hope the stages will be nice but also difficult. The Acropolis has always been proud of its extremely challenging character, combining rough terrain and heavy heat. It only had one rival, the Safari Rally. These last years I find it was a bit too soft and without much character. It's important that each round keeps its specificity and if the Acropolis does so, it's great!"
...to Sebastien Loeb...
In Sardinia, Marcus Gronholm took you by surprise...
"Quite true! I think I wasn't in the right pace on SS1. However, for the rest of the loop, I pushed really hard without succeeding to reverse the trend. Ok, Marcus benefited from my lines but the gap cannot be only justified by that. We have already noticed in the past that we aren't so good on slippery roads. The process to improve that and other parameters is permanent. For Greece, the terrain and the tyres change... We will have at disposal brand new BFGoodrich tyres which should be very useful, like in Sardinia after the second loop of Friday where the tyres reached the wear limit. Of course Marcus has the same rubber but the efficiency also lies in the tyres-car association. Who will do best? It gives a lot of interest to the next match..."
During Sardinia, we have heard a lot about luck. Are you a lucky driver?
"Globally, I think I haven't been unlucky so far. My Xsara helps me a lot with its solidity and reliability. As far as a rock damaging the sump is concerned, I experienced that twice in Mexico and Catalunya 2004. Both times, I was leading and coincidence maybe, Markko Martin has won both events. Regarding Mexico, in my stats, I always say I was responsible for the retirement: I knew the rock was there and I thought it won't matter. It was a mistake. No need to say that it has been a subject to work on for the Citroen team at the time. In every duel, each rival sits in one of the cup of the scale. If one goes down, the other goes up. If Marcus encounters a problem, is it him being unlucky or me being lucky, or both? Each supporter can make his own decision. For me luck is necessary when you make a mistake. If you have it, there is no serious consequence. For example, I was lucky in Monte Carlo when I went off the road. No damage to the car and it happened on the first day's final stage..."
Do you regret the Acropolis of the last years?
"Not that much actually. It offered nice stages but also very rough route where I suffered for the car. It's true that last year, some of the toughest stages had been cancelled and some rebuilt on the surface. On another hand, we are always curious to discover new stages. The fight starts when you take your pacenotes. Finally, two visits in the Olympic stadium really enthusiast me. Last year it was really great like it was in Cordoba one month ago. These super special stages allow the public who cannot attend the actual stages, to enjoy the rally. I like that but one thing not to spoil the essence of our sport, is that they shouldn't take more importance time wise or sporting wise than a real stage..."
... and to Xevi Pons
You have equaled in Sardinia your world's best performance but this time on gravel and you have scored big points for the team. After your fastest time in Argentina, it's one more step forward...
"I'm really happy for the team which deserves that I bring back the maximum number of points as possible. The guys have done a great job and really the Xsara's reliability and the human performance of the Kronos team make a unique combination. On the personal side I didn't make any mistake and it's really important for me. My task in Sardinia was to reach the finish and to bring back as many Manufacturers points as possible after a blank score in Argentina. I chose to help the team before anything else and it worked quite well. We came back from Sardinia with a twenty point gap on the second placed in the championship. Not bad! "
You have competed twice in Greece. How do you fight against the terrible heat? What do you think of the new route which obliges to discover all stages? Do you usually feel at ease in new stages?
"Sardinia has been a sort of preview for Greece, with difficult stages and a heavy heat. On that last thing I have no problems as I realised Carlos and I are really fit. You shouldn't forget also that I am Mediterranean. Spaniards don't fear the heat...I don't know the new route but if I believe what I've heard, the rough stages and high temperatures will make of the new Acropolis a hard event. The fact that all drivers discover the stages is good for the young drivers who haven't got much experience. I hope to feel confident after having done a precise work during the recce."
You will start in favourable position on the road on the first leg. ? What is your target Do you think you can do well there ?
"I'm not sure our position is the best. We'll see depending on the conditions. If the terrain is very rough, our position would be less of an advantage. If there is just a thin sandy layer on the surface, then it could be interesting. As I am nominated to score Manufacturers points, my aim to bring back a lot of points for the team like in Sardinia. We have a very reliable car and new solutions from BFGoodrich, but it's true our main rivals in the Manufacturers championship showed an impressive pace on the Italian island. I wish the Kronos team is able to fight in front in Greece and on my side, I hope I can do my job correctly..."