2002 World Rally Championship 38th Catalunya Costa Brava Rally - Rally of Spain (22-24 March) Back to the future With the Catalunya Rally, the Xsara WRC returns to the scene of its brilliant World Championship debut last year. CitroÃ«n's...
2002 World Rally Championship
38th Catalunya Costa Brava Rally - Rally of Spain (22-24 March)
Back to the future
With the Catalunya Rally, the Xsara WRC returns to the scene of its brilliant World Championship debut last year. Citroën's return to the asphalt of Catalunya is an opportunity for the Marque to further evaluate the potential of the Xsara WRC on this surface. Catalunya is therefore part of the Marque's preparation for the complete programme scheduled for 2003.
Citroën Sport will be present at Lloret de Mar, hub of the fourth leg of the 2002 championship, with three Xsara WRCs driven by Thomas-Rådström-Denis Giraudet (No. 20), Sébastien Loeb-Daniel Elena (No. 21) and Philippe Bugalski-Jean-Paul Chiaroni (No. 22). Citroën Hispania and Piedrafita Sport are entering a fourth Xsara WRC for Jesús Puras, who will be teaming up with his co-driver of 1998, Carlos del Barrio.
The Xsara WRC has reached the third stage in its continuous upgrading and development. After the changes made to the engine (Cévennes 2000) and the fitting of a semi-automatic gearbox with steering-wheel controls (Deutschland 2001), the Xsara WRC now features new engine parts that were homologated on 1 March 2002: exhaust manifold, turbocharger and low-inertia engine flywheel. Citroën engineers have also reviewed the fresh-air system (managing the turbo response time), adapted the car to take new fuel (the sole supplier for the championship has changed) and - naturally - studied the electronic management of the car as a whole. These efforts have improved vehicle performance at low engine speeds and increased acceleration response as the car comes out of a bend.
The Catalan rally features a route of conventional length: 1,949 km of which 395 are timed (18 special stages in the form of a double loop of three events each day). However, the timetable of the event has been modified. The southern leg, which takes competitors to the region of Tarragon, will be taking place on the Friday this year. In consequence, the service park will be set up immediately close to the seaside resort of Salou and will move just once to spend Saturday and Sunday in Manlleu, in the area behind the Costa Brava.
Traditionally a highly popular event, the Catalunya Rally is renowned for its broad, winding, fast roads and two distinct types of surface. The asphalt of the northern stages is generally smoother and less abrasive than the asphalt of the southern stage. On this first day, the special stage that could well settle the outcome is the Escaladei, an event viewed with awe by all the competitors, back this year in its longest version (48 km). Tyre management is an essential parameter in this rally. It could make all the difference
Total, Michelin, Magneti-Marelli, OZ, AIS and Citroën Financement are Citroën's partners in the Xsara WRC programme.
Interview with Guy Fréquelin:
The Xsara WRC took everybody by surprise in 2001. This year, they're watching you closely ...
"Yes, now we have to consolidate. That's never the easiest thing to do and it could turn out to be rather difficult. At the last round, we saw that our competitors had put in a lot of hard work to make real progress."
How would you assess the changes made to the Citroën over the past year?
"When a car is well designed and developed to start with, any subsequent steps tend to be on the small side. That's only logical. But that does not mean that they are unimportant. Naturally, we have made progress over the year. We gained an upgraded engine on 1 March and we have fine-tuned the chassis and mapping of the electronic differentials. So the Xsara 2002 should be a bit faster than last year's version."
What is your objective for this edition of the Catalunya Rally?
"We're going to try to win. We want to show that we're still highly competitive on asphalt. That said, our main objective this season concerns the car's performance on gravel. There's far more room for progress on that type of surface..."
... and the Citroën drivers
Thomas, your acquaintance with asphalt rallies is slight...
"Very slight. I've only ever taken part in four events on this type of surface: Deutschland 1988, Condroz 1989 and - fortunately - Catalunya in 1996 and 1998. So Catalunya is the asphalt rally I'm most familiar with. In 1996 , I drove a Toyota Celica with Denis Giraudet as co-driver. And in 1998, I fought it out with Marcus Grönholm. We were each driving a private Toyota Corolla. I like the roads of Catalunya."
After the preparatory trials, what's your feeling on the Xsara WRC?
"The Xsara feels really good on asphalt. It's easier to drive and has a less of a tendency to understeer than any other car I've driven on this type of surface. Even so, I can't see myself pulling ahead of the specialists on this type of surface. I'm going to start off calmly and try to take advantage of the Xsara's qualities in the long specials..."
Sébastien, you have good memories of the Catalunya Rally.
"It was my first world championship event in 1999. I was driving a Saxo Kit Car, with the support of Citroën and the FFSA. That was my first experience of events in which the number of recces is limited to three. I didn't get very far in the actual event, so I can't really remember much about the specials. I didn't take part in this rally in 2000 but last year, I won my first victory here in the Super 1600 event. Actually, I don't really know it that well. But I like the roads, which are faster than those in the San Remo and Corsica events."
In your first three WRC rallies, your results were far better than anything that would normally be expected of a "rookie". What's going to happen this time?
"Taking into account my first three rallies, I can't say that I'm not hopeful. But that doesn't mean people should be thinking of me as the favourite on the basis of the results of Monte-Carlo. The main thing is not to get carried away. Let's say that I'm going to try and stay up with the front-runners. I'll try to make the most of any opportunity that comes my way, in the long stages for example.
Philippe, what's your state of mind at the start of this rally?
"Very positive. The operation I organised in Corsica gave me an opportunity to put in a lot of driving hours in difficult conditions. Just what I needed to find my pace again and build up my confidence."
You dominated this rally at one point but it slipped from your grasp last year. It owes you the chance for revenge...
"I really like the terrain at Catalunya. The roads are fast. You need to put your heart into it and keep the car on a pinsharp course. Another characteristic of the roads is that they're highly abrasive. That means you have to manage your tyres carefully, and that's something I'm quite good at. Our car has real qualities and it's at ease in the long specials. That gives us an advantage. It's true that I had bad luck last year and I'd like my revenge this time round. But I'm not the only one dreaming of victory, so I know it won't be easy."
Jesús, you haven't been very lucky in your national event...
"You can say that again! I've had to drop out of the event each of the six times I've been here. And in some cases I was leading the field... But that's just the way it goes. Even so, I'm always pleased to be present on the starting line, watched by my fans. And perhaps even more so this year."
How do you see your race?
"It will be very difficult for me to aim for victory this year. I haven't driven on asphalt since the 2001 Tour of Corsica. I'm going to be driving the car built by Piedrafita for the Spanish Championship on 2001 specifications and I haven't put it through its paces to any great extent. Even so, I'm confident and very motivated. I'm going to try to do my best. For me, a place on the podium would be an excellent result."
Citroën Sport took part in the Catalunya Rally in 1998, the year that marked the racing debut of the Xsara Kit Car. Philippe Bugalski and Jesús Puras each scored one of the best times. Philippe and Jean-Paul Chiaroni finished 5th scratch, and first in the 2-litres category.
The following year, Philippe and "Chus" consolidated their performance. Scoring the fastest time in 9 of the 18 timed events, the Xsara Kit Car turned in a sensational performance to take absolute victory, thanks to Philippe Bugalski and Jean-Paul Chiaroni.
Last year, making its debut in the world championship, the Xsara WRC driven by "Chus" outpaced its rivals in its very first timed event. The Citroën then racked up nine more of the fastest times. Chus Puras and Philippe Bugalski kept the Xsara in the lead for 15 of the 18 rally specials.