The Citroen DS3 WRCs back on gravel
After kicking off on the snow and ice in Rally Sweden, the FIA World Rally Championship continues with a string of seven consecutive events on gravel, starting with Mexico. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, spearheading the Citroen Total World Rally Team attack, will be aiming for their fifth victory on the trot on the dusty stages in the Leon region. Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will also be gunning for a win in the rally in which they made their world championship debut.
Nine out of the thirteen rallies on the 2011 WRC calendar will be held on gravel. The Rally Guanajuato Mexico is the first of a world tour consisting of seven races on this type of surface. The first rally on asphalt will not take place until the end of August when the crews tackle Rally Germany!
The seventh Rally Mexico will see the introduction of a new stage run in the heart of the historic town of Guanajuato, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Guanajuato is famous for its architecture, its colours and its silver mines, and it will not only be the starting place for the event, but also the theatre of a competitive stage eagerly awaited by the Mexican spectators. The remainder of the route is very similar to the 2010 event with the addition of the Power Stage, the final stage of the rally, on an 8-km section of SS 13/17, part of Saturday's loop.
Altitude is a vital factor in the Mexican round as it culminates at over 2000 metres with a spike of 2700 metres. For this reason, the WRCs are specially prepared with particular attention paid to the engine mapping.
The Citroens have always been well performing on this surface. The French make arrives in Mexico with a string of four victories in the event down to Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena with the Xsara WRC (2006), the C4 WRC (2007, 2008 et 2010). Last year, the C4 WRCs monopolized the podium thanks to Petter Solberg and Sebastien Ogier.
Sebastien Ogier, who was fourth in Sweden, is really looking forward to Rally Mexico with just a few days to go: "I've got good memories of Rally Mexico. In 2008, our first world championship rally in the JWRC in the C2 Super 1600 ended in victory and eighth place overall. Last year we had an exciting finish to the rally as we were battling with Petter Solberg for second place. This year, we'll have a good position on the road on the first day. I feel confident in this rally with its stages that are great fun for the driver. Like all my rivals, I'm impatient to see if we've done a good job in testing."
Sebastien Loeb, winner of the last four Mexican rallies arrives in Leon with the intention of adding a fifth to his laurels: "The first rally on gravel is really the kick-off of the season. The route is very like what we'll meet during the rest of the year with this event's special feature, a combination of very quick and very twisty sections. We know that there are quite a few victory contenders. From our side, it's very important not to give away any points in the title chase."
A third Citroen DS3 WRC has been entered by the Petter Solberg World Rally Team for its eponymous driver and Chris Patterson, currently lying fifth in the World Rally Championship. Like the two Sebastiens, the Norwegian is determined to score a podium finish.
Three questions to Xavier Mestelan-Pinon
How do you feel about the fact that there were no Citroen DS3 WRCs on the podium in Rally Sweden?
"We shouldn't jump to hasty conclusions when analyzing the results of the rally. When the conditions were comparable for all the crews, our cars were at least as quick as those of our rivals. In terms of figures, the DS3 WRCs set ten fastest times out a possible twenty-two. There's only one rally on snow with studded tyres during the season. We had a long debrief after the event, and I think we've found some interesting paths to explore in the future."
Have you developed the Citroen DS3 WRC more for gravel?
"The World Rally Championship has always been mainly run in gravel events. Even, if it's not a question of sacrificing snow or asphalt, it was very important to be able to count on a car that's competitive on gravel right from the start of the season. Mexico begins a string of seven events on this surface. We've done a lot of testing on different types of gravel from the really rough stuff to the smoother, faster sections. We're continuing to work on the car's handling with the new Michelin tyres."
One of the main characteristics of Rally Mexico is that it takes place 2000 metres above sea level. Do you have to prepare the cars specifically to compensate for the lack of air?
"We've got a lot of experience of Rally Mexico which we've won with the Xsara and the C4. To be quick on this type of terrain, you have to have a good suspension setup and brakes that last. Concerning the altitude you have to adjust the gear box ratios and play around with the engine mapping. It's the result of work in testing as the engine is no different from the one we had in Sweden."