Change of pace! Two weeks after savouring Finland's and Japan's mild southern hemisphere autumn weather, the FIA World Rally Championship marks one of those shifts in scenery for a stop in Cyprus. For the third quarter of the...
Change of pace!
Two weeks after savouring Finland's and Japan's mild southern hemisphere autumn weather, the FIA World Rally Championship marks one of those shifts in scenery for a stop in Cyprus. For the third quarter of the 2006 calendar, the competitors now face summery weather and a radical change of pace as the season's slowest stages succeed to the fastest speed-tests.
Currently leading the Manufacturers' championship, the Kronos Citroën Total World Rally Team enters in Lemesos two 2006 Xsaras for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena clear leaders in the Drivers' rankings - and for Dani Sordo/Marc Marti, third in that same classification. These two crews are nominated to score Manufacturers' points while, after a short break, Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio use the 2005 Xsara which they competed with in Germany and Finland.
To the tourists still visiting the island at that time of the year, Cyprus offers the face of a romantic location where the goddess of love Aphrodite was born. But for the drivers who have already experienced the Cypriot round, it is a different story. They know the scorching sun promises to beat down on the rough and rocky slopes of the Troodos Mountains. They also know that the nature of the stages twist and turn their way across the isle and pose a real challenge as the exceptionally low average speeds of the stages limit the flow of cooling air to the engine and inside the car. The engines literally cook in an oven and the crews feel like in a sauna!
Not only the stages are rough but they are also covered in a deep top-covering of gravel which the competing cars tend to brush aside first time through, producing a much clearer line for the second run. Sébastien who will start first on the road on Friday morning will not escape from his usual road sweeping job for the 56 kilometres of the first loop. After a careful analyse of the data from the last Acropolis rally, Citroën Sport's development team has planned a test in South of Spain on rough gravel to optimise the Xsara set-up for the Cypriot terrain.
Since its first outing in 2003 on the island, Xsara WRC has remarkably performed and showed a perfect reliability. Winners of the 2005 edition, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are experienced enough to try and repeat that result. This experience is shared with the Kronos team, present for the fourth time in Cyprus as well, and which finished second last year with Manfred Stohl's Xsara. Dani Sordo discovers one more round this year and this does not simplify his job for Manufacturers' points scoring. However, the Junior World Champion has shown great adaptation skills so far. As Seb said in 2003 just before his very first participation in the event: "For me, the only positive point is that on this type of slow route, the knowledge of the terrain isn't so important..."
Questions to ...
...Jean-Pierre Mondron and Marc Van Dalen, Kronos Racing...
You have discovered Japan at the beginning of the month but Kronos Racing knows Cyprus quite well...
Jean-Pierre Mondron: "It's correct: the Cyprus Rally is one of the round that Kronos knows best. Our team visited Limassol on three occasions. After two participations in 2001 and 2002 which both allowed us to learn about this tricky and demanding terrain for the cars we have been rewarded for our work last year with the second position of Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor. It was Kronos Racing's first podium finish and obviously, it will remain unforgettable for us. Since that result and with the support of Citroën Sport, Kronos has incredibly progressed. After that result in 2005, we are very motivated to try and finish one step higher in the rankings this time."
Guy Fréquelin has decided to sign Dani Sordo to be Citroën's second driver in 2007...
Marc Van Dalen: "We are all extremely happy for Dani. And also very proud we've participated in his progression since he joined the team in Monte Carlo 2005 for the beginning of his Junior campaign. He was only 21 years old and had already a great reputation. We quickly realised he was very fast, intelligent and incredibly mature. Highly motivated, he learns pretty fast and makes very few mistakes: his recent misadventures are the first two out of eighteen world events he has competed in with Kronos. Although, regarding Rally Japan, what I will remember is that before forgetting to re-fasten his seatbelt correctly in the penultimate special stage which caused his exclusion he perfectly fulfilled his mission. On a very tricky terrain he was discovering, he scored four valuable Manufacturers' points. I firmly believe he will be a perfect lieutenant for Sébastien in 2007."
Xevi Pons makes his comeback here as planned. What will you ask him?
MVD: "When Xevi and I discussed just after the finish in Finland, I've asked him to delete `rally' from his mind for a time, to proceed to a sort of mental reset. He rested and comes back in very good spiritual shape. He will start the Cyprus Rally without any pressure at a cool pace and this will help him to build his confidence back. With the 2005 Xsara, he has the perfect car for the Cypriot terrain and fight for a point scoring finish. On this event, the results depend very much on the car's reliability and sometimes it's necessary to be patient not to make a mistake. I'm convinced Xevi can do that!"
...to Sébastien Loeb...
At the finish of Rally Japan, you've only talked about the fight and not about your 27th win...
"To finish second there with eight points for the championship would have been quite good. But when Daniel and I decided not to take that into account and not to give up the fight, it was just because for us at that time the wins' record wasn't the target. Not more than the fact Japan was one of the rally we had never won before. Just the fight counted.
On Sunday morning, Marcus [Grönholm] pushed really hard and he was catching us up. At the start of the last `real' stage, it was urgent to do something. We discussed that and had two options: either we tempt it or we let him overtake us for a tiny bit. We still had a eight- second-lead. We had been driving flat out the whole event without making a mistake and we thought we could try a bit more without going off. The only split time we were communicated was after four kilometres in the stage. It indicated we were two seconds slower than Marcus. At that pace, we wouldn't have made it. We pushed even harder and considering the level of attack I really think this is one of my favourite wins..."
Of course, after that there was a lot going on about your record of wins...
"I've already said that but that's the one I really wanted to achieve. In Germany, it was great to think I was sharing it with Carlos. But now having it on my own is even better. I think that moment was made stronger after this crazy duel. Those 27 wins which I clinched with the same car, are also those of the Xsara and Citroën Sport men's who have led and maintained it to that level of performance. I don't forget Kronos Racing doing a faultless job on event. For Daniel and myself, it's an important step on the road leading to our main target, the title."
And now Cyprus....
"I've never competed in the event at that date. Maybe, it will be a bit less hot? We can dream, can't we? In Cyprus, you need a very strong car. Shock absorbing is important for the traction and also to cope with the vertical demand on the chassis. It should not understeer at all in the slow corners and also should have a very good level of cooling. These past three years, the Xsara has done pretty well on the isle. In 2003, our positions reflected our reliability and later we added the performance to it. The one-two finish last year with the Kronos Xsara of Manfred Stohl proved the ability of the Citroën on that terrain. We are going to try to benefit from it and fight for the win again..."
...and to Xevi Pons.
Did you know Cyprus before your first visit last year? How was it for you in 2005?
"Before driving here last year, I didn't know the place. I think it's quite a nice location for holidays. Normally when I think about an island, what comes first to my mind is sea and pleasure. But I don't think the rally drivers will be on holidays next week-end... It will be more of a sauna session!
Last year, I drove with a group N car. I can say without any doubt the event is very hard on the cars. At the start of the first stage, the gearbox broke and I started in superally five kilometres after we began. The second day, our transmission broke too and once again superally. Finally on Sunday, we set some quite good times but in the final stage we still had transmission problems. For me, a rally I wanted to forget!"
How would you describe the Cypriot stages? Do you like this event?
"With what happened last year, I can't say I know the stages really much... except that they are very slow with a lot of stones in the middle of the lines. One hairpin follows an other... A tough rally for the machines but also for the drivers and co-drivers. Normally I prefer fast and wide roads but a good driver should be able to perform on every kind of terrain. So Cyprus isn't my favourite rally but I will try to do my best here..."
How did you prepare for this rally? What are your targets for the event?
"I spent some holidays with my friends. I also focused on the physical preparation with my trainer. Unfortunately, considering the frequency of the events this month it hasn't been possible for the team to organise some tests with the Xsara WRC. So I think I will take maximum profit of the shakedown.
My target is of course to finish the rally but on top of everything to get back in the right feeling and speed I had at the start of the season. I have a complete confidence in the Citroën's reliability and I know I can count on the usual faultless job of the Kronos team. My co-driver Carlos and I are as motivated as ever to achieve a good result."
-credit: kronos racing