A bunching up at the top before the final run-in? After their last outing in Sardinia in May, the JWRC youngsters like their WRC colleagues will resume competition after the summer break with two events in as many weeks, in Germany and ...
A bunching up at the top before the final run-in?
After their last outing in Sardinia in May, the JWRC youngsters like their WRC colleagues will resume competition after the summer break with two events in as many weeks, in Germany and Finland.
This year's regulations have led to drivers sele cting six rounds from a possible nine which means that the 2006 Junior World Rally Championship has had a certain scattered feel to it so far. The five rounds to date have produced a different winner each time and a glimpse at the Rallye Deutschland entry list reveals that five of the current top-six have actually chosen not to make the trip to Trier. Their absence is almost sure to produce a certain bunching up at the top of the championship's provisional standings.
That, in any case, is the scenario the five C2 Super 1600 crews are obviously hoping for in Germany. The cars of Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson, Julien Pressac/Jack Boyère and Brice Tirabassi/Fabrice Gordon will be run by French outfit P.H. Sport, the Czech pair Martin Prokop/Jan Tománek will be looked after by their own operation, Jipocar Racing, while the C2 of Aaron Burkart/Tanja Geilhausen, who will be competing on home ground, will be in the hands of PRT (Prinz Rallye Technik).
The Rallye Deutschland continues to feature three distinct types of stages: the fast, narrow lanes and countless hairpins of the Mosel Valley tests, the tracks over the Baumholder military ranges and the smooth, fast Saarland asphalt. Last year saw the C2 Super 1600 emerge as the dominant force over this unique cocktail, claiming 16 of the 19 stages (including 12 one-twos) and 1st and 2nd places at the flag for Dani Sordo and his team-mate Kris Meeke.
Even so, Citroën Sport's development team has worked as hard as ever to prepare for this season's visit to Germany and, under the management of Technical Manager Alexis Avril, a pre-event test session was organised in the Mosel vineyards with Julien Pressac, Brice Tirabassi and Kris Meeke taking turns at the wheel. "Although we didn't have any new parts to test," explains Alexis, "we were able to get in some valuable work on the damping. We also sought to adapt the car to the German stages with the BFGoodrich tyres that equip the JWRC cars this year and found a set-up with which all three drivers are happy."
Meanwhile, the preparation of both Martin Prokop and Aaron Burkart for Germany took them to the Bohemia Rally, an FIA European Cup qualifying round; Martin finished on the overall podium and the pair secured 1st and 2nd places in Super 1600.
Said Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Manager Yves Matton: "These visits to Germany and Finland in quick succession promise to be the turning point of the season. We showed the potential of the C2 Super 1600 in Germany last year and the car has already won in Catalunya and Corsica this year in the hands of Martin Prokop and Brice Tirabassi. The five Citroën drivers clearly have a chance to get back in the title fight and they must absolutely seize it. It's an event we've got to win and I would like to hope that the winning C2 is not the only Citroën on the podium."
What the drivers say...
Fourth season in the JWRC. Finished 3rd in the 2005 championship.
You haven't competed in the JWRC since Corsica but that doesn't mean you haven't been doing any driving these past four months ...
"My programme in the past four months has indeed been very busy. After Corsica I went to Sardinia to spectate and support P.H. Sport. Then, along with my co-driver Glenn, we took part in the Rally Poland where we finished inside the top-ten overall and 1st in the two-wheel drive category with the brand new C2-R2. After that, we went on to do two days of testing in the Mosel vineyards in Germany with the C2 Super 1600 before I travelled out to Tallinn in Estonia to pay tribute to Michael Park. Shortly after that, I was in Finland to compete in the Kouvala Rally which served as a full- scale dress rehearsal prior to Rally Finland. We were 6th overall until a small mistake by me put us out of contention for a good result at the finish. Happily, our C2 Super 1600 didn't suffer too much and we were able to get in some smooth gravel testing after the event with a view to fine-tuning our set-up for Finland. I also got a chance at last to drive the Xsara WRC during an endurance test in France. It's a fantastic car all-round and a great thrill to drive. I covered more than 400km. I hope that work will lead to other opportunities and that I will get a chance to drive it again..."
For your first attempt at the German round last year you had a close fight with Dani Sordo and ultimately scored a superb one -two for Citroën. The event's stages seem to suit you...
"The 2005 Rallye Deutschland was such a fantastic event for Citroën with one-two finishes both in the WRC and JWRC standings. It's an event I enjoy but it's quite unique and calls for lots of concentration because of the numerous junctions. There was also the famous day in the Baumholder army training camp where the frequent coating of gravel on the asphalt can pose a huge problem. Whether it's wet or dry, there's so much there to catch you out. I hope to do well this year. Following in Dani's footsteps would suit me perfectly."
The programme you selected at the start of the season means you still have four events to come. You are the only title contender who can still hope to score four times...
"To win the championship, I will need to finish in the big points each time out. I feel confident, and I am confident in my C2 and in the team. We will take each event as it comes and just do our best without putting ourselves under pressure. If we can do that, it should end up paying. It's often by focusing on your performance and not on the points that you come away with the best result."
Second season in the JWRC. Junior World Rally Champion in 2003.
You took part in the Rallye Deutschland in 2004...
"That's right. We didn't get off to a bad start, despite a poor tyre choice when we went for intermediates for the first loop of stages. We were second in Group N behind Gigi Galli after SS1, 'Ruwertal', but we then lost time with a problem with the turbo which had to be changed at service. The change didn't go well ho wever and the gearbox ended up jamming during the second loop anyway. I got a chance to see the stages during recce and I was surprised by the number of hairpins and junctions in the Mosel Valley region, as well as by the Baumholder tests which are unique. It's not often you see that much concrete, but personally it didn't bother me."
How have you prepared for this event?
"We did some testing on a stage with quite a lot of junctions in the vineyards and that enabled us to work on the brakes. I think we've found a nicely balanced set-up. The C2 is perfect and there is no area that gives me any cause for concern. On the car front, I think we are about as ready as we can be."
How do you see the event itself unfolding?
"My objective is to score as many points as possible, but above all I want to see all the Citroëns finish up front. Five of the current top-six in the JWRC chose to skip Germany and, if all goes well, we should be able to put that to good effect to get back in the fight for the title."
Julie n Pressac
Winner of the French 2005 Citroën C2 Rallye Challenge. First season in the JWRC.
Testing for Rallye Deutschland gave you a chance to drive the C2 Super 1600 on asphalt again...
"That's right. We had a good session in the vineyards and we also took in some concrete patches. I'm happy with the set-up and overall balance. There's not much I want to change. In any case, this is a domain in which I'm still a little on my guard; performance-wise, I think there's much more to come from the driver than the car. As a rookie, I tell myself it's better to correct my faults rather than try to simply patch over them by modifying the set- up of my C2. Braking is a good example..."
The Mosel Valley stages are quite tough on the brakes...
"Absolutely, and I have a rather special way of braking. I don't know whether it's because of my background as a racer but the data shows that I press very hard on the pedal. That's something I have got to work on. For me, that's the key to a good run in Germany, especially over the Baumholder stages where, from what I have heard, the big blocks of concrete leave little margin for error."
You generally don't set yourself a precise objective...
"Well for once I have. In the past three events, I have found myself in a position where a podium finish was beckoning. However, for a variety of reasons, that didn't pass the dream stage and I would dearly like to succeed in making it into the top-three in Germany. So, as the rookie I am, I will start at my own speed and see where I stand at the end of the first loop. If, as I hope, I am on the pace, I will do all I can to finish on the podium."