JWRC: Citroen Tour de Corse preview

Four Citroën C2s to build on the result in Spain... Four Citroën C2 Super 1600s will line up for the start of the Tour de Corse. The Czech Republic's Martin Prokop/Jan Tománek, who topped the JWRC standings in Catalunya, will not be in...

Four Citroën C2s to build on the result in Spain...

Four Citroën C2 Super 1600s will line up for the start of the Tour de Corse. The Czech Republic's Martin Prokop/Jan Tománek, who topped the JWRC standings in Catalunya, will not be in Corsica since they did not nominate the French round as part of their programme.

However, P.H. Sport will run the three C2 Super 1600s entered for Kris Meeke/Glenn Patterson, Brice Tirabassi/Jacques-Julien Renucci and Julien Pressac/Gilles de Turckheim, while Aaron Burkart's car will be looked after by Prinz Rallye Technik (PRT). All four crews share a single objective: to build on the C2's obvious potential to glean as many championship points as possible.

The C2 Super 1600 emerged from its maiden JWRC outing the 2005 Monte Carlo Rally with a win to its name in the hands of Kris Meeke. After that, it went on to show its potential on the loose with two victories from the three gravel rounds of last year's championship. It rounded off the season by being the fastest car by far on the 'clear' asphalt of first Corsica (11 JWRC 'fastest times' from 12) and then Catalunya (12 from 15). Then, less than a fortnight ago, it went one better by claiming every one of the sixteen 'fastest times' up for grabs during the RallyRACC Catalunya(Kris Meeke 14, Martin Prokop 2).

Hopes are consequently quite high in the Citroën camp for the forthcoming visit to Corsica. "We were really pleased to see young Martin Prokop win in Catalunya driving Kris Meeke's car from 2005," says Citroën Sport's Customer Competition Manager Yves Matton. "We are effectively very attentive to the performance of our former cars. To ensure their drivers are able to maintain the potential of their machines, we follow them closely and we are forever seeking to improve the Customer Competition `boutique' that runs out of Citroën Sport's premises."

"Even so, we are still a little frustrated by the result in Catalunya," continues Yves. "We were fastest on every stage and three of our cars figured on the podium at one moment or another. For a variety of reasons however, only two made it into the final top-3, and our points haul wasn't as big as we had hoped. It wasn't up to what the format of the 2006 championship demands. We have looked carefully at what didn't function and we go to Ajaccio with every intention of doing better..."

There is also a desire for revenge amongst the Citroën crews. Kris Meeke will be looking to score his first JWRC win on 'clear' asphalt, something his performance in Germany last year hinted at. Brice Tirabassi knows he missed out in Spain. But with his health problems now behind him, the Frenchman is determined to show the sort of form that took him to the JWRC title in 2003. After his excellent debut in Spain, Julien Pressac will be out to confirm the excellent first impression he made, while Aaron Burkart's preoccupations are clearly of a very different nature. Following the tragic circumstances he suffered in Catalunya, the young German has met with a great deal of support and has been encouraged to compete in the Tour of Corsica with a view to bravely building himself back up mentally on the Mediterranean island...

What the drivers say...

Kris Meeke
Fourth season in the JWRC. Finished 3 in the 2005 championship.

It's probably not what you will want to remember most about Catalunya, but can you talk us through what happened to you on SS4?
"I certainly won't remember the 2006 Rally Catalunya for the number of points I scored, but I was very pleased with the performance of the Citroën C2 Super 1600. It's such a shame our good run was spoiled by our incident in the 'El Montmell' stage. Even after watching the video footage, I still can't really explain what happened. It all went so quickly. The spot was very narrow and, above all, visibility wasn't good. At the end of a braking zone for a right-hand corner, with lots of spectators about, I suddenly came across Jari-Matti Latvala's car stranded in a very bad place. That forced me off my ideal line and I slid on some gravel. I clouted the rear of his car with the left side of mine, and the rest is history. I ended the stage on three wheels, tookh roadrdpenalties and finished the rally with the bit between my teeth as I fought my way back up from 9t to 3 place."

It was effectively a very impressive drive. The C2 Super 1600 seems to be even faster on asphalt now than it was last year. Why do you think that is?
"This year's car is more competitive than last year's, that's for sure. There's nothing revolutionary technic ally, just a lot of little things that add up to make a real difference. The engineers in charge of its development at Citroën Sport have done a fantastic job and my car today is really ideal to drive. I want to say a big thank you to Alexis Avril and his team for all they did over the winter. They have succeeded in perfectly matching the suspension to our new BFGoodrich tyres and my fourteen 'fastest times' in Catalunya speak volumes for the quality of their work."

Your speed in Spain makes you the man to beat in Corsica. How will you handle that?
"We pushed very hard to fight our way back up the leaderboard and proved that we were able to drive quickly without making any mistakes. In Corsica, we will drive at a good pace from the start, with no pressure, and then we will see where we stand compared with our rivals. The aim is to come away with ten points. Given the competitiveness of our C2 Super 1600 in Catalunya, I feel optimistic for Corsica."

Brice Tirabassi
Second season in the JWRC. Junior World Rally Champion in 2003.

You were poorly in Catalunya. How do you feel now?
"When I got home, I went for a blood test which showed that I had suffered from food poisoning. My doctor says that would explain why I felt so off during the rally. I really wasn't my usual self. I felt nauseous and drained of all my strength. On top of that, the big jolts we took as the car climbed out of the 'cuts' revived old pains in my cervical vertebrae which result from an accident dur ing recce for the 2000 Monte Carlo Rally."

It was an event to forget then...
"An absolute nightmare you mean! When you've got a car with such huge potential as the C2 Super 1600, a car that is capable of setting all the fastest times, and you know very well that you're not exploiting all that potential to the full, there's nothing worse for a driver. You know you're not pushing as hard as you should and that you're braking too early, but there's nothing you can do about it. It really hits home when you see your times on the board at the Stop Control! It was a big blow to my morale. I was on a totally downward spiral..."

You've done the Tour of Corsica twice. Is it an event you like?
"I've done it twice but I've never finished it. My first visit was in 1999 and I found the stages fairly similar to those of my home region, the Var, in the south of France. In 2001, I was part of the 'Equipe de France' operation and drove a P.H. Sport Saxo Kit Car. That's about it as far as my previous experience of the event goes. All I can say, like so many drivers have said before me, is that the roads of Corsica seem to have been made for rallying. What rally driver could fail to like them? The uncertainty of the weather provides a little bit of added spice. In a word, it's a classic event but it takes a great deal of effort to make it to the very top. After Catalunya, I will be out to show what I can do at the wheel of the best Super 1600 car in the series. For me, that's the main objective..."

Julien Pressac
Winner of the French 2005 C2 Rallye Challenge. First season in the JWRC.

Catalunya was your World Championship debut. How was it?
"If I had reached the finish, I would have said it was a magical weekend. So I will say it was nearly a magical weekend. My co-driver Gilles and I found ourselves in a universe of cars and top names that we were more accustomed to seeing on TV. We were like kids. But the rally was also a chance to discover the magnificent Catalan stages. I found certain portions more akin to circuit racing, while the dirtier parts reminded me of my experience on gravel. We also saw what it is like to compete in an environment where the slightest detail is taken care of so that you can concentrate on giving your very best. I had expected a great deal from Sunday's stages which were faster and cleaner and I think we could have defended our place on podium after moving into the top-three after Vilaplana 2 [ES11]."

Nobody was expecting a newcomer to be so competitive. You yourselves didn't really know what to expect either before the start...
"That's only normal. We knew neither the rally nor our rivals. It was a big boost to our confidence when we set two 'third fastest' times after driving, let's say, reasonably. That told us that our pacenote system functioned and that we had worked well during recce. On the subject of my pacenote system, I would like to thank Sébastien Loeb. When I switched to rallying in 2003 after racing in F3, I was incapable of dictating decent notes. So I plucked up courage and called Seb for advice. Despite not knowing who I was, he kindly accepted to describe how his system worked and I based myself on that to develop my own..."

You told us before Spain that you analyze each of your events to see what needs improving. What came out of that process after Catalunya and what is your objective in Corsica?
"On the plus side, and thanks to the C2 Super 1600's fantastic chassis and engine, I saw that by pushing a little harder we were practically able to match the speed of the front-runners or at least on a par with those drivers hovering around the top three on asphalt! For gravel, we will see when we get to Sardinia. The things that need improving include my braking. There were places where I found it difficult to brake as late as I should have done. I also saw that if I took care to stay in the narrow lines cleared by the preceding cars through the dirty portions, it was possible to go much quicker than I did. They are the sort of things that may help me in Corsica. As for my objective, I am not accustomed to targeting such or such a position. I simply want to have nothing to reproach myself with at the finish. When I succeed in doing that, the result generally isn't too bad..."


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb , Kris Meeke , Jari-Matti Latvala , Brice Tirabassi , Jan Tomanek , Martin Prokop , Aaron Burkart , Yves Matton
Teams Citroën World Rally Team