CitroÃ«n bang on target! Thanks to a scintillating first day run which saw them post three fastest stage times from a possible four, SÃ©bastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Xsara WRC this evening lead the Monte Carlo Rally, an event they have ...
Citroën bang on target!
Thanks to a scintillating first day run which saw them post three fastest stage times from a possible four, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Xsara WRC this evening lead the Monte Carlo Rally, an event they have dominated three times and won twice in the past three years. Although the respective form of the runners and riders traditionally represents something of an unknown prior to the season's curtain raiser, the 2004 World Champions' assertive display in the southern French Alps today has not, strictly speaking, been a surprise. "Everything went well," confirmed Seb with his usual calm. "The only tiny incident was in SS3 when the engine stalled after a spin on snow thrown onto the road by spectators. On the day's final stage, I concentrated on managing my tyres, notably in the hairpins. Thanks to that, I was able to benefit from super tyres all the way to the flag which allowed me to finish the stage strongly…"
The current 2nd place of François Duval and Stéphane Prévot, who are making their debut with Citroën this weekend, is not really a revelation. A score of four second-fastest stage times form four for François has confirmed not only the swiftness with which he has adapted to his new car, but also his speed and consistency, a list of qualities that hasn't surprised Guy Fréquelin: "Given Seb's pace and what that says about the Xsara's potential, the position of François does not surprise me. He has a lot of talent and that has enabled him to exploit the car's potential straight away…" Just as relaxed as his team-mate, the young Belgian is equally pleased with his day: "I couldn't really wish for better than 2nd this evening. I wasn't necessarily expecting to figure so well so soon in this rally. We didn't know how fast our rivals were going to be and I also stalled after spinning at the very same place as Seb… for the same reason. My brakes went off slightly too in SS3, but that was quickly resolved and I was able to tackle SS4 without any problems…"
Even in its current compact format, the Monte Carlo Rally is always an event apart. Its countless hazards and delicate tyre choices arguably make it the most demanding round of the year for teams, all the elements of which have to function in perfect harmony. And in this domain too, Citroën has been in strong form today. Well informed by the team and by Michelin, Sébastien and François both went for the same tyres for each loop, namely a soft compound for SS1 and 2, a harder choice for SS3 and slightly softer rubber for SS4. Their choices proved correct each time, allowing the two Xsaras to emerge from SS1 in first and second places and then to hold position throughout the day.
Despite being particularly pleased with his team's impeccable run, Guy Fréquelin has lost none of his legendary caution which, on an event like the Monte Carlo Rally, borders on suspicion: "Today's leg was the shortest of the rally in terms of stage distance. That means there is still a long way to go and so much can happen between now and the finish. This evening we have some very good cards in our hand. We will endeavour to play them as best we can…"