Three Xsaras in the sierras... Sixth round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Argentina offers to the competitors their first trip to the Southern hemisphere this season. Welcome in the country of Evita and Fangio, also the ...
Three Xsaras in the sierras...
Sixth round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Argentina offers to the competitors their first trip to the Southern hemisphere this season.
Welcome in the country of Evita and Fangio, also the fatherland of tango, proud gauchos and fantastic steaks.
Three Citroën Xsaras have travelled for a long journey to Córdoba. Two of them, in compliance with the 2006 specifications, will be entered under the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team banner, currently leading the `Manufacturers' championship. They will be driven by reigning World champions, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, the 2005 Rally Argentina winners, and by their Spanish team-mates Xevi Pons and Carlos Del Barrio.
The third Citroën Kronos Racing 2005 version's Xsara is rented since the start of the season by Dani Sordo thanks to the support of his Spanish partners. Marc Marti who won the event in 2004 next to Carlos Sainz co- drives as usual the Junior World Champion.
The 2006 edition of the rally includes big news. Córdoba `La Docta', Argentina's second city and Córdoba Province's capital, takes over from the balneal town of Villa Carlos Paz as host city. Rally HQ, service park, shakedown and super special stage all move around 30 kilometres to the East.
However, the `playground' remains similar. The rally route covers the same stages as for previous years, as most drivers appreciate its various terrains including a large number of jumps and water-splashes. The event will take the competitors through the Córdoba's Sierras, located West of the town and will pay a visit to the three different valleys of Punilla, Calamuchita and Traslasierra.
Taking place for the past two years during the Argentine winter, the event comes back to its 2003 date. Competitors will not experience snowy stages like last year in the area of Mina Clavero or `Camino de las Altas Cumbres, and fall promises much more clement temperatures and probably dry weather... It was the case three years ago but one thing needs to be remembered: in the stages, the drivers will have to face heavy dust suspended in the air when no wind blows.
Dry conditions might also mean `road sweeping' on Friday for the first drivers in the rankings, like Sébastien Loeb current leader of the Drivers' championship. Another similarity with the 2003 edition is that the first leg covers over 110 competitive kilometres. The first day's classification might depend on the thickness of gravel to be cleaned from the surface. In any case, Seb or Marcus Grönholm starting just behind will experience pretty similar conditions.
For the fourth year in a row, a thrilling battle might oppose Marcus to a Xsara driver. In 2003 and 2004, the Finn fought against Carlos Sainz. They both won one event. Last year, Seb took over from his experienced former team- mate and succeeded in winning over his main rival for this year's title...
"The fight can be a party" has written the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges. In the sumptuous decor of the sierras and in front of hundred thousands of enthusiastic and passionate spectators, the Kronos team hopes this can be the case...
Marc Van Dalen, team principal...
Your team has discovered Argentina last year. What do you remember from this
"What comes first to my mind is the popular, warm and joyful side of the event. It's a rally that all drivers and co-drivers appreciate particularly. We experienced a problem-free race last year especially for the water-splashes as we were well advised by Citroën Sport. We were delighted with our finish with Manfred Stohl and Xevi Pons being the two first privateers. The conditions were wintry. This year some things would have changed as the rally takes place almost three months earlier, in autumn in the Southern hemisphere. But it won't be completely unknown as the Citroën team had competed in the event in 2003."
You certainly have learned from the Mexican round...
"We have verified with a great pleasure that the Xsara still has the potential to fight in front. Seb could make up the time he had lost on Petter Solberg after he had to clean the road. Regarding Marcus Grönholm we still have the same question mark as before Corsica. In Mexico, like in Catalunya, Marcus was delayed just at the same time as Seb, having changed his set-up, increased the pace. Of course, I wish that this continues and that another rally-free mistake of the team allows the `Xsara/BFGoodrich/Loeb/Elena' package to fight for the win. I also expect a good performance from Xevi Pons who will benefit from last year's experience here behind the wheel of the Xsara WRC."
What is Dani Sordo's target in Argentina ? And what programme for him next?
"For Dani, we can also think of `parallels' between the pairs Catalunya/Corsica and Mexico/Argentina. In Corsica, he had to confirm his excellent Spanish result and he did it brilliantly. In Argentina, we hope to see him drive on a higher pace than Mexico but he has to keep in mind that his priority number one is to be at the finish to pile up the most experience he can. Regarding the rest of his programme, there are good news. His Spanish supports and partners have decided to help him competing on a WRC in Sardinia and Greece which will be the two remaining events before the season break. He participated in these two events last year in Super 1600. In Sardinia, he will be like every time so far our `Third man'...."
...to Sébastien Loeb...
In 2003, you have said that because of the variety of roads it was difficult to describe
THE Argentine special stage. What do you think after three participations?
"I already liked this country after we completed the recce in 2002. Now I really love the rally and its public, the warmest of the Championship I think. Globally, the terrain isn't aggressive. It's quite sandy with a uniform grip but can be rutted on the second passage in a stage. The speed tests are various, technical and specific. On the recce, it is difficult to note the jumps on which you don't take off flat but which launch the car in spectacular poses. It's also tricky to evaluate the water's level the day of the rally in the water-splashes which we will cross at high speed. On the driving side, I put Argentina in my top five rallies. The sensations are great and we take a lot a pleasure driving there."
Can you tell us how you prepared the event with Citroën Sport's test team?
"For this rally, we had at disposal a solid technical basis. Since 2003, the Xsara has always fought for a win on the Argentine ground. To this data, we have added the information gathered during the season's first gravel round in Mexico, especially regarding the mechanical differentials' working. We have worked like our rivals in Sardinia where you can find some stages with quite a lot of similarities to Argentina. The classical preparation work included the usual tyre tests with BFGoodrich's technicians. We also tried to fine-tune every single detail. This is important as the fight is very tight..."
By the way, how do you imagine the Argentine round?
"In Mexico, Petter [Solberg] took profit from his starting order and proved afterwards that he was still in the pace on gravel. Marcus [Grönholm] after a rather long road cleaning session was 4 seconds ahead of us. He also has always been very competitive in Argentina. So, the strategy is very simple: opening the road, we will have to drive flat out from the very first meter and clean the road on more than 110 kilometres. Marcus will start just behind me and Petter will only have four cars in front of him. I hope that Friday night the victory could still be possible. In the opposite case, we will see. With thee consecutive wins and a small cushion in the championship leaderboard, it gives us a bit of fresh air...."
... and to Xavier Pons
Did you know Argentina before competing there in 2004? What do you remember of
"2004 was my first time there. For us, the Rally Argentina is great. It's the Championship's Spanish gravel round...and the Argentine meat isn't bad, is it? Apart from that, I don't keep very good memories of the 2004 event. We were driving on a group N car Dani [Sordo] and I, and we both had a lot of problems. From the first day, we were stopped in the same water-splash of `Villa Giardino' where we lost around thirty or forty minutes. We retired at the same time on the next stage. The superally allowed us to compete in one stage on the second day `Amboy' before our transmission broke, but fortunately we could drive through all five Sunday speed tests."
You haven't driven a lot in Mexico. How did your gravel tests in Sardinia go? How is
your feeling with the Xsara WRC on that surface?
"I took part in a test with Citroën Sport in Sardinia just before the Catalunya rally. I think we have found a good set-up for the Argentine gravel. We also tried the BFGoodrich range. I really enjoyed that day. For a young driver, covering the biggest number of kilometres in test is a good way to prepare the future. To work with such a professional team is fantastic. It's a real opportunity to learn more about the car, how to do good technical choices and get the feeling with the different tyres. In a word, to progress..."
Last year, the Argentine round was your second rally at the wheel of the Xsara. You
finished second best privateer and tenth overall. What did you think of the rally route?
"Because it was only my second rally with the Xsara, I started with the intention to learn. And that's what I did. We didn't make any mistake and came tenth overall with 20 WRCs at the start. The rally route is rather technical with a big variety of stages. I like that. I think to be fast in this South-American event you need experience. I have a bit more this year and I will try to claim for a better result. I hope we can count on the Argentine fans..."