The Citroen Junior Team gets back to asphalt The three Citroen Junior Team C4 WRCs of Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia, Conrad Rautenbach / Daniel Barritt and Evgeny Novikov / Stephane Prevot are back on asphalt for the Catalunya Rally, round...
The Citroen Junior Team gets back to asphalt
The three Citroen Junior Team C4 WRCs of Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia, Conrad Rautenbach / Daniel Barritt and Evgeny Novikov / Stephane Prevot are back on asphalt for the Catalunya Rally, round 11 of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, which takes place from October 1-4. On this surface, the three crews will concentrate on gaining valuable experience.
A full eight months after the WRC got underway on the sodden asphalt of Ireland, the Citroen Junior Team returns to sealed surfaces in Spain. In weather that will hopefully be somewhat more clement, the crews will have to face a new set of conditions. While Citroen boasts an impressive record of four consecutive Catalunya victories, the Junior Team will be out primarily to gain experience.
Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia and Conrad Rautenbach / Daniel Barritt will be the crews nominated to score manufacturer points. Evgeny Novikov, who is now co-driven by Belgium's Stephane Prevot, is at the wheel of a third Citroen C4 WRC.
Having first got to know the event with a C2 Super 1600, Sebastien Ogier will re-acquaint himself with the Catalan stages in a C4 WRC. The Equipe de France FFSA-backed driver put in an excellent performance on the rainy asphalt of Ireland, which bodes well for the future. "We learnt a huge amount in Ireland, which was only our second rally at the wheel of a WRC car," he said. "Since then, we've managed to gain more experience on all sorts of different surfaces. In order to prepare for this event, we've just completed a useful test session on asphalt. I've been listening carefully to all the advice that the team has given me. Myself and my co-driver Julien really hope to be competitive. The Catalunya Rally is a very important event, but we will approach it with humility. French drivers are often well-known for being strong on asphalt. Nonetheless, I feel more comfortable on gravel these days!"
Conrad Rautenbach will be starting his sixth Catalunya Rally and the second one at the wheel of the Citroen C4 WRC. The Zimbabwean cannot wait to get going on these specialised stages. "After having spent almost the entire season on gravel, we now get back to asphalt. Luckily, we had a good test session that ensured we've got back up to speed on this surface. I hope we can put in a good performance and I hope that like last year we can fight to get into the points."
Evgeny Novikov was absent in Australia but returns to the World Rally Championship in Spain with a new co-driver: Stephane Prevot. The Belgian already formed part of the Citroen Junior Team at the start of the season alongside Chris Atkinson on the Rally Ireland. He will bring plenty of experience to the up-and- coming young Russian driver: "We already did an asphalt rally together to get up to speed," said Novikov. "Everything went very well, and this first asphalt event on the WRC is bound to be a very educational experience. I'm not really sure what we can realistically expect in terms of performance but my objective will be to reach the finish, with the maximum number of kilometres under my belt.
Three questions to...Benoit Nogier, Citroen Junior Team manager
The FIA World Rally Championship now returns to asphalt. Does the Citroen Junior Team prepare differently for an event on this surface?
"Given that the Rally Ireland, held in winter, has a very specific character, the Catalunya Rally is our first real asphalt event of the season. It will also be the first rally on this type of asphalt for Sebastien Ogier and Evgeny Novikov at the wheel of a WRC car. We can count on the expertise of Citroen Racing when it comes to defining the set-up of the C4 WRC, so we should be well-prepared for this event. A test programme from Tuesday to this Friday has allowed Sebastien Ogier and Conrad Rautenbach to work with the team in anticipation of this rally. Technically, the car preparation process is no more complex than it is for any gravel rally."
Two of the drivers are going to be completely new to driving a WRC challenger on the Catalan stages...is the priority to give them the maximum possible experience in these conditions?
"Last year, when the C4 WRCs were run by Citroen Sport Technologies, Urmo Aava and Conrad Rautenbach showed themselves to be extremely competitive in Spain. This year our ambitions are firmly grounded, as we have the objective simply of seeing all our cars at the finish so that the drivers can reap the benefit of every kilometre that is run. They are more or less getting to grips with this event, compared to the old hands who are entirely comfortable with the territory. It will perhaps be a little more difficult compared to the previous rallies. But we would like to highlight once more the potential of our team."
After Spain, the final round of the season will see no fewer than five C4 WRCs running under the Citroen Junior Team banner in Great Britain. How will the team line up in Cardiff?
"Alongside our three regular drivers, the Citroen Junior Team will also include Petter Solberg and Aaron Burkart. Aaron has claimed one World Rally Championship drive in a Citroen C4 WRC by finishing second on last year's Junior WRC as part of the Citroen Junior Experience. It's a fine reward for him and a good opportunity for him to show off his talents behind the wheel of the reigning World Champion car. As for Petter Solberg, he wished to maximise his possibilities by being nominated to score manufacturer points on the final round of the year, alongside Sebastien Ogier. It would have been a pity not to take advantage of the presence of a former World Champion; particularly one that has won the Rally Great Britain on four occasions. So it's entirely natural that we should nominate him. He also fits in perfectly with the philosophy of the Citroen Junior Team, being a young driver who is after a factory seat!"