Loeb/Elena and Sordo/Marti targeting a Catalonian one-two The penultimate round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship could well turn out to be decisive in more ways than one, and Citroen Total World Rally Team will line up for the start...
Loeb/Elena and Sordo/Marti targeting a Catalonian one-two
The penultimate round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship could well turn out to be decisive in more ways than one, and Citroen Total World Rally Team will line up for the start of the 2009 RallyRACC Catalunya with just one objective in mind: a fourth one-two finish in Spain in four years. Indeed, victory for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena ahead of Dani Sordo/Marc Marti would be a positive outcome on two accounts. To begin with, it would put the Franco- Monegasque pair back in the hunt for the Drivers' title, while it would also clinch a fifth Manufacturers' crown for Citroen.
In addition to being a longstanding WRC classic, the RallyRACC Catalunya is the 2009 calendar's only out-and-out asphalt round, while Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo both have good reason to see it as something of a special event. For it is here that the two drivers made their world class debut; exactly 10 years ago in the case of Seb, and in 2003 for Dani, at a time when his future team-mate was challenging for his first world title. Meanwhile, the Citroen squad's veteran, the highly experienced Marc Marti, will this year be starting the rally for the 17th time since his debut back in 1992!
Since 2006, Seb, Dani and their respective co-drivers have fallen into the habit of monopolising the top two steps of the podium in Catalonia and their dearest wish as they prepare for the 2009 event is to prolong that series. Sebastien Loeb, for example, knows that winning the last two rounds of the season is key to him making up his five-point deficit in the Drivers' standings behind Mikko Hirvonen: "I've really little alternative than to end the season with a perfect scorecard. Here, more than anywhere else, we will be counting on Dani and Marc's rearguard action, because Mikko Hirvonen only needs to come second twice to clinch the title. I will do all I can to fulfil my side of the contract. After that, we shall see..."
Although he, too, dreams of winning his home event for the first time, Dani Sordo is perfectly aware of the stakes at play in Spain: "My target is to come second behind Seb. That would be perfect, since it would secure the Manufacturers' title for Citroen. It's a result we have achieved before, and we can do it again. I won't be able to afford to lower my guard, though. Mikko has made good progress on asphalt recently; and I am convinced he will be part of the fight. We did some very productive test work ahead of this event, and that enabled me to find my marks again on sealed surfaces. If you don't include Rally Ireland as a true asphalt round, it's been almost a year since we last competed on this sort of surface..."
Strictly speaking, Dani Sordo, who hails from the Asturias region, will not be on home ground, but that doesn't stop him from looking forward to the weekend: "The stages tend to be fast, wide and smooth, and it's always a pleasure to compete in front of my compatriots. The RACCRally Catalunya is popular across Spain and there's always a big turnout. That makes for a great atmosphere on the stages, especially at the El Molar hairpin, which is one of the not-to-miss spectator vantage points!"
Three questions to... Sebastien Loeb
You've had time to mull over the penalty you incurred after the finish of Rally Australia. What are your thoughts on the subject today?
"I had just one thing in mind at the start of Rally Australia, and that was to finish ahead of Mikko Hirvonen. It was the sort of terrain on which he is very strong, and I had to pull out all the stops to beat him. When I was told of the penalty after the finish, my immediate feeling was one of immense frustration. Our C4 WRC was legal, but an administrative error in the homologation papers deprived us of the victory we had just taken on the stages. I can't bear a grudge against my team because anyone can make a mistake, including me, too, this year. With hindsight, although the penalty was hard to swallow. I tell myself it would have been worse had I finished behind Mikko without being capable of matching his speed. It came at a bad time, but I've put it behind me now..."
Next up is the RallyRACC Catalunya, an event which has seen you go unbeaten for the past four years. What is your secret?
"You need a clean, circuit-style style. You have to brake up to the apexes and take nice, wide lines... Since this event's switch to Salou, we no longer see the phenomenon of the insides of the corners cutting up with each passing car. Most of the roads have been resurfaced by laying a fresh coating of asphalt on top of the original surface, and that has produced some big steps to the side which you need to avoid putting a wheel over. I enjoy these stages very much, as well as the on-the limit driving they call for. To prepare for this year's event, we came testing near Salou. The asphalt-spec C4 WRC has evolved slightly compared with last year and we have succeeded in ironing out the small problems we had in 2008."
With two rounds remaining, you are five points adrift of Mikko Hirvonen. Are you still confident in your chances of winning a sixth world crown?
"It's difficult to feel confident when you are dependent on the results of others. It's not a position I wanted to be in, but I can only accept it. That said, a Citroen one-two here in Spain seems to be a higher probability than in, say, Sweden. If Dani, or anybody else, manages to finish between Mikko and me, that will practically put us back level again. If that happens, we'll see how we approach Rally GB. For the moment, my priority is to win in Spain."