Citroen looking to return to its winning ways in Germany The 2007 WRC calendar's recent sequence of six consecutive gravel rounds has come to an end as the championship's regulars move on the Rallye Deutschland, the second asphalt fixture of the...
Citroen looking to return to its winning ways in Germany
The 2007 WRC calendar's recent sequence of six consecutive gravel rounds has come to an end as the championship's regulars move on the Rallye Deutschland, the second asphalt fixture of the season for which Citroen Sport has entered Citroen C4 WRCs for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti.
Like January's Monte Carlo Rally, the German round is regarded as a sealed surface event but, as Guy Frequelin explains, it's not quite as simple as that: "Depending on the weather, it can be something of a lottery as far as tyre calls go. The conditions can vary so much on a single stage that choices can sometimes be even more difficult to make than on the Monte." The main feature of the Rally Deutschland is its cocktail of three distinct stage types which range from the labyrinth of narrow lanes and countless hairpins of the Mosel Valley vineyards, the soiled concrete, hinkelstein-lined tank tracks of the Baumholder military ranges and, finally, the fast and slippery Saarland stages, which this year's rally actually barely visits. In short, there is a little of something to suit all tastes.
"All these different surface types and the notoriously changeable weather make this a complex but interesting rally," says Citroen Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan- Pinon. "To ensure our crews are as competitive as possible on all the different types of road, we work closely with them to establish a range of compromise set-ups that function across a broad spectrum of conditions. This will be the Citroen C4's first asphalt outing in warm temperatures. True, the weather was clear during the Monte Carlo Rally, but the asphalt was still cold and that is unlikely to be the case in Germany. We will also perhaps get to see how our car performs in anger on wet roads that offer little grip."
Given the complex nature of the German round, it comes as no surprise to learn that Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti are somewhat on their guards. "People see us as the favourites, the team to beat," exclaims Seb. "But it won't be easy. In fact none of my wins in Germany have been. I have had some big fights there over the years and I can't see our rivals making life easy for us this time round. For me, this event is always a special occasion because it takes place near my home region, Alsace, and I always have lots of supporters. I intend to give it my very best shot for them, as well as to try to notch up another win to put us back in the chase."
"I enjoy competing on asphalt, but it's difficult to consider the Rallye Deutschland as a typical sealed surface event," observes Dani. "It sometimes seems more like a gravel rally... with a bit of asphalt. It's so easy to be caught out by a hazard or by a storm. We will try to make the most of the C4's potential to score a top result, but that's no foregone conclusion." Although the cautionary words of the crews, who came first and second here last year, may come as a surprise, Guy Frequelin's don't: "It's difficult not be wary going into a event where there is so much at stake. OK, I believe we are capable of scoring the sort of result that would put us back in the running in both title chases. I am also convinced that our crews and the Citroen C4 WRC have the necessary credentials, and I have no doubts about the motivation and will to win of everyone at Citroen Sport. Even so, I refuse to get carried away; I know only too well that it only takes a tiny detail to throw everything wide open. We have prepared as well as we can for this event; it's now up to us to ensure we don't waste the opportunity."
<em>Rally Finland wasn't an easy event for Citroen Sport. Is it a rally you'd rather forget? What lessons did you learn from it?</em>
"We were confident before the start, but it turned out to be more complex than we imagined and the end result wasn't what we wanted. The gaps have even widened. We now need to understand what didn't function and learn from that to make sure we don't make the same mistakes again. We found solutions on Saturday evening and we have several avenues to explore in order to move forward. We saw during the weekend how it can be more difficult in Finland than anywhere else to put into practice what you learn during testing when repeat runs over the same stretch of road can cancel out the sensation of 'discovering' the stages one at a time you tend to get on the rally. In testing, we felt the C4 was very quick through the long, fast corners but that turned out not to be the case and the local knowledge factor played in favour of the Scandinavians. Give the speeds the drivers get up to, you lose time the instant you hesitate or try to correct your line..."
<em>The Xsara went unbeaten in Germany from 2001 to 2006. Do you believe the Citroen C4 can pick up from where its predecessor left off?</em>
"I hope so! This event needs to be a springboard that permits us to get back into the fight for both championships. Pre-event testing brought us some interesting data which we hope to put to good effect on the event."
<em>How do you explain Citroen and Sebastien Loeb's domination of this event? How much is that a confidence booster for you this time round?</em>
"I think that there are several factors. To begin with, we have succeeded in carrying over the experience we gained in the French Championship to develop our cars and in our approach to world level competition. On top of that, our drivers feel comfortable on asphalt, which isn't the case for all their rivals. Sebastien always has a good feeling for these stages, but that isn't enough to make me feel 100 per cent confident! The specific features of the Rallye Deutschland make it a challenging rally. Add to that the importance of the stakes in championship terms and it's easy to understand why the entire team and I feel more worried than usual."
<em>What is your analysis of the way Rally Finland went? It doubtlessly didn't go they way you were hoping?</em>
"To come third after finishing second in 2005 and 2006 wasn't the sort of result we wanted and we ended up dropping four points in the Drivers' championship. We did all we could to take the fight to our rivals, but that wasn't enough. There are three more fast gravel events to come, but our opponents won't have the benefit of local knowledge on those. We will need to match their level of performance again if we want to challenge for victory. I am not unduly worried, but I know we've got a great deal of work on our plates."
<em>You have won the Rallye Deutschland five times in a row and you are the favourite to win again this year...</em>
"...and I hope nobody beats me! To remain in the title chase, we will need to start scoring more points than Marcus Gronholm soon. If we don't, it's going to be very difficult to defend our crown. I hope we are able to fight for victory again, but it won't be easy. What with the weather, the frequently difficult tyre choices and the rest, it's not a simple event. I don't think you can say that Germany is to me what Finland is to Marcus. We both have similar knowledge of the German stages, which is something you can't say for Jyvaskyla. Marcus has even contested the Rallye Deutschland one more time than me because he was here in 2001!"
<em>What is the secret behind your domination of this event?</em>
"I don't know if there is a secret! And even I had one, I wouldn't give it away! Seriously, though, we have often been quicker than our rivals in Germany and I think that's just because I feel comfortable on the stages. I'm not all that enamoured with the event when the conditions are difficult and hazards abound. I mean, who likes driving in rain on dry weather tyres? But perhaps my advantage is that I seem to cope well with that sort of situation..."
<em>What were the positive points of Rally Finland for you?</em>
"I still need to improve, but I feel I am getting more and more accustomed to the event's specific terrain. I lacked consistency and I didn't want to take too many risks on the new stages. We worked well with Citroen Sport's technicians to find a set-up that enabled me to feel confident with the C4. I was sufficiently quick to figure in the top-five before retiring and that's quite a satisfactory result for me on what was only my second attempt at the event in a WRC car."
<em>Last year was also your very first visit to Germany with a WRC car. What do you remember of the 2006 event?</em>
"How can I forget it? It was the first time I was nominated as eligible to score Manufacturers' points. That was fantastic. On top of that, the weekend went well: we ended up finishing second and I had great fun driving the Xsara."
<em>What is your objective for the 2007 Rallye Deutschland? Do you feel under more pressure than usual?</em>
"We're under pressure all season long; it's something you have to come to terms with. Perhaps I'm a little more anxious than last year because many people will have high expectations of me and I'm known as an a sphalt driver. I will need to show that Guy Frequelin was right to have confidence in me and, for that, I will need have a good run and try to finish ahead of our rivals. I don't want to get carried away, though, because that's by no means a foregone conclusion."
The 2007 ADAC Rallye Deutschland in brief
* Although the event was first organised in 1982, it has only been a qualifying round of the World Rally Championship since 2002. This is consequently the sixth running of the ADAC Rallye Deutschland. The event also counts towards the German national championship, of which it is the fourth (Friday) and fifth (Saturday) rounds.
* This year, all the event's facilities (HQ, media room, parc ferme, etc.) are based in Trier. The service park is located by the Mosel River in the Trier Messepark to the south of the city. Trier itself is only kilometres from the French and Luxemburg borders and is one of Germany's oldest cities. Its monuments include the Porta Nigra which was built by the Romans in the fourth century B.C.
* The total length of the 2007 route is 1,227.04km, including 356.27km divided into 19 stages (10 different ).
* Germany is in the CET time zone. The local currency is the Euro.
* Recce is scheduled for Tu esday August 14 (between 09.00 and 15.30 stages 7/11, 8/12, 9/13 and 10/14). Recce of the super-special (SS17) takes place on the Tuesday evening, between 20.30 and 20.50. The second day of recce is Wednesday August 15 (between 08.00 and 16.15 stages 1/4, 2/5, 3/6, 15/18 and 16/19). Two runs are authorised at specific times at a maximum speed of 90kph.
* Shakedown takes place on Thursday August 16 (from 08.00 until noon) and uses a 5.32km test stage near the village of Mesenich, 12.02km east of the service park in Trier.
* The start ceremony will be held on Thursday August 16 in front of the Porta Nigra de Trier (from 20.00).
* One 'safety crew' per crew is authorised. Their role is to cover each stage before the competitors.
* Engines: Sebastien Loeb's engine is the one he used in Finland and was sealed after the finish in Jyvaskyla. Dani Sordo will have a new engine for the Rallye Deutschland. The chassis used in Germany are not paired with another event.
* There are two gearboxes available for this event and for Catalonia.
* Tyres: the quota per driver is 60 tyres, of which 43 may be used (event and shakedown). The list of nominated tyres and patterns (two) are registered with the FIA on Monday August 13.
* Finish ceremony: from 15.00 in front of the Porta Nigra, Trier.
* Note: The main difference is the introduction of a remote service zone in Konken, south-east of Trier.
* Since the Rallye Deutschland's addition to the WRC calendar, Citroen, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have been unbeaten on this event. In addition to their straight wins from 2002 through to 2006, Philippe Bugalski/Jean-Paul Chiaroni won the pre-WRC rally in 2001with their Citroen Xsara WRC.
* Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won all five of their participations with the Citroen Xsara in consecutive years. It is on this event that they claimed their first world class win.