A new experience for the Citroen Junior Team After a year's absence, the Rallye de France returns to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. Now based in Alsace, this new rally will allow the Citroen Junior Team to perform in front of its...
A new experience for the Citroen Junior Team
After a year's absence, the Rallye de France returns to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. Now based in Alsace, this new rally will allow the Citroen Junior Team to perform in front of its local crowd on home territory. Two Citroen C4 WRCs will be entered for Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and Kimi Raikkonen/Kaj Lindstrom.
Following 35 World Championship events in Corsica, the Rallye de France now heads for Alsace. Based in Strasbourg, this all-new rally covers the whole region, visiting Mulhouse and Colmar (day one), Obernai (day two) and Haguenau (day three).
Although the event takes place in France, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia only have limited knowledge of the route. "I've not been back here since taking part in the Alsace-Vosges Rally three years ago," pointed out Sebastien. "At the time it was just my second season in rallying, and I eventually finished second in my class after having to work my way back up through the order at the end of the event. All that feels like an age ago now!"
Having won in Portugal and Japan so far this year, Sebastien intends to use the Rallye de France to demonstrate his capabilities on asphalt. "With a new rally like this we start on an equal footing with everyone else in terms of experience," he said. "That was the case in Bulgaria earlier this year as well, where we managed to set some good stage times. We need to make sure that we do a good job during the recce so that we are right on the pace from the very first run through the stages. I've got every confidence that the team will soon find the right set-up for the Citroen C4 WRC in these conditions. The goal for us is to be as close as possible to the very best..."
Kimi Raikkonen is becoming more and more competitive with every stage that he drives in the Citroen C4 WRC, and he was able to take the wheel of the car again recently at the Rallye Vosgien. The 2007 Formula One World Champion claimed his first rally victory on this former round of the French Rally Championship.
"We came to the rally to accumulate more kilometres of experience on asphalt," explained Kimi. "It was more useful than a straightforward test, as it allowed us to try out quite a variety of special stages. The level in the World Rally Championship now is so high that you cannot afford to lose a single second. So you have to be completely ready from the very start. From what I have heard, the roads we have driven on during that practice event will be very similar to what we will find on the Rallye de France itself. It's very positive to be able to prepare for a rally in this way."
The Finn usually feels comfortable on asphalt, having set his first fastest stage time on the World Championship at the Rallye Deutschland. He will also have the advantage of competing on a rally that is brand new to everyone.
"This was the case in Turkey and in Bulgaria, both of which went well for us," he added. "When we have the same amount of experience as the other crews, it's definitely easier for us to be on the pace. Once again, this is proof that the key to it all is to stay patient and build up as much experience as possible."
Three questions to... Sebastien Ogier
Over the course of the last three rallies you have scored more points than any of your rivals. Do you think that somehow you have turned a corner?
"Compared to our direct rivals we are younger and we have less experience, but with every rally we're beginning to build up more of what is necessary to succeed in the WRC. The Citroen C4 WRC is a benchmark in its field and we are very well integrated into the team. All these parameters help us to make progress and get some good results. Currently, we're on a very good upward curve."
For the first time, you'll be driving a Citroen C4 WRC in France. Do you think you will get some special support?
"It's going to be a real pleasure driving at home in France. We're going to be able to rely on the loyal support of our fans, even though I imagine that all of Alsace will be behind Sebastien Loeb! It feels a little bit like going back to my roots as I drove in Alsace before in 1997, which was only my second season of rallying. But I'm not putting any extra pressure on myself. It's a new rally and it will be important to prepare for it well on the recce. It's going to be vital to have the right pace notes. And that's an area in which myself and Julien Ingrassia are quite strong."
Even though you're known by some people as a gravel specialist, your initial performances on asphalt with the Citroen C4 WRC have been remarkable. What are your objectives in France?
"We got off to a very good start in Bulgaria by fighting with Dani Sordo and Petter Solberg. In Germany it was more difficult, as we were dealing with roads that we did not know as well as our rivals did. In France this year, where nobody has any more experience than anybody else, we will hopefully be able to play our trump card. Our goal is reduce the gap that we have compared to the best drivers on asphalt."