Rally Ireland: Event newsletter 2009-01-26

Citroen prepare for title defence After the short, seven-week winter break, World Rally Championship action resumes in Ireland at the end of January. Following its exceptional 2008 campaign, which harvested 11 wins from 15 rounds, plus both...

Citroen prepare for title defence

After the short, seven-week winter break, World Rally Championship action resumes in Ireland at the end of January. Following its exceptional 2008 campaign, which harvested 11 wins from 15 rounds, plus both world crowns, Citroen will be back to defend its two titles in 2009. As in previous years, the C4 WRCs officially representing the colours of the Citroen Total World Rally Team will be in the hands of five-time World Champions Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and their team-mates Dani Sordo/Marc Marti.

The Rally Ireland, which first counted towards the WRC in 2007, not only returns to the calendar this year but also has the privilege of kicking off the 2009 championship. The route extends from the mountains of Sligo to the lakes of Fermanagh, with stages in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The region's fast yet narrow are famed for being very bumpy, but the terrain clearly suits the Citroen C4 WRC, since Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo came first and second on the 2007 event.

Even so, the Citroen Total WRT goes into this year's encounter in the knowledge that nothing can be taken for granted. Didier Clement, the Operations Manager in charge of the C4 WRCs on events, underlines the two key features of this season's curtain-raiser: "First of all, we will need to keep a close eye on the weather which promises to be variable and wet! And with temperatures potentially close to freezing point, ice and snow cannot be ruled out either. The main new parameter concerns the Pirelli tyres we will have for this unique situation, since crews will be able to choose between two products, the soft compound PZero patterned tyre and the non-studded Sotto Zero snow tyre. A test session in Ireland enabled us to fine-tune the C4 WRC's set-up and also evaluate the performance of both types of tyre in the different conditions we are likely to encounter. We have prepared well, but nothing can ever replace actually competing to find out where you really stand."

Although the cars don't feature any major technical evolutions, a new system has been introduced with a view to enhancing crew safety. "The doors are now filled with high density foam aimed at absorbing impact energy in an accident. As a result, it is not possible to open the side windows which are now made from polycarbonate. This step forward was possible thanks to close collaboration between the FIA and the manufacturers," explains Didier Clement.

Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, who won the Rally Ireland in 2007, are glad to be contesting the event once again. "The first time we came here, the conditions were rather delicate, but everything went well for us and the result proved decisive in our bid to win a fourth world title," recalls Seb. "This year's championship kicks off with four rounds that weren't on last year's calendar, but they are not new territory because we did them all in 2007. And our objective hasn't changed either: after notching up five consecutive world titles, we are obviously aiming for a sixth crown! It's going to be an interesting season and I expect it to be very close. Mikko Hirvonen is improving all the time, while Jari- Matti Latvala has really come on, too. There are the other C4 WRC drivers as well, of course, starting with my own team-mate, Dani, and also Chris Atkinson."

The Frenchman, who has scored 47 world class wins in the course of his career, expects the conditions to be particularly tricky in Ireland: "The event has everything it takes to be a tough rally. Pre-event testing has enabled us to optimise the stability of our C4 WRC. Dani feels the same way, but it's only on the stages that we will really be able to see how effective our work has been."

Despite the brevity of the winter break, Dani Sordo is eager to get back behind the wheel competitively: "As in previous years, the season begins on asphalt and that's a good thing. I like the Irish stages, but the weather promises to make this year's event difficult. OK, we will be able to choose between two types of tyre, but the Sotto Zero will only come into its own if it really snows. I have prepared hard for this rally, with a daily fitness training programme, plus some very fruitful testing."

After securing the bronze medal in the 2008 World Championship, the Spaniard has his sights set high for this season: "To begin with, I will be out to score as many Manufacturers' points as possible for Citroen. I finished third in last year's Drivers' standings and I would like to do at least as well this time round. And why not one step higher? I would also like to score my first WRC win this year."

Driver autograph session

Henderson Motorpark, Bundoran Road, Sligo will host an impressive evening to welcome the World Rally Championship to Sligo.

On Tuesday 27th January, a Ford WRC driver and his co-driver will arrive to the Henderson Motorpark Ford showrooms in their WRC car. They will be available for autographs and photos and invite the public and all rally enthusiasts to come along with their cameras at the ready!

The drivers are expected to arrive at approx 5.30pm on Tuesday evening to a fantastic welcome from the West! Paul O'Sullivan, Regional representative of Ford Ireland says "We are delighted to welcome the Ford drivers to the Henderson Motorpark Showrooms and to introduce them to the Sligo public. We hope for an massive turnout and for all rally enthusiasts to support the Ford team on Tuesday night."

An impressive display of Ford sports cars will be on display at the dealership from Tuesday 27th -- Sunday 1st February.

Solberg disappointed to miss out on Rally Ireland

With Subaru's unexpected exit from the Championship at the end of last year, Solberg has been left without a drive for the first round of the World Rally Championship in 2009, which takes place in the North West of Ireland.

The 2003 Champion must now look to secure a car to race in Norway but is disappointed not to be making an appearance at the season opener. "I am very disappointed not be to competing in Rally Ireland. I did not choose this situation but I know I have a lot of fans in Ireland and it means I will not get a chance to meet them or race for them."

Solberg has fond memories of Rally Ireland 2007. "It was a very good rally and there was a great atmosphere in Ireland for it, especially as it was the first time. Unfortunately the weather was not the best but the fans were great and the organisation of the event was excellent."

Solberg's former Subaru teammate Chris Atkinson has found a home with Citroen for 2009 but the Norwegian is still working on securing a drive for his home rally in February. "We are working hard on it, it is getting close but nothing has been finalised yet so I am hopeful that it will happen."

With Solberg on the sidelines for Rally Ireland it will give him a chance to assess who he believes will be challenging for honours this year. "At Rally Ireland we will get a chance to see who will be challenging this year. I believe Loeb will be close again but it will be interesting to see how the top four perform in Ireland. There is also some great talent coming through and people should be watching Sebastien Ogier this year as he had a great year last year."

With Rally Ireland only 10 days away Solberg hasn't given up all hope of competing, "If somebody gives me a car for Ireland I will race!" he said with a smile.

Rally Ireland 2009 will take place between the 29th January and the 1st February with 18 stages taking place through seven counties in the North West; Cavan, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Sligo, Donegal and Roscommon. The sport's governing body, the FIA, has bestowed Ireland with the honor of marking the start of the 2009 WRC season. It is the first time in almost 30 years that the beginning of the World Rally Championship (WRC) has been held outside of Monte Carlo, the traditional starting point for each WRC season.

In 2007 Rally Ireland attracted 250,000 spectators, generated 48million EUR in economic benefit to the region and was viewed in over 180 countries by in excess of 62million people. Rally Ireland was given international acclaim by the WRC who declared the event as the second best round of the World Rally Championship in 2007.

Rally Ireland is run by Motorsport Ireland in conjunction with the Association of Northern Ireland Car Clubs (ANICC) with sponsorship from Failte Ireland and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). The 2009 World Rally Championship will be run in 12 rounds across the world and will reach a global TV audience of over 800million.

-credit: rallyireland.org

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb , Daniel Elena , Marc Marti , Chris Atkinson , Sébastien Ogier , Didier Clément
Teams Citroën World Rally Team