WRC

Rally Japan: Kronos Racing preview

Kronos in the land of the rising sun The 2006 FIA World Rally Championship has begun the season's second half on a high-speed pace. Less than one week after Germany and Finland, drivers, co-drivers, teams and material head into the Far-East, to...

Kronos in the land of the rising sun

The 2006 FIA World Rally Championship has begun the season's second half on a high-speed pace. Less than one week after Germany and Finland, drivers, co-drivers, teams and material head into the Far-East, to the land of the Rising Sun, and more precisely to Hokkaido, the most northerly of the major Japanese islands hosting the round eleven of the championship.

To tackle the third edition of the Rally Japan, the Kronos Total Citroën WRT, currently leading the Manufacturers' championship, enters two 2006 Xsara WRCs. They will be driven by two-times World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, clear leaders of the `Drivers' rankings, and by the Junior World rally champion Dani Sordo, as usually co-driven by Marc Marti.

Formerly known as Hokkaido Rally, the Rally Japan is based in Obihiro and features a grid-pattern street layout, founded in 1933 at the heart of the vast agricultural Tokachi Plain. On day one and two, most of the special stages are situated some 100 km North, where the plain changes into hillsides, announcing the mountains which stand on the island. Sunday's speed-tests are located closer to Obihiro, around sixty kilometres North- West of the rally's epicentre.

Long road sections, in a country where speed is limited at 60 km/h, are Rally Japan's main characteristics. The other is the big number of short stages. Rikubetsu, a small town famous for its astronomical observatory, offers a three kilometre-autocross track, which becomes a special stage repeated four times over the weekend. The new super special stage (1.3 km) has been built for the occasion alongside the service park and will be completed five times after being used for the shakedown.

The big gap in between Obihiro and the special stages has some consequences on tyre choices which have to be made a long time before reaching the last stage of a loop: more than three hours on day one and over four hours on day two. Although tyre choice on gravel remains less crucial than on tarmac, Météo France's help Kronos' partner - will be very welcome. The rally actually takes place one month earlier than last year, coming back to its 2004 date. Statistics show that the beginning of September is normally rainy, during which sudden tropical storms characterised by heavy downpours can accompany the Kuroshio: a warm sea stream, which blows from the south along the Japanese coastline. In the country of sushi, the rally won't easy...

As championship's leaders, Seb and Daniel will start first on the road on day one, facing the road sweeping in the morning. They hope this task won't turn into `heavy road-works' as it was the case last year in some sections covered in a rocky layer. But they also hope they could still be in position to get in the fight for a win after that. However, their comfortable lead in the championship allows them to choose in between the Bushido the warrior path and the Go Game, all about tactics.

In the `challengers match', such important for the Manufacturers' Championship, Dani Sordo discovers the event and has two less participations than Mikko Hirvonen. However, this does not bother the Junior World champion as he is decided to concentrate on learning the terrain and find the right pace to reach the finish with the maximum number of points for the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team...

Questions to...

Jean-Pierre Mondron and Marc Van Dalen, Kronos Racing...

What are your thoughts after Rally Finland?

Marc Van Dalen: "During the pre-event tests, Citroën Sport had definitely improved the Xsara on that specific terrain once again. I believe Kronos has taken profit of that work. Seb and Daniel were able to fight until this `rock' hidden in a corner. After they played it safe and conceded to their closest rival only two points in the Drivers' championship and scored eight precious units for the Manufacturers' one. Of course, I am disappointed for our young Spaniards who have been caught up in some of traps of the Finnish stages. I guess it is the price to pay to learn..."

Kronos comes back from Finland with a lot of work within a very short period of time...

Jean-Pierre Mondron : "Yes that's right. It's the first time actually that we have two damaged cars and it represents an incredible amount of work. We need to assembly a new 2006 Xsara that Dani will use in Cyprus and we have to rebuild our 2005 version for Xevi Pons. I am sure we can do it. I have no doubt on our guys' motivation and the Kronos team also know they can count on Citroën Sport's support."

Will Xevi Pons take part in the Rally Japan?

MVD: "No. We have had long discussions with Xevi and we took two things into account. Rebuilding his car for Japan was extremely difficult. Back in Naninne on Wednesday morning, it had to be loaded in the airfreight on Wednesday night! We could have also organised to finish it in Japan but the timing was really tight... On another hand, we have noticed that Xevi isn't currently performing at his normal level. He lacks confidence and it's not by competing on the tricky and narrow Japanese special stages that he would have improved that. I trust him and I know he has a real potential. His programme will restart in Cyprus and before that, he would do some testing. He knows this event and will have everything in hands to get his feeling back, just like when he scored valuable points for the team on the first half of the season. Because he won't compete in Japan, his programme has been extended for Australia/New Zealand, which weren't planned originally."

Kronos completely discovers Japan...

MVD : "What I know best of Japan is its food. I love Japanese cuisine. More seriously, yes Kronos discovers this country, this rally and these stages. We've already been in that situation of exploring a country in Sweden and Mexico, and it actually went quite well. I hope it will be the same in Obihiro, where we could lean on Citroën's experience. Sébastien and Daniel competed in the event twice and Marc Marti took part in 2004 with Carlos Sainz. All three will be there to show Dani the way. Rookie in Sweden and Mexico, he performed rather well and I know he has great learning skills..."

...and to Sébastien Loeb...

A win in Finland would be for a next time then...
"It multiplies my determination to win next year! It's an exciting challenge. Actually, the real disappointment moment was just after our puncture. We knew the battle was over and we were finished with the excitement. After we cannot say we had much fun. But ok, to finish second in Finland, many drivers dream of it. It's also not bad regarding the championship's plans. We also had the confirmation our Xsara has improved and it's interesting because in Japan, on narrow stages, you need a lot of precision. Even if there are less jumps, some rocks and concrete trenches need good shock-absorbing level. The work done for Finland could also pay off there..."

The Rally Japan isn't really your cup of tea...
"It's not my favourite but there are nice things though. I like feeling `disorientated' and there aren't places above Japan for that. The enthusiasm of the crowd when they shake little flags is both amusing and nice. Some stages are interesting even if their narrow character stops from choosing a line. Last year, some of speed-tests situated on the long road section in between Obihiro and Rikubetsu, had too soft grounds which became rutted too quickly. All the drivers have talked about it at the finish. I hope this year's route will be modified in that direction."

Japan is one of three events you have never won...
"We've only competed twice there! In 2004, I was fighting for first place until Saturday morning before changing my tactics. Last year, Citroën, Daniel and I were `programmed' to finish third, which meant that I could score six points and clinch my second world title. This year, it's hard to say what will happen. Marcus [Grönholm] told me he wants to win all the remaining rallies of the calendar. On my side, every time an event starts, I always want to be the fastest and to win it. On top of that, I need to score as many Manufacturers' points as possible for Kronos. I think I'll start as quick as I can like usual, trying not to loose too much time while sweeping the road and I'll see what happens after that..."

-credit: kronos

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Sébastien Loeb , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti
Teams Citroën World Rally Team