Battle in the desert for the Citroen C4 WRCs After Sweden and Mexico, the WRC heads for Jordan for a rally that will be yet another complete change of scenery! In the Middle East, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, the world championship leaders...
Battle in the desert for the Citroen C4 WRCs
After Sweden and Mexico, the WRC heads for Jordan for a rally that will be yet another complete change of scenery! In the Middle East, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, the world championship leaders after their victory in Latin America, will be aiming for their 56th success. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti, who finished second in this event in 2008, will be out to help the Citroen Total World Rally Team to score a good overall result.
The Rally Jordan, first run two years ago, is back on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar. The event, which takes place in grandiose semi-desert landscapes, is quite unlike any other. The route is a very compact one made up of quick undulating specials, most of which are below sea level. As usual in the WRC, it will be held over three loops programmed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday Sebastien Loeb, whose aim (victory) hasn't changed, is very much at home on this kind of surface: "We dominated in Mexico but we can't relax as I know that our rivals will be back at their very best next weekend. Another victory would obviously be a big boost for us and for Citroen; it's not going to be an easy rally. The stages take place right in the middle of the desert; there are no markers and we're often running blind, so it's easy to hit one of the big rocks that line the route. We have to be very precise when we're making notes.
Dani Sordo is a driver to be reckoned with in this rally. The Spaniard was second in the 2008 event and he is tackling the third round of the season with great determination: "Our results in Sweden and Mexico were not in keeping with our potential. What's very positive is that we'll be seventh on the road in Jordan. On Friday, we'll have the advantage of a route that's been well swept by the front-runners. A podium finish would be a good result for Mark and me."
As on the majority of gravel rallies, road-sweeping will again be at the heart of the drivers' and teams' preoccupations. "The earth on the Rally Jordan stages is very hard. It's covered by a layer of little pebbles whose thickness can vary depending on what the organisers have done," adds Loeb. "We know that there have been violent storms that have damaged the roads. They've been repaired but we'll have to see if this factor will have any influence on the outcome. In any case, second time round through the stages, we'll have a grip level very like asphalt."
To prepare for Rally Jordan and Rally Turkey, Citroen Racing has carried out a test in the south of Spain, which gave the team the opportunity to run through the range of set-ups available for this type of surface. "The C4 WRC's development has reached its peak and we're not expecting any major evolutions, but this test was indispensable," explains Sordo. "The overall level of competition is so close that a small detail can make the difference between defeat and victory. We fine-tune the set-up to the maximum by making small adjustments."
Three questions to Xavier Mestelan-Pinon
Citroen Racing's technical manager
Let's recap on Rally Mexico in which Citroen scored its first triple on gravel. How do you explain this domination? There's a lot of talk about adapting the engine to the altitude...
"Above all, I think we had a great race. The C4s ran well without having any reliability problems and our drivers were particularly happy with their cars' handling. Together with the suspension set-up, adapting the engine mapping and the gear ratios to the altitude of the Mexican stages was certainly one of the keys to our success. But there's no miracle solution: the engines we used in Mexico had nothing special from a mechanical point of view. The regulations didn't allow it as we have to use them in Turkey and Portugal."
So let's talk about the Rally Jordan. What are the specific challenges of this event?
"It's a rally that we put in the `good' gravel category! The surface is fairly smooth and the gravel is very hard. Once the stages have been swept they provide a lot of grip and the tyres will be given a severe test. As a number of corners are blind, and the stages are lined with big stones which are to be avoided we'll define setups that favour very precise driving. Also, it's going to be very hot in the region, and that's a situation that both men and machines are not really crazy about!"
There a lot of talk about sweeping in the WRC. What does it really mean? Why choose to lose time at the end of a stage?
"All the cars follow the same lines. The fine layer of dust that covers the road is swept away as the cars run through the stages. This phenomenon causes wheelspin on the exit from corners, a loss of grip when braking. On a very twisty route with a hard surface, this can lead to a loss of three-tenths of a second per kilometres between the first and the third on the road. Of course, the drivers have to adapt to these conditions. Sebastien Loeb, who's done a lot of sweeping this season, adopts a very clean driving style and avoids sliding. The strategies we have to adopt at the end of the first or second day can be explained very easily. We have to estimate the time that we're likely to lose by being first out the next day compared to our lead. Sometimes, it's a good idea to lose around ten seconds if we think we can gain twenty the next day!"