A memorable fight for Sebastien Loeb and Citroen Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen C4 WRC came out of their exceptionally fierce three- day fight on the Rally New Zealand to finish just three tenths of a second short of the ultimate...
A memorable fight for Sebastien Loeb and Citroen
Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Citroen C4 WRC came out of their exceptionally fierce three- day fight on the Rally New Zealand to finish just three tenths of a second short of the ultimate winner of the 2007 championship's 11th round. A steady run from Dani Sordo/Marc Marti in the second Citroen Sport car brought the team valuable data and saw the Spaniards secure 6th place at the flag. The last leg of the southern hemisphere event took crews to the magnificent backdrop of the Raglan region by the Tasmanian Sea coast. The programme of the final day featured 93km of competitive action divided into two identical loops of three stages - including the classic Whaanga Coast test - before ending with a final visit to the Mystery Creek super-special which turned out to be decisive. The likelihood that conditions would dry after overnight rain and the forecast of more showers to come by the experts from Meteo France Sports, one of Citroen Sport's technical partners, turned the last day into a nightmare as far as tyre choices were concerned.
Running on the same soft compound BFGoodrich tyres as Marcus Gronholm, Sebastien and Daniel went into the morning's loop with a slender 1.7-second lead, but the Citroen pair succeeded in extending their cushion to 2.9s by the remote service halt in Raglan. "I didn't get off to the best of starts," admitted Seb. "There was absolutely no grip on the first stage (SS12) and I didn't manage to find the ideal pace. Marcus passed ahead by a tenth of a second but the rest of the morning went better for us. My Citroen C4 WRC was very competitive and enabled me to push harder on SS13 and SS14 which I won to regain the lead. The gap was less than three seconds, however, and the final loop promised to be extremely close."
That prediction was especially true inasmuch as the tyre choice for the final stages was once again very complex. In the end, the Citroen pair opted for a slightly harder compound than their rival and Sebastien went into the afternoon's loop split between the wish to hold on to his lead and the desire not to make any mistakes. "We managed to stay level with Marcus in many places, but we dropped time on each test," observed Seb. "On top of that, rain started to fall just as we were about to start two of the stages. That's rallying. I pushed as hard as I could but it was always at the back of my mind that eight points for finishing second would be better than a blank scorecard in terms of the fight for the Drivers' title."
Going into the super-special which ended the rally, Seb had a deficit of seven tenths of a second to make up. Encouraged by everyone at Citroen Sport who had come from the nearby service park to watch, Seb and Daniel put in a faultless run with their Citroen C4 but only managed to pull back four tenths of a second and ended the weekend three tenths behind the eventual winner... "It rarely comes more frustrating than that! It was reassuring to see that we were able to challenge for victory throughout the rally, though, and that's very encouraging for the rest of the season."
"On paper," explained Guy Frequelin, "this rally was always going to be tough for Citroen Sport. Sebastien and Daniel only did the recce for the 2006 event and hadn't previously contested many of the stages in anger. It was also the C4's maiden run in New Zealand and Dani had only done the event once before! We were expecting the weekend to be very stressful, but it turned out to be even more nerve-racking than I had imagined! Tyre choices were key from start to finish and, thanks to the input of everyone at Citroen Sport and also the impeccable support of our partner BFGoodrich, we opted for slightly different choices to those of our rival on several occasions and they often paid. Sebastien and Daniel put in a great performance. They only missed out on victory by a fraction of a second and they also had a little bad luck when they were the only ones to start SS15 and SS16 in rain. Dani Sordo continued to familiarise himself with this fast event which really does demand experience. He profited from the weekend to extend his understanding of the C4 and its different set- ups and that will be valuable later."