Citroen looking to continue its winning streak 'down under' The 2008 Rally New Zealand takes place some 19,000km from Citroen Sport's headquarters and the squad travels to the other side of the world on top of the provisional Manufacturers' and...
Citroen looking to continue its winning streak 'down under'
The 2008 Rally New Zealand takes place some 19,000km from Citroen Sport's headquarters and the squad travels to the other side of the world on top of the provisional Manufacturers' and Drivers' standings. Two C4 WRCs have been entered for the team's usual crews, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti. This foursome will be joined by Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk and Conrad Rautenbach/David Senior in cars prepared and run by PH Sport with the support of technicians from Citroen Sport Technologies, making a total of four C4 WRCs for the 11th round of the 2008 World Rally Championship.
For the third year running, the Rally New Zealand is based in Hamilton, capital of the beautiful Waikato region and 125km south of Auckland. The route focuses essentially on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island and is divided into 16 stages totalling 354.58km.
While New Zealand provides drivers with one of the rallying calendar's finest terrains, the teams must necessarily address a complex technical challenge. "The stages are neither rough nor bumpy; the difficult lies elsewhere," explains Citroen Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon. "We have had to take three chief factors into account when establishing the basic set-up of our C4 WRCs for New Zealand: the fact that we will be using hard compound tyres in probably cold and even perhaps damp conditions, the fact that it is no longer possible to 're-cut' tread patterns for stages covered in a top-coating of loose gravel and, last but not least, there is the specific profile of the stages. The cambered roads feature a relatively steep slope towards the inside of the corners. When you get sequences of right-left corners following on from each other, the cars have to cross the sort of ridge you get as you pass from one turn to the next, which is a profile I suppose you could liken to the form of a propeller. The combination of all these factors promises to make this year's visit a particularly challenging event."
"I have always enjoyed this rally ever since I first came here in 2002," admits Sebastien Loeb. "The lush green backdrop to the stages is magnificent. The stages are fast and technically demanding, but the cars don't suffer. From the driving point of view, it's certainly one of my favourite events."
"We narrowly missed out on victory last year by just three-tenths of a second after one of the most thrilling fights the WRC has ever seen. I won't be able to take revenge this time, though, because Marcus Gronholm isn't around any more," smiles Seb. "It nonetheless promises to be a very close three days of competition. We will be first on the road, but just how big a handicap that turns out to be will depend on how damp the conditions are. There are quite a few stages that we will only contest once, so we potentially stand to lose quite a lot of time. That said, the fact that we will be first on the road on Day 1 means that we are on top in the championship, and we intend to do all we can to defend that lead! The key will be to find a set-up for our C4 WRC that works with the Pirelli Hard tyre. The set-up we ran in Finland was very good and I had a great feeling with my car. It will be up to us to find ourselves in the same sort of position in New Zealand."
After finishing fourth in Finland and second in Germany, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti will be out to continue their current run of success as they travel to the southern hemisphere. "It's a long way to get there, but I love the New Zealand stages and also the country itself," says Dani who has moved up to third place in the provisional Drivers' championship standings. "You can really just focus on your driving without fear of damaging the mechanicals, and that's very nice! This is only my third visit, of course. The pace is so quick that it's essential to have a good feel for the terrain and I still perhaps lack sufficient experience. That said, our performance in Finland suggests that a good result is possible. Indeed, there are a few similarities between the two events, so that will be a big confidence booster in New Zealand. I'm expecting it to be very close again, and I intend to approach the three days very cautiously, although I would very much like to target another podium finish."