Rally New Zealand: Kronos Racing preview

Kronos: no pressure but a huge motivation... Despite a 19.000 kilometre journey in between Belgium and New Zealand, the Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team is looking forward to the kiwi round. On `Aotearoa' - the ground of the long white...

Kronos: no pressure but a huge motivation...

Despite a 19.000 kilometre journey in between Belgium and New Zealand, the Kronos Total Citroen World Rally Team is looking forward to the kiwi round. On `Aotearoa' - the ground of the long white cloud according to the Maori legend - the complete team will be gathered for the first time since Cyprus and will be able to celebrate its heroes Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, now three times World champions*.

Seb and Daniel will be present in Hamilton, the rally's new host city, to complete the reconnaissance of a rather changed route in the aim to prepare next year. Once this finished, Seb will return to Europe, in the rehabilitation centre where he works on his full recovery.

For the rally, Kronos Total Citroen entrusts once again its young Spanish squad. Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti will drive in Hamilton the same Xsaras which they have been competing with in Australia.

After winning the event last year in Auckland, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have proved the Citroen team has understood this event's specific stages. The kiwi gravel roads, which hug the gently rolling countryside, are for the most part wide and very smooth. On dry conditions, there's the notion of grip which is dependent on the amount of loose gravel there is on the surface, how much of this top coating has to be swept aside, and how damp it is.

There's also the nature of the roads themselves which are essentially a succession of corners which flow into each other. You also need to take into account the cambered profile of the stages; when the road turns from one direction to the other, this camber forms a sort of crest that the cars have to cross. All these subtle considerations have to be taken into account when looking for the most competitive set-up..."

However, the thrill of driving on the New Zealand stages is immense, in addition to being extremely popular with all the competitors. As a reference from the `old days', Walter Rohrl can be quoted: "the only limiting factor in New Zealand is driver skill!".

More recently, Sebastien Loeb has particularly enjoyed the event since he first participated: "I love the fast flowing roads; there are hardly any straights and there is a nice rhythm to the way the corners flow into each other". Although Seb finds sliding on those roads feels great, he knows that you still need to keep it tidy and not slide too much not to loose time.

There is a limit to find, a `kiwi' feeling maybe... And even if all special stages, except for two, were not competed in 2005 which will put most drivers on an equal step the eldest should find their marks more quickly. Xevi Pons has taken part in this round twice before with a Production car and this should give him a good basis for this year. Dani Sordo will once more have to discover an event. He has recently demonstrated in Turkey and Australia that he is able to set a valuable performance in such conditions.

The mission for the `Drivers' title being accomplished since Australia, the Kronos Total Citroen WRT takes the start of the season's penultimate rally without pressure. The team will give its very best for the thrilling fight in the `Manufacturers' competition which might only end up on the `finale' taking place in Wales next month. * 'subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA'.

Questions to...

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

A lot of emotion in Perth don't you think?

Marc Van Dalen: "Of course, knowing the Drivers' title was in Seb's pocket, we felt extremely happy after having feared for not such a good outcome. Kronos has been chosen by Citroen Sport to defend their crown the best way possible. With eight victories and four second places in twelve events, Seb and Daniel have clinched their third consecutive world title*. Kronos has fulfilled its mission. These are the facts. But behind those results, there are men, all turned towards the same goal. Those from Citroen Sport who like usual have left nothing to fate. They also have supplied us with the best possible development on the cars and a precious on-event technical support. Then there are Kronos' men who have followed their footsteps and have worked more than ever. They have allowed our team to increase its competitive level. In the emotions we felt in Perth, for sure there was a lot of pride." For your two young Spanish drivers, it's a great adventure...

Marc Van Dalen: "Xevi and Dani were lucky this year to work in the same team as Seb, the best teacher possible, acting a bit like an old brother for them. In this stimulating environment, they have progressed incredibly and that's one of the most important point this season. Xevi has proved in Australia he fully deserved to drive the number one Xsara. He completely fulfilled our expectations and has accepted the team orders for securing his position to prevent Marcus Gronholm from climbing on the podium. He did exactly what he was he has been asked and was extremely happy to help. Dani was really unfortunate. But I will remember that on a new and difficult terrain he hasn't done a single mistake. If you look at his times and the gap per kilometre with the experienced drivers, you understand how quick he will reach the fastest level. I think it would be very interesting to judge his performance on the New-Zealander stages as they are new to everyone this year."

Are you already thinking about next year? What is the future for Kronos?

Jean-Pierre Mondron: "Thanks to our good results with the Xsaras and our drivers, we naturally have some contacts with potential partners and some drivers. We are thinking of starting a M2 team which will enter two Citroens in the sixteen rounds of the calendar. Our ambition is to offer our future partners our experience in the world series and our technical partnership with Citroen Sport. A solid package which should allow us to be amongst the strongest outsiders.

... to Xevi Pons...

You have been setting a good performance in Australia and showed great consistency once again. Is this coming from an improved confidence?

"Since Cyprus, I have a very good feeling. I also think that the fact Marc Van Dalen and Guy Frequelin have entrusted me to score points, gave me even more energy. After my absence in Japan, I tried hard to obtain another opportunity. I think they were fair to offer it to me after Seb's accident and my result in Turkey. When the management of a team like Kronos Total Citroen gives you its trust and when you can thank them with a good result, it's just fantastic."

Weren't you feeling a bit frustrated to give up the fight for your potential first podium to secure your position in front of Marcus Gronholm?

"Not at all! It was exactly the opposite! When I experienced some problems in the dust on Friday night in `Flynns', Manfred Stohl was catching us up and only lied eight seconds behind us. At the end of the leg, I had a conversation with Marc Van Dalen and we took the decision to secure the fourth place and not to take any risks. My feeling is that I am young and I will have other possibilities to be on the podium. If I could help Seb and Citroen a bit by finishing fourth, it is an honour for me."

You have been Enduro world champion in the Nations competition. Can you compare your feeling then with the joy of the Kronos team in Perth?

"It's the same! When I entered in our service area, I felt extremely emotional. I really value Marc Van Dalen's and Jean-Pierre Mondron's efforts, those of the engineers, the mechanics, the weather crews, the logistics and each team-member during all the year... When I saw everybody's joy, I thought: "It was worth it! Seb is the number one, the most successful driver of history and he's also surrounded by the best professionals. He can be proud of his team..."

You have taken part in the rally New Zealand twice. What do you think of the change of route?

"In NZ, the stages are very fast. I enjoyed a lot driving there the past two years. For me, it would surely have been easier if nothing had changed. But on another hand, to be a good driver, you have to be capable of posting fast times with only two passes in recce. This is the reason why I will particularly focus on the recce to try and set one more good result to finish the season on a good note."

...and to Dani Sordo.

You drove for the first time in Australia last month. What did you learn? Which conclusion can you draw?

"I realised it's a very tricky event. Very fast and narrow stages with a lot of trees on the sides. With the surface covered in ball bearing, the grip remains very complicated to find... I've actually encountered what I had been described before hand. I think it's a difficult event but very nice. I found the organisation and the atmosphere absolutely fantastic. Even if we won't come back next year, I have the feeling it was useful for me to drive in such conditions: for a rookie, all the experience he can get is very valuable. After the action- packed first stages, everything went well for the team, especially for Seb and Daniel. They deserve this third title and I am very happy for them... I will recall very good memories of this event."

What comes to your mind when you hear the words `New Zealand'? What do you know of this country and this rally? What has Marc Marti told you about it?

"Just talking about it makes me think that New Zealand is even further than Australia... It's terrible because the flight time will be even longer! Marc has described the stages like very fast but without trees on the sides of the roads. He has underlined the importance of `road cleaning' and of the interest to take profit from driving in the rails left by the cars preceding. He also put the stress on the fact that it's `forbidden' to drive out of those rails. Everybody says that it's an event to enjoy. It's one more territory to discover and this is very thrilling for a young driver."

The rally route features only two 2005 stages. All the rest is new. For someone discovering the rally, it's interesting, isn't it?

"In a way, it's true. Of course for me it might be good that everybody starts on a roughly equal step. However, even if most of the route has changed, the drivers with experience of the New-Zealander terrain will have a small advantage. They know the kind of feeling on those special roads. I will do my best during the recce to set good pacenotes. I will try to make a clean rally and to reach the finish so I can get the maximum experience possible..."

-credit: kronos racing

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Sébastien Loeb , Walter Rohrl , Guy Frequelin , Manfred Stohl , Daniel Elena , Marc Marti
Teams Citroën World Rally Team