A challenge for Citroen in Viking territory In the wake of its one-two finish in Ireland, the Citroen Total World Rally Team heads for Norway. The specific features of the season's only winter fixture makes it a unique challenge for Sebastien ...
A challenge for Citroen in Viking territory
In the wake of its one-two finish in Ireland, the Citroen Total World Rally Team heads for Norway. The specific features of the season's only winter fixture makes it a unique challenge for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti.
Like Rally Ireland, Rally Norway has only counted towards the World Rally Championship on one previous occasion. Meanwhile, hasty comparisons between this event, which is hosted by the small town of Hamar, and the Swedish Rally should be avoided. "The two rallies are very different," observes Sebastien Loeb. "The Swedish stages tend to feature long, flowing corners, whereas the terrain in Norway presents us with another sort of technical challenge. The roads are twisty, narrow and bumpy in places and it's quite difficult to get a global feel for them."
Citroen doesn't have the fondest of memories of its visit to Norway in 2007 when Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo both failed to finish in the points, something which has never reoccurred since! "The 2007 event was particularly difficult because we faced a layer of fresh snow on top of the sheet ice underneath," recalls Sebastien Loeb. "I had a great deal of trouble spotting the places where the grip changed and I never really felt comfortable. I hope it won't snow this year so that we will be free to drive flat out on a nice coating of smooth ice! If the conditions do turn out to be like that, running first on the road could well be an advantage on the opening day." Sebastien's analysis is shared by his team-mate Dani Sordo: "Soft snow can be a problem for traction. At times, it almost feels as though you're aquaplaning..."
From the technical angle, Rally Norway will see the introduction of the new studded Pirelli Sottozero which is wider than the tyre used last year. "We have tested with it and it felt good," agree both Citroen drivers. "The 2008 tyre had a tendency to move about a bit, but that has been attenuated by the wider dimension."
The team's pre-event testing also enabled the team's engineers to work on the set-up of the C4 WRC, but Sebastien Loeb doesn't believe that set-up makes such a big difference on this sort of terrain. "The important thing is driver confidence as you put the car sideways through a fast corner," says the five- time World Champion. "We worked on the suspension and differential settings, but the C4 WRC is a far more polished package than it was in 2007 when it was only at the beginning of its development."
As usual, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena go into this rally with the intention of winning. Along with Rally Poland, which is a new feature of this year's WRC calendar, the Rally Norway is the only round of the 2009 calendar which doesn't figure on the Franco-Monegasque pair's list of 48 world class wins, so that is sure to add to their motivation.
Like his team-mate, Dani Sordo is acutely aware of the challenge that awaits him in Norway: "I've put my modest performance in 2007 behind me and, anyway, so much has changed since then. I have more experience, considerable work has gone into the car and our recent testing has also helped boost my confidence. I'm not saying that snow has become my favourite type of surface, but I am extremely fired up to play my part in scoring another top result for Citroen following our recent success in Ireland."
"After kicking off the season on asphalt, we now move on to a very different sort of terrain," comments Citroen Sport Director Olivier Quesnel. "It's true that we are not favourites to win in Norway but we will do our best to spring a surprise! The engineers and crews have worked hard to prepare for this specific event and, with just 12 rounds counting towards this year's WRC, we will need to profit from every opportunity we are given to extend our lead in both championships."
Three questions to... Sebastien Loeb
Looking back for a moment at your win in Ireland, you appeared to be in total control of the elements there from the outset...
"The way the event unfolded effectively meant that I didn't have to push beyond my limits. Given the conditions we faced, that was a good thing because I wouldn't have enjoyed having to battle tooth and nail in rain like that. I was obviously pushing, because that's the only way you can sense the limits of your tyres and car, but I don't know how much faster I could have gone had we been faced a fight. But at the end of the day, we ended up starting the year with a win..."
Do you still believe 2009 will be a closely fought campaign?
"There is no reason to believe that it won't be closer than last year's championship. Nobody should be tempted to come to any hasty conclusions after just one event. With the exception of the 2006 Monte- Carlo, I have won every asphalt round since 2005, so we are clearly more at home on sealed surfaces than our rivals. But I am expecting them to respond, beginning with Rally Norway where we won't be the favourites."
Do you think you can win in Norway?
"Our most recent outings on snow and ice didn't go all that well for us. Jari-Matti Latvala won in Sweden last year, and victory in Norway in 2007 went to Mikko Hirvonen. Ford should be more at home in Norway and will be extremely keen to profit from this rally to make up for lost ground. I don't know yet whether I will be able to stand in their way, but it's a very stimulating challenge! I enjoy this sort of event and I have very fond memories of my win in Sweden in 2004, so perhaps adding another victory to my record in Norway isn't entirely out of the question."