WRC

Rally of Great Britain: Citro?n preview

A Welsh outing for the Xsara. On 10 October, Citroën announced that two Xsara WRCs would be taking part in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain. The two cars will be driven by this season's official crews, Thomas-Radström-Denis Giraudet (No....

A Welsh outing for the Xsara.

On 10 October, Citroën announced that two Xsara WRCs would be taking part in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain. The two cars will be driven by this season's official crews, Thomas-Radström-Denis Giraudet (No. 20) and Sébastien Loeb-Daniel Elena (No. 21).

For Citroën, this event is a further step forward. It comes on top of the initial programme of seven events, which has been honoured in full.

The stated objective pursued by the team through its racing calendar this season was to experience as many different terrains as possible with a view to a full participation in the world championship in 2003.

By taking part in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain - a rally of unique terrain and racing conditions - Citroën aims to complete its preparation and to strike a new balance between the events entered in 2002 and the events to be discovered in 2003.

After making the decision to take part in the UK event, Citroën organised one short week of testing in western Wales, around Machynlleth. These tests gave the two crews and the engineers an opportunity to fine-tune the car set-up, a traditional exercise for the specific Welsh terrain.

Both the drivers and the technicians declared themselves to be satisfied with the results. Nevertheless, Guy Fréquelin and the entire team are well aware that the true worth of these preliminaries will be judged by the race and by that alone.

Prudent, eager to learn and just a little impatient, the Reds are waiting to see what the first special stages will bring.

Total, Michelin, Magneti-Marelli, OZ and AIS and Citroën Financement are Citroën's partners in the World Rally Championship.

Interview with Guy Fréquelin.

As a driver, you took part in what was then the RAC Rally. Does the event bring back pleasant memories?

"Ha, ha! Yes, you could say that. I remember one particular SS in the fog, when I caught up with Hannu Mikkol and had 15 seconds on Ari Vatanen. The fog was so thick that it cancelled out the advantage of knowing the terrain. That said, the main thing back then was that without recces and without notes, you were almost playing Russian roulette at times."

What do you expect from this extra event that was not included in the original timetable?

"I would like us to learn as much as possible. This rally is one of the rare events in which drivers use their headlamps. The night, the fog, the rain, the mud - and even the snow - all make up a unique cocktail. It's better to get a first taste of it this year, without the pressure. For that reason alone, our being here serves a useful purpose. The second advantage is that it's an opportunity to refresh our knowledge of the competition, which dates back to Germany or, you could say, even to Finland, since this is a gravel event. And that's no small matter!"

You said that there is no pressure in this event, but you do have an objective.

"For the drivers as for the team, it is important to clock up mileage in the driving conditions I mentioned earlier. And to make sure that the information collected is useful, the drivers have to keep up with the pace. I believe that our drivers have the ability to take these two factors into account, to place our cars in the race, and to take them to the finish."

.with Thomas Rådström .

Thomas, you have taken part in the RAC once before in 1999. Does it bring back good or bad memories?

"A bit of both really. It was disappointing because I holed my oil sump going over a stone and because of that unscheduled oil change, I reckon I lost out on fourth place. Even so, I'm pleased that I didn't drop out. We pasted up the leak, put in some more oil, and continued on our way. Some of the other cars dropped out and we ended up sixth. I was pleased for Gunnar Barth, a Swedish friend who was acting as my team-mate in the rally, since the organisation required Fred Gallagher elsewhere."

Do you have a good feel for this highly specific terrain?

"Yes, not so bad! Citroën allowed me to take part in the recces last year and that helped me to get to know the terrain a bit better. Also, the tracks are a bit like those in Sweden, particularly if it's snowing. That said, there's little point in dreaming about snow, since the stages are close to the sea. But I enjoy the mud, the slipping and sliding. I felt at ease on the terrain during the tests in Dyfnant forest."

What's your objective?

"I'd like to pick up some points, to be in the top six at the end of the rally. But I have to be realistic about this project: the last time I put a helmet on and watched the needles of the stopwatch was in Finland. Since then, I should think that my playmates have been practicing hard."

.and with Sébastien Loeb

Could we say that you have the privilege of youth, since you're not a "veteran" of this rally?

"I took part for the first time in 2000 with a Saxo Challenge, and we finished second in the two-wheel drive category. It has to be said that quite a few drivers dropped out. But we won the match against our friends from the "Equipe de France". And, above all driving with two runs through the stages for the recces gave us an opportunity to judge just how much we'd learned through our work in the French gravel championship, where just one was allowed!"

Last year, you were here to claim the "Super 1600" championship crown, but there was no pressure on you. You did what had to be done to clinch the title in Corsica, rather than playing it out here. Why was that?

"Because anything can happen here. Already, the start of the race was very tight. Then came nightfall and with it the fog. I had to take risks. I went straight through a bend, fortunately without hitting anything. I had to reverse. I was expecting the worst. I thought Dalavilla's headlamps were about to appear in my rearview mirror. As it turned out, it was in these two foggy SS that we really pulled ahead. Our notes were good, with lots of information on distance and Daniel was great. There was a feeling of trust in the car."

This time you'll be driving a WRC. How high are your personal expectations?

"I think we've prepared well for the event. I hope that this will be validated in the race and that we will find the car easy to drive and a strong performer. If this is the case, and as I know this rally fairly well when all's said and done, I'd be pleased to be close to the leaders or to pick up a few points."

Notes:

The Network Q Rally of Great Britain covers a long route of 1,645 km of which 385 are timed in 17 special stages (on eight different routes: seven "real" SS that are run twice, and the Cardiff super special, run three times).

The scrutineering and parcs fermés will be based in Cardiff. The legs will also start and end there. The rally finish will take place against the prestigious backdrop of Cardiff Castle.

The rally has one service park, located at Felindre, north of Swansea, near junction 46 of the M4 motorway.

-citroen-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb , Thomas Radstrom , Guy Frequelin , Ari Vatanen , Denis Giraudet
Teams Citroën World Rally Team