Rally Sardinia: Citroen JWRC preview

Junior WRC: the C2 Super 1600 takes to the loose The 2nd Rally Italia Sardinia marks the World Championship debut of the gravel-specification C2 Super 1600. Two Team Kronos built and run cars have been entered by Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson and...

Junior WRC: the C2 Super 1600 takes to the loose

The 2nd Rally Italia Sardinia marks the World Championship debut of the gravel-specification C2 Super 1600. Two Team Kronos built and run cars have been entered by Kris Meeke/Chris Patterson and Daniel Sordo/Marc Marti, while another C2 will be present in the hands of Zimbabwe's Conrad Rautenbach and his British co-driver Carl Williamson who have placed their faith in P. H. Sport.

The C2 Super 1600 won the JWRC category in the Monte Carlo Rally in 2004 asphalt-trim featuring evolutions mainly in the engine and suspension domains. Immediately after the finish, Citroën's Customer Competition's technical team turned its attention to pursuing the car's development. So as not to overpass the opportunity, it was necessary to use the five so-called homologation 'jokers' permitted after its first year before April 1st and the team profited from this to modify the gearbox casing and to introduce certain new components such as the front brake callipers and front and rear gravel-spec dampers.

At the same time, significant work went into fine-tuning the car's weight distribution, while driver ergonomics were also revised, including the installation of the steering column, pedal box, hand brake and the main electrical console. Last but not least, the engine management system, damper settings and brake system commands have been all undergone a rethink.

Validation of these modifications began at the Alés-Monteils test track in the south of France (Gard) as well over nearby stages, with Kris Meeke and Daniel Sordo taking turns at the wheel over the two long test sessions.

To complement this groundwork, nothing can be a test in full-scale rally conditions. So, when it was invited to take part in the recent Rally of Portugal, the Citroën team jumped at the chance and despatched Daniel Sordo and Marc Marti to the Algarve. The Spanish crew profited from the occasion to give the car its first loose surface success. Facing opposition from Kosti Katajamäki, who finished 2nd in the JWRC classification on the Monte Carlo Rally, Dani swiftly took control and profited from a total score of eight best times from a possible twelve to stay in front. To make the most out of their trip to Portugal, Alexis Avril and his team stayed over in the country for further testing with Kris Meeke at the wheel.

All this means that the C2 Super 1600 and its drivers are well prepared for the challenging Sardinian terrain. The entire Citroën squad is looking forward to this opportunity to benchmark the gravel-spec car with the category's best... and is also hoping to build on its top result last January in Monaco...

Total, Magneti Marelli, OZ and AIS are Citroën's partners in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship.

Questions to Alexis Avril, Technical Manager, Customer Competition...

What lessons did you learn in Portugal?
"The car's first gravel outing took place on a mixture of stages, varying from slow and twisty on Leg 1 to faster ground the following day. The length of the stages -- over 30 km -- and the high temperatures -- 25°C -- enabled us to validate the new cooling set-up. Also, the hard ground didn't cut up from one run to the next and that was good for comparison purposes. The damper solutions we ran on the second leg were confirmed in the testing that was done after the rally with Kris. The water splash in SS3 revealed that we needed to improve sealing of the engine compartment and that has now been done. One last point, the Rally of Portugal showed how competitive our crew was..."

How and when will the asphalt-specification C2 evolve?
"The JWRC calendar has prompted us to favour development on dirt but that doesn't mean we have forgotten about the asphalt version and it will benefit largely from the 2005 homologations. With the aid of Philippe Bugalski, we did a thorough review of the car and that threw up a list of areas that could be improved. That work is under way and we still have five 'jokers' to play. We have planned in the possibility of using some of those in the middle of the season, that is to say just before the championship's return to asphalt in Germany..."

...to Daniel Sordo

Sardinia will be new terrain for you, which isn't the case for some of your rivals. Does that risk being a major handicap?
"This is effectively my first visit to Sardinia but I will have Marc Marti as co-driver and he has prior knowledge of the event since he sat alongside Carlos Sainz in 2004. He told me it was a difficult rally with twisty, narrow stages but we have since learnt that the route has undergone widespread changes compared with last year, which erases some of the advantage enjoyed by those drivers who did the event last year. I think that we should be competitive, even if the C2 is a newcomer to gravel..."

You took part in the development of the gravel-spec C2 Super 1600 and you were able to judge it in the heat of the action of a real event in Portugal. What were your impressions?
"I think we have done a good job. I am very pleased with the relationship we have established with the technical team and with our engineer, Alexis Avril. They really know how to listen. The car proved nicely balanced in the fast sections in Portugal. It handled really well. Perfect. We can still improve on slow, twisty roads. So if the Sardinian stages prove faster this year, that will suit us down to the ground..."

What will your approach be to Rally Sardinia? What is your objective?
"I will try to find a good pace from the start to keep up with the leading group. I love gravel. I felt very comfortable with the C2 in Portugal. I am confident. Obviously, I'm aware that the Junior Championship places importance on consistency, reaching the flag and finishing high up. I will be looking for a place on the podium, hopefully alongside Kris [Meeke]!"

...and to Kris Meeke

You competed in Sardinia last year. How did you find it?
"I thought the first Rally Italia Sardinia was a nice event. It's a great country and so was the welcome. Some drivers found the stages very narrow but I still think it was an interesting challenge. I don't really have a problem with this sort of terrain. In any case, more than 70% of the stages will be new this time, so having competed there last year will be less of an advantage. Still, it's good to have an idea of the lie of the land. I am really looking forward to it. If the stages are a little faster and more flowing, that will suit my driving style better..."

You tested the car in Portugal. How did your test base compare with Sardinia?
"Our testing in Portugal went really well. The variety of roads you get there is absolutely amazing. We began on roads similar to those used in the Rally of Portugal which were comparable with Turkey, only less aggressive. We then moved on to a base which was probably more similar to Sardinia. For me, the set-up is good and I think we worked in the right direction. However, until you compete face to face with your rivals, it's difficult to come to any hard conclusions. But I'm sure of one thing: our preparation went really well..."

Loose surface rounds of the JWRC are occasionally a question of who's left standing. In the light of that, how will you approach the event?
"It's true that it's important to be at the finish of the rougher JWRC rounds. Greece is an example. If you succeed in finishing a rally like Sardinia, it means your team has done a terrific job. The Italian round will be the C2's debut on the loose at world level so the priority will be to get the car to the finish. We won the first round in Monaco and came away with some big points, so it won't be primordial to win in Sardinia. I am 3rd in the championship, but I've got a round in hand compared with the two drivers ahead of me. I will be delighted if I finish on the podium, but my main aim is to reach the finish and in the points."


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Philippe Bugalski , Kris Meeke , Marc Marti , Kosti Katajamaki , Dani Sordo , Chris Patterson , Carl Williamson
Teams Williams , Citroën World Rally Team