Citroen Racing: starting from a blank sheet!
The 2011 season sees the opening of a new chapter in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Citroen Total World Rally Team has entered two new DS3 WRCs to defend their World Manufacturers' and Drivers' titles. After several months of intensive development of their new cars Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena and Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia are ready to take on their rivals on the ice in Rally Sweden.
After the Xsara WRCs and the C4 WRCs, both crowned with triple titles, Citroen Racing is launching the DS3 WRC on the roads of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Citroen DS3 WRC that complies with the new regulations drawn up by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile is a real package of Creative Technology.
The DS3 WRC is shorter and more compact than the previous cars, and is powered by a new 1600 cm3 direct injection turbo engine designed in-house by Citroen Racing. This new generation of World Rally Cars puts the emphasis on driving skills after the suppression of the central differential, and the return of a mechanical gear selection mechanism.
Back for their eleventh season as a Citroen works crew, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are starting the year with all the hunger of young chargers out to score their first victory! The Franco-Monegasque pair, 7-time world champions on the trot, are bubbling with enthusiasm on the eve of this new challenge. Alongside them are Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, who won their place in the Citroen Total World Rally Team during a more than promising 2010 season.
Rally Sweden, the first of the thirteen rounds on the 2011 calendar, is a unique event. It is the only one run on snow, and for a long time it was an exclusively Scandinavian hunting ground. Since the year of its first running, 1950, only one driver has beaten the Vikings on their home turf, Sebastien Loeb, who won it the same year as he racked up his first world title!
The route of the 2011 rally goes through the regions of Varmland and Dalarna, and the service park is in Hagfors. The event even makes a brief foray into Norwegian territory (Lovhaugen, SS4/7).
With just a few days to go to the first round, Olivier Quesnel, the Citroen Racing Team Principal, is champing at the bit: "We can't wait to see the first times to find out if the team has done a good job. However, Rally Sweden isn't really representative of the difficulties we'll have to face during the season. Our crews know what they have to do and they have my full confidence to come out on top in this new campaign."
Rally Sweden will also be the theatre of the first Power Stage of the season. The 4.16-km Gustavsfors (SS22) special will be televised live, and 3, 2 and 1 points will be awarded to the first three for the Drivers' and Co- Drivers' Championships.
Two more Citroen DS3 WRCs are entered for Petter Solberg / Chris Patterson and Kimi Raikkonen / Kaj Lindstrom. Each crew has covered 250 km on two stretches representative of the Swedish route. Solberg has been able to adapt the car to his driving style, and he is both delighted and enthused by the performance of the new engine. Raikkonen was happy with the DS3 balance and handling on his first test; he ran through the different setups and will start the rally with the closest options to those of the works team.
Three questions to Sebastien Loeb
After winning seven drivers' titles on the trot, your only aim must be to become the first person in the history of motor sport to win an eighth world title...
"It's difficult to see any other goal! But at least I hope I can fight to defend my title. I'm not going to change my strategy; we'll just tackle the races as they come. This year with the new regulations there are a lot of unknown factors."
Are you impatient to be in Sweden?
"I can't wait! But I don't think the results will be a pointer to the rest of the season. The most common surface in the world championship is gravel. That's where the title will be decided. In testing I felt more at home on gravel than on snow. While it wouldn't be very good to be two seconds off the pace of our rivals, the first rally isn't the most important one of the season."
Are you afraid that the change in the regulations will turn the established order upside down?
"I've got a good feeling about the car. During testing I've been pleasantly surprised by the engine and the overall balance despite the absence of the central differential. I really think that the season's going to go off well, but the stopwatch is the only yardstick. I'm not the kind of guy who says things unless I'm sure of being able to back them up. So we'll have to wait for the results of the opening rallies before making any predictions."
Three questions to Sebastien Ogier
You've already covered several thousand kilometres testing in the Citroen DS3 WRC before the first rally. Do you feel you're ready?
"We've done a lot of running since the middle of the 2010 season with a large number of test sessions on all types of surfaces. It's never enough, we always want to do more! There are things to be validated, but overall the car handles well. Racing will provide the best answer to all our questions."
You're in the same team as the reigning world champion. Does that mean you have the best team-mate or the biggest rival?
"The Citroen Team spirit is all about collaboration. We share the maximum amount of information, technically speaking. We have to know how to work together. Our common objective is to win for Citroen. We've got the same chances and the same equipment. It's up to me to prove that I can do as well as the world champion."
How important is Rally Sweden?
"It's an event I really know very little about, as I've only done it once, in 2009. I'm expecting a fairly difficult race, but I know that the season is long, and that the outcome of the championship won't be decided on snow. There are many parameters that can upset the established order, the new regulations, the new Michelin tyres etc. Maybe I'll feel in a position to go for victory. If it's not the case, I'll drive a steady race to score a result in view of the championships."