CitroÃ«n, out to defend conquered territory. One month exactly after Cyprus, the second half of the 2003 World Rally Championship kicks off with Rallye Deutschland. And to defend the trophy secured by SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena on last ...
Citroën, out to defend conquered territory.
One month exactly after Cyprus, the second half of the 2003 World Rally Championship kicks off with Rallye Deutschland. And to defend the trophy secured by Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena on last year's visit to Trier, the tale of the three musketeers will be revived since Citroën has decided to enter four cars for the German round.!
The young heroes of the 2002 event will once again team up with Colin McRae/Derek Ringer and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti, but this familiar trio will be joined by the return of Philippe Bugalski/Jean-Paul Chiaroni who are responsible for the development of the Xsara WRC. They will form part of the official line-up not only in Germany, but also on the calendar's other asphalt rounds, in Italy, France and Spain. Philippe and Jean-Paul, who won the 2001 Deutschland Rally, will drive an identical specification Xsara to that of their team-mates and their car will be run by the Spanish outfit Piedrafita Sport.
The Xsara WRC that won in Germany two years ago inaugurated the paddle- operated, steering wheel-mounted semi-automatic gearshift system. Since then, the asphalt version of Citroën's WRC challenger has continued to evolve in parallel with the significant development work that has been accomplished on the gravel-spec cars. The four cars present in Trier will naturally be fitted with the hydraulically-interconnected anti-roll bar system introduced on the Monte Carlo Rally. "For Germany," explains Technical Chief Jean-Claude Vaucard, "our testing took us to the Mosel Valley, to the Baumholder military ranges and to the Vosges Mountains in France. Amongst other things, we revised the Xsara's ride-height, tested a new engine improvement and offered our drivers the possibility to run bigger diameter rear brake discs. Also, like our rivals, we tested the new products developed by our tyre partner Michelin."
Globally identical to the format of the 2002 Rallye Deutschland, the second WRC qualifier to take place on German soil has introduced a number of innovations, including the decision to use a single service park. As a consequence, the organisers are no longer forced to put on what essentially amounted to a different rally every day, an itinerary that took competitors successively from the Mosel vineyards to the Baumholder military ranges and, finally, to the Saarland stages around Sankt Wendel. The central location of this year's service park on the shores of the Bostalsee Lake means that each of this year's legs will feature a mix of all three types of terrain. One effect of this should be a better deployment of the considerable crowd (250,000 spectators) expected to turn up for this rally which takes place within striking distance of six European countries.
Currently second in the championship, Carlos Sainz says he is "cautiously optimistic", while Guy Fréquelin's thinking follows similar lines: "Confident, yet wary!". Colin McRae is aiming for a podium finish, while the squad's youngest member and outgoing winner Sébastien Loeb admits that he would " really like to win!", a desire that the whole Citroën team, which is eager to get on with the show, shares entirely.
Telefónica Movistar, Michelin, Magneti-Marelli, Kinetic, OZ, AIS and Citroën Financement are Team Citroën Total's partners in the World Rally Championship.
Questions to Guy Fréquelin
The second half of the season, which is comprised predominantly of asphalt rounds, kicks off with an event that Citroën has won for the past two years. You surely couldn't have wished for better.
"That remains to be seen! Our 2001 win, which we clinched ahead of some of the WRC's regulars, was a dress rehearsal. To win in 2002, Sébastien had to fight very hard. Resting on our laurels would be the ideal way to go home disappointed. A full year has gone by since then, during which time all the teams have worked. It is possible that one or more may have achieved the same sort of progress on asphalt that the Xsara has made on gravel. In fact, Rallye Deutschland will serve as a useful benchmark as to where the other teams stand prior to the season's last three asphalt rallies. As for me, I would sum up my thoughts by saying that I am confident but wary! "
What is the reasoning behind the fourth Xsara officially entered for Philippe Bugalski and Jean-Paul Chiaroni?
"Everyone is aware of the results Philippe and Jean-Paul have obtained for Citroën in the past. What is less well known is the enormous development work they do for us. Entering them in the four asphalt rallies to come with an identical specification Xsara to that of their team-mates is a way of showing them our confidence in them. I also believe it's good for a driver entrusted with the development of a car to be able to relate his work to real rally conditions. In terms of a result, there will be no pressure on Philippe. He will drive as he sees fit, bedding himself back in progressively."
Finally, the traditional question. what is your objective for the team?
"If I said we weren't hoping to come away with a win, nobody would believe me! Given our record in this event, and the fact that it takes place on a surface that generally suits us, we can only aim for victory. Or at least hope to be involved in the thick of the fight for victory. The difference this year is that this objective, in the context of the championship, needs to be coupled with the presence of the other Xsaras in the points. And if possible in the big points. We have the drivers, the car and the team to achieve this."
Questions to Sébastien Loeb
How did testing to prepare the Xsara's return to asphalt go?
"We worked well. Like everybody, we went to sample the Baumholder ranges which are very specific, and capped that with a session in the Vosges Mountains in France, at a base that is very similar to the stages found in the Saarland region. It didn't take me long to find my marks on asphalt and I am pleased with my Xsara. It is balanced, precise, and doesn't flinch at all over the rougher portions. The engine is strong. In a word, the instrument is now finely tuned, it's up to us to play it well."
Each leg of last year's Rallye Deutschland concentrated on a specific type of terrain whereas every day of this year's format features a bit of everything. How do you feel about that?
"For me, it's not important. Last year, our set-up didn't differ fundamentally from one day to the next. One of the Xsara's strong points is effectively its polyvalence, its capacity to adapt quickly from one terrain to another."
Germany marks your return to the scene of your maiden WRC win. Psychologically, it's an important moment. How will you approach the rally?
"There are two ways of looking at it. On the one hand, it's a good confidence booster. What you've done once you can do again. On the other hand, there is more pressure when you're listed as one of the favourites. Everyone will be watching to see what we do, including the numerous fans who make the trip from nearby Alsace, my home region. You feel you haven't the right to get it wrong. But coping mentally with all that is also part of the game! My objective is clear: I want to win, and I hope I will win. Last year, I felt good from the word go. I hope it will be the same this time round."
Questions to Colin McRae
Six of your twenty-five WRC wins have been on asphalt. Is it a surface you like? How do your style and the way you take notes differ?
"As far as note-taking is concerned, it's really quite similar. The driving style is different however. On asphalt, you've got to keep the car more in a straight line, keep to the ideal cornering line and above all brake in a straight line. You can't 'play' with the car as much as you can on gravel. To tell the truth, I find competing on asphalt less enjoyable. Yet it's easier on the tyres and speeds are often very high."
Like most drivers, the 2002 Rallye Deutschland was a first for you and you had a strong run. What do you remember about it?
"I quite liked this event last year. It's really different from all the other asphalt rallies. Each leg was very different. The stages are fairly fast, with tight corners. The trick was finding the ideal braking points."
You drove the Xsara on asphalt on the Monte Carlo Rally and, since then, you have tested on sealed surfaces. How do you find the car on this type of surface and, taking that question a step further, what sort of result are you expecting in Germany?
"I have an excellent feeling. We tested the other week in Germany and the Xsara is very easy to drive, very balanced. My objective is to finish on the podium."
Questions to Carlos Sainz
You raced on circuits early in your career and then, up to your arrival on the WRC scene, you were something of an asphalt specialist. Because of this experience, do you have a special liking or skill for this type of surface? A small advantage perhaps?
"Circuit racing is an excellent school for any driver. Not only for asphalt but also for learning about cornering lines, where to gain tenths of a second, etc. I don't have a problem with asphalt and I am sure we will be competitive with the Citroën."
You have the reputation for being extremely meticulous when it comes to setting up your car. This work is reputed to pay on asphalt. Is this true? To what extent and in what domains?
"Meticulous? Thanks for the compliment. Every driver has his own individual approach. In any case, the Xsara is a much more accomplished machine on asphalt than it was on gravel. We will have some small new tweaks for Germany and we hope they will work well. We are all cautiously optimistic."
Rallye Deutschland is different to the other asphalt events, notably the Baumholder stages. Is it an event you like? Given your position in the championship, will you adopt a particular tactic?
"No, I won't really have a special tactic. For me, Germany is the least asphalt-like of all the asphalt rounds. It's not my favourite either, but we will do everything we can to obtain a good result, to score points. or even win. Maybe we will attack hard from the beginning, maybe we'll wait to see how it goes."
Questions to Philippe Bugalski
You are the driver who has driven the most kilometres with the Xsara WRC.
"No doubt! I often say I should keep count. As development driver, I get to drive the Xsara on snow, ice, gravel and, naturally, asphalt. It's a lot of work, but I love it. On top of that, given that the car is successful, it's extremely satisfying to contribute to its evolution."
You won the 2001 Rallye Deutschland ahead a number of WRC regulars. Is it a good event to stage a comeback.
"It's a tremendous thrill to be back, whatever the event. Jean-Paul Chiaroni and I are naturally very excited. To be making our comeback in Germany is a small plus factor, and that isn't a bad thing. After going nine months without driving competitively, our objective will be to find our marks and go as far as possible in order to get back into the rhythm. I am under no illusions. I am not Superman. After such a long spell away, I don't see myself competing on the same level as the best."
You are one of the drivers hit head on by the recent regulation concerning third cars. What is your sentiment?
"Rallying has undergone a lot of changes over the past ten years. Each time, I have forced myself to view new measures objectively. In this precise case, however, I don't understand. Stopping drivers from working because they have been sufficiently competitive to make it onto the podium is abhorrent. It's a first in top class sport. Can you imagine Roland Garros semi-finalists being prevented from taking part in the Grand Slam tournament? With this ruling, a driver on the point of finishing on the podium could find himself forced to choose between the interests of his team and his own. Is that what sport is about?"
Facts and figures:
The 22nd ADAC Rallye Deutschland is the second to count towards the World Rally Championship.
The event is based in Trier, one of Germany's oldest cities, located 10km from Luxembourg and 50km from the French border.
The three legs represent a total length of 1,737.58 km, including 388.23 km divided into 22 stages (12 different tests).
Shakedown will take place from 08.00 a.m., Thursday July 24, near Bostalsee Lake.
The Porta Nigra monument in Trier, built by the Romans in the 4th Century BC, will provide the backdrop to both the ceremonial start (Thursday July 24, 19:00) and finish of the rally (Sunday July 27, 15:45).
This year's format features a single service park. It is located by the Bostalsee Lake and was used for Legs 2 and 3 of the 2002 event.
The length of the opening leg is 606.74 km, including 7 stages totalling 117.31 km. These stages are divided into four groups: 'Stein und Wein Fell- Ruwertal'/'Dhrontal', 'Maiwald'/ 'Panzerplatte-Ost', 'Stein und Wein- Ruwertal 2'/'Dhrontal 2' and the Sankt Wendel superspecial.
Leg 2 (573.01 km, including 169.38 km against-the-clock) features nine stages and is also split into four separate groups: a loop of two stages ('Bosenberg'/'Peterberg') followed by two runs through another loop of two tests ('Erzweiler'/'Panzerplatte-West'). The third loop is identical to the day's first ('Bosenberg'/'Peterberg') and the leg finishes, like the previous day, with the Sankt Wendel superspecial.
The third leg (557.83 km, including 101.54 km against-the-clock) is comprised of two runs through a loop of three stages ('Schönes Moselland'/'Moselwein'/'St Wendeler Land').