At the foot of the Northern face After a fantastic result in one of the most challenging Monte Carlos in years, the Kronos Total CitroÃ«n World Rally Team finds itself at the foot of the Northern face of the championship. For this untypical...
At the foot of the Northern face
After a fantastic result in one of the most challenging Monte Carlos in years, the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team finds itself at the foot of the Northern face of the championship. For this untypical event, which the Belgian team urges to discover, one 2006-Xsara will be entered for the two times World Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, and a second one for their team- mates Xavier Pons and Carlos Del Barrio.
Like in Monte Carlo, Daniel Sordo and Marc Marti will also be present. The Junior World Champion will compete behind the wheel of a 2005-Xsara, rented by Kronos Racing to the Spaniard.
The Swedish Rally remains and especially since the Southern focus of the Monte Carlo the only real winter round of the World Rally calendar. Taking place in the area of Hagfors (360 km West of Stockholm), the rally route goes through the tracks of the Värmland province. The gentle countryside of the region means that tight corners are a rarity. This leads to high speeds on the stages, which only slow down at junctions.
When the tough Nordic winter arrives, the snow which has been swept from the roads builds some compact and securing banks on the sides. The sheet ice offers a consistent surface and the cars equipped with around 380 studs on each tyre, go sideways supported by the thousands of fans gathered in the stages. The Swedish rally lies amongst the competitors' favourite events when all these ideal conditions are met.
It also happens that the weather isn't so favourable to the drivers. A fresh layer of snow falling in the night preceding the first leg sometimes means that the first cars on the road will act as snowplough for those following them. "You really have to fight to loose as less time as possible, with studded tyre that the fresh snow stops from working efficiently and with a car difficult to handle..." explains the 2004 winner, Sébastien Loeb.
If the temperatures are too high for the season, the thin ice becomes too fragile and the road conditions change sometimes in disfavour of the chasing cars. Finally the worst situation, which happened last year, is the lack of snow. The threatening rocks are fairly visible and the appearing gravel can break the tyre studs, or the stones taken out from the inside of corners can damage the rims...
Like before the Monte Carlo, most of the preparation work on the Xsara WRC has been conducted by Citroën Sport. It consisted in adapting the 2006 car to the Swedish special stages, especially the front and rear differentials. After a test session at mid-December, Sébastien Loeb found a balanced and reactive car, showing a good handling. As usual, after finetuning the set-up, the BFGoodrich range of `Ice' tyres has been tried methodically. The Kronos Total Citroën WRT and its crews are ready.
The weather raises the final question. For the answer, rendez vous Friday February the 3rd around 8 o'clock in the area of Fredriksberg.
Questions to Marc Van Dalen, team principal...
What is your analysis of the Monte Carlo Rally?
"I won't hide that we were hoping for a win there... But the way the rally ended allowed us to realise once more that Seb' is an incredible fighter. His recovery was the most exciting moment of the rally. I've also noticed that in real Monte Carlo conditions, the Xsara remains capable to win even compared to the new cars of our rivals. However I'm still cautious and we have learned a few things for the tarmac events to come. Our two young Spanish drivers pleased me after they managed to reach the finish without making any mistake. The enormous motivation of everybody and the harmony created in the team, are also some very positive points."
Kronos has never competed in Sweden. Isn't there a risk that you lack of experience?
"If I'd answered no, it will sound presumptuous. Mexico and Japan will also be new events to us. It's part of the challenge that we were ready to take up this year. But as far as Sweden is concerned, we will obviously discover some things, especially because this event is unique in its category. We prepared it the best we could and we tried to think about all the tiny details while we benefited from the help of Citroën Sport' who took part in the event four times. On event, we would have to be even more careful and reactive than usual if something happens. In these new conditions to us, I know we can rely on the team's good level of cooperation demonstrated in Monaco."
What will you be asking of your drivers over the next event?
"First of all, I don't give any objectives to the drivers, but to the technical team. Engineers and mechanics will have to give Sébastien, Xevi and Dani the best cars as possible. Between the drivers and me, it's much more an open discussion as each of them knows already what to expect from the rally. Winner in 2004, Seb will obviously go for a victory. Xevi knows the event but never competed in a WRC there. He will have to do his best to bring back the maximum number of points. And for Dani, who has never been to Sweden before, he is free to do his own race like in Monte Carlo. He has perfectly understood a very simple fact: when you want to learn, you learn more if you reach the finish..."
... to Sébastien Loeb...
What did you think exactly when you went off the road in Monte Carlo? On spot, I really believed that everything was over! I insulted myself mentally... I thought about the lead we had built during the first leg, about the championship which wasn't starting the best way... In a word a big disappointment. Then we rang the team and they asked us how damaged the car was and then `Bing'! As I had never competed in `superally' before, I simply didn't think about it at all. I realised it wasn't really over yet. I ran back down to the car to check it carefully and Daniel started to calculate how much time penalty my mistake will cost us. Our motivation went up again. The next day when we left the service park, we were quite pleased as the good side of this situation was that we had almost nothing to loose. It was `no limits'... just to stay on the road and set good times. Actually, this recovery and this incredible finale made this Monte Carlo the most exciting we experienced..."
Have you thought about the fact this off is the second consecutive?
"Of course! Immediately! Straight way I was asking myself a lot of questions, and I tried to identify the reasons. Maybe I take a bit of distance with my sensations especially when the feeling with the car is excellent, just like it was in Australia. On the Monte, with tyres for dry roads, we know every corner can be a trap. It's not really a nice experience. This `off' won't have happened for nothing and I will try to learn from it."
What are your memories of the Swedish Rally 2005?
"As there was no snow, I didn't enjoy it much. The Swedish Rally almost transformed into a gravel event, it's not much fun. In these conditions, we were loosing quite a lot of studs but we managed to keep contact with the leading duo. We were second when we were forced to retire. That said, even if I won in 2004, I still consider myself as a challenger in Sweden. The favourite is Marcus Grönholm. I'm dreaming of a straight battle with him this year, in thrilling conditions how they can be of this rally: this means sheet ice on the ground with high and thick snowbanks on the side to lean on. As the grip is consistent and excellent, you feel free to push hard and almost over drive as you know you can rely on the snowbanks sometimes. A big fight like that yes...and we will try to win it."
... and to Xavier Pons
The Swedish Rally 2003 was your debuts in WRC? Tell us a bit more about this event...
"It was simply incredible! Before coming to Sweden, I had only competed in five rallies in Spain in my whole career. So you can imagine how I felt for my first World event... I was excited, nervous and without any experience on this terrain. My target was to reach the finish and I managed it. It was a fantastic time which I will never forget..."
You took part in the 2004 and 2005 editions, again with a group N car. What is your
opinion about this event?
"I like this rally which I know quite well now. Of course for a Latin driver, the conditions aren't the best to perform. But I really enjoy driving on these very fast roads. It will be the championship's second round and I hope to score valuable points in spite of the fact I've never driven a WRC in such conditions and that I have everything to learn of the Xsara on snow."
What do you expect there? Which are your goals for this event?
"I hope to progress throughout the rally. I feel really well in the team where everybody is very welcoming. The advice of Seb' and the trust that Marc Van Dalen has given me make me want to do the best I can. I've understood what this extraordinary team is expecting and I will try not to deceive anyone."
Good to know ...
Swedish time (GMT + 1) is the same as in France and in Western Europe
Run for the first time in 1950, the Swedish Rally has been a winter fixture since 1965.
Since 1967, it has started and finished in the university town of Karlstad which is situated on the northern shores of Lake Vänern.
This year, the city of Karlstad will only host the Rally show (Thursday February 2nd at 18.00), the ceremonial start (same day at 19.00), the finish and final podium (Sunday February the 5th from 15.02)
It's in Hagfors, a town situated 100 km north of Karlstad that the single service park will be set up on the local airfield (10 km west of the town) and where the overnight halts on day one and two will take place, on one of Uddenholm sites, the local tool maker and main sponsor of the event.
This will save for the drivers two journeys Hagfors/Karlstad per day. The overall length of the 55th edition of the event has dropped to 1441.16 km including 349.02 competitive kilometres divided into 19 special stages (10 sdifferent).
Recce takes place over Tuesday January 31 t (10:30 18:00) and Wednesday February 1st (08:00 - 18:00).
The shakedown (Thursday February 2nd, from 08:00 until 12:00) uses the same 4 km stage (Råda) as last year. It is situated 5 km south of the service park.
Tyres: In accordance with the tyre regulations, teams will be permitted to use just one type of tyre. The BFGoodrich `Ice' has been selected for the Xsaras. The individual quota per driver is 75 tyres (nominated on January 30th), of which 50 may be used.
The chassis and engine in Sweden will be the same ones as those used in `Monte Carlo'.