Tour de Corse Rallye de France (April 6th- 9th) Asphalt duel on the `island of beauty' In Catalunya two weeks ago, SÃ©bastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC have claimed for their second win this season, equalling Marcus GrÃ¶nholm's ...
Tour de Corse Rallye de France (April 6th- 9th)
Asphalt duel on the `island of beauty'
In Catalunya two weeks ago, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and their Xsara WRC have claimed for their second win this season, equalling Marcus Grönholm's score. Between the reigning World champions and their challenger in the current championship's standings, it is time for another duel on the `Island of beauty' as the French call Corsica.
The Kronos Total Citroën WRT enter in the 50th edition of the Tour de Corse, two 2006 Xsara WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, the 2005 winners, and for Xevi Pons/Carlos Del Barrio. As for the four previous rounds, Dani Sordo/Marc Marti who claimed for second position in Catalunya and currently lie in third position in the Drivers rankings - participate in the French round behind the wheel of the Kronos Racing 2005 Xsara.
With only around five months to prepare the event, the organisers of the championship's French round have decided to repeat most of last year's compact rally route. Minor changes `Vico' to the Liamone beach as a final stage or the comeback of the famous speed test of `Pénitencier de Coti/Pietra Rossa' won't stop the competitors to appreciate the event.
The Tour de Corse starts only ten days after the finish of the RallyRACC Catalunya to which it is paired. This means that both chassis and engine are the same than those used in Spain. Citroën's Sport development team has prepared simultaneously the two rounds during a test session conducted in February in the area of Vic, in the North of Catalunya. At this occasion, the drivers have tried the BFGoodrich tyre range and commenced to compose their Corsican package of which the bar codes should be communicated to the FIA on April 3rd.
As far as tyre package is concerned, this reveals the main difficulty on the Corsican terrain for the competitors. The island is a real mountain in the middle of the sea, and in spring, like in autumn, the weather remains very changeable. The single service park format leads the drivers to select their tyres for the next group of stages between 1h30 to 3 hours before the actual start. In the meantime, in Corsica, the roads can become wet or dry and at a different stage. As a summary, the Tour de Corse is the year's event where the drivers have more chance to compete with inappropriate tyres.
Sébastien Loeb perfectly knows that as he will take the start of the rally for the seventh time. In 2003, he could have won the event as he drove with dry road tyres in wet conditions and landed on the side of the road without being able to restart for around ten minutes. "We try to anticipate at the maximum but you also need a bit of luck. Actually the weather changes so quickly that it can change a logical and wise choice into a mistake..."
If both of the Spanish crews have less experience than the World Champion in Corsica, they aren't rookies on the island either. They showed impressive pace during the previous editions. The Catalan driver Xevi Pons was leading the group N in 2003 when he had to retire. The next year, he won the category just in front of... Dani Sordo! Last year the Manlleu-based-driver led his Xsara to seventh place overall, first privateer behind six works cars. At the same time, his younger compatriot from Santander finished second and the best performer of the `Junior' classification. Seb hopes for another good fight in Corsica and for sure he can counts on his team-mates to assist him...
Questions to Marc Van Dalen, team principal...
The first quarter of the championship ended in Catalunya. What do you think?
"In terms of figures, it is extremely positive. Before Corsica, we are leading both championships. On the sporting side, Seb' won twice and so has Marcus Grönholm. The fight between these two drivers promised to be long and tight, but also thrilling for the public. The way we have organised the team seems to work. The Citroën Sport's men developed a perfect car as usual. We lack of no information nor wise advice. With this great help, Kronos Racing tries to prepare and run the cars on-event the best they can. The mechanics from Naninne and those coming from Citroën Sport's technical support work hands in hands. Amongst the crews, I measure on a day to day basis how great champions are Sébastien and Daniel. I'm very happy to see that Seb' plays the role of an older brother with his Spanish team-mates. I imagine that it was a bit the case for him when Carlos Sainz was his..."
Xevi Pons was the least successful...
"It's true and it's a pity for this talented, hard-worker and dedicated guy. Despite being very timid, he feels at home in the team. He was perfect in the first two rounds, which were probably the most difficult for him, and he scored eight valuable points for the Manufacturers championship. We cannot blame him for Mexico as it was an ignition problem which caused his retirement. He made a mistake in Catalunya in a very tricky section where the slightest gap in the line leads to an `off'. Although he is Catalan, I think he prefers the Corsican stages. I'm optimistic and confident : Xevi and Carlos are able to do really well in Ajaccio and score some good points..."
Are you surprised by Dani Sordo's performance?
"I knew really well the `Dani' driving the C2 Super 1600, his impressive pace, his ability to react positively to the pressure and to preserve a position. The question mark was all about his capacity to adapt to the driving style of a World Rally Car. We had the answer in Monte Carlo. Since then, with the help of his experienced co-driver Marc Marti, he climbed one step higher on every race. It's a raw diamond which is starting to polish. His superb result says it all : third in the drivers' rankings after only four rallies in a WRC is simply exceptional. The fact he has achieved this enormous performance with a `customer version' of the car that Kronos offers to rent, delights me for the team. Now I think Dani should not believe `that's it!' He should keep in mind that Seb has added to his natural talent a lot of work to become the fantastic champion he is today."
...to Sébastien Loeb...
Week-end with the Xsara, Monday with the Pescarolo prototype, Tuesday with the C4
WRC. What a programme !
"These are great moments aren't they ? Three days in my beloved Xsara and a win at the end. To leave the team without partying with them I needed a good reason. And it was just to jump in the `Pescarolo's cockpit'. The Citroën and the prototype are two different worlds but strangely to go from one to the other isn't that difficult. I think the brain must have a mental reset. I thought I would need some time to get back into it but not really. For example, last year, I had to pay attention in the braking phase to release the pressure on the pedal progressively at the same as the speed and the aerodynamics decreased. I flat-spotted the tyres whenever I locked up the wheels...This year, it's almost naturally that I found my reflexes back. I think I completed in between 70 and 80 laps. And once more I was completely astonished by the aero. When you arrive at 300 km/h, you brake, 250 km/h to enter the curve, you `charge' by pushing the throttle and you turn like on rails, the car completely sticking up to the ground. I think we will have fun in June! Tuesday, I tested the C4 around the Vic area. Third great moment but also different. What's interesting there is to work, look for and try new things. The `baby' grows up in front of us, it's exciting."
Five days at home and you head towards Ajaccio...
"Yes, I have a match running with Marcus, which some others and the weather want to come and arbitrate. I think it's good we won all the stages last year as it won't be as easy this year. I wasn't surprised that Marcus performed really well in Catalunya. Firstly because those who think he isn't a tarmac driver should have a look at his results on this surface. And secondly because he benefits from the same excellent BFGoodrich tyres as us and from a recent specifications car. This said, even when we dropped six seconds in five kilometres at the end of SS1 in Spain and competing the first two loops with a perfectible set-up, I conceded less than twelve seconds. The Xsara is still in the pace. It's my job to show it in Corsica where I feel more at ease than in Catalunya."
In four events, the championship has run on every kind of surface. What do you think
for the rest of the year?
"On all four terrains, we fought for victory. This means that we are still in the pace and that it's not an utopia to hope I can defend the title amongst the Kronos team. If I chose this formula it's because I believed it could work. To have the confirmation is good news. This said, we also realised during the four first events that it will be everything but easy. Of course we were not naïve to imagine that we will relive such an exceptional season as last year! Now it's clear the margin isn't huge. The races promise to be difficult and tense and as often in these situations, small details will make the difference. Each of us would have to be at the top... but it might end up in an exciting season..."
... and to Xavier Pons
How would judge your race in Catalunya ?
"Of course, we cannot forget our `off'. Despite this, I think it was quite positive. During nine stages, we matched the front-runners' pace. We were on the podium and that the most important for us. I also believe we understood the working of the mechanical differentials on tarmac. The Xsara remains very competitive and before our mistake, our car was perfect. For the team, the rally has been fantastic with a one-two for Seb and Dani. I feel frustrated we haven't succeeded in making it a one-two-three but I'm convinced we will make it one day! And I would also like to thank all the fans, especially the Catalans, for their support."
You've competed in Corsica three times. Which memories do you have of these
"Very good memories actually. In 2003, it was my third World event. I was leading the group N after SS13, in front of experienced drivers but our engine stopped on SS14! In 2004, it has been an incredible event for me. I won eight stages out of the twelve possible in the Production category. But in the final stage, `Pont de Calzola', the gearbox blocked in fifth gear. Fortunately, our margin on Dani [Sordo] and Niall McShea was sufficient... But I will never forget that day : I won the `Production' but returned to Ajaccio in fifth gear! In 2005, with the Kronos Xsara, I improved my times throughout the rally to finish seventh and scored my first points for the championship..."
The island's stages seem to suit you. According to you, which skills they request for
the driver and for the car?
"In Corsica, the weather conditions play an important role. In these long stages, there are some sections with rain, then some others with fog, and some more with sun and dry roads. The tyre choice is extremely tricky. I like the rally route because you find slow and fast places but also because the asphalt offers a good grip. As a consequence, you must start in the right pace straight away or you loose a lot of time quickly. I hope to drive at good speed and give back to the team the trust they've placed in me."