After nine months of preparations and over 10,000 km of testing, the Citroën Racing team are preparing to begin their debut season in the World Touring Car Championship.
Since the C-Elysée WTCC’s very first outing on 10 July 2013, Citroën Racing has undertaken an intense development programme with its four drivers: Sébastien Loeb, Yvan Muller, José-María López and Ma Qinq Hua. Over the last few days, the team have stepped up their efforts even further in the workshops of their technical centre in Versailles.
During this dummy run, Citroën Racing’s Managing Director, Yves Matton, took the opportunity to look back at what the team had achieved: “Starting a season is one thing, but starting your first season in a new discipline is something else entirely! Everything is new to us: the cars, of course, but also the equipment, the methods, the regulations, the race strategy…
Every member of Citroën Racing has invested a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm to ensure that we are ready when the time comes.
Of course, we would have liked to have had a few more days to prepare, but we can’t wait to get to Marrakech. It will be the culmination of over a year’s work. Our challenge now is to develop the essential reflexes we need in order to be strong performers in WTCC. We will be looking closely at our first times to see where we stand in relation to the competition.”
A big challenge to start the season
Used exclusively by the WTCC since 2009, the Moulay El Hassan circuit takes in the wide boulevards on the outskirts of Marrakech. At first glance, the circuit appears relatively straightforward: it consists mainly of straight sections, punctuated by chicanes.
“Appearances can be deceptive,” says Yvan Muller, the only Citroën Racing to have raced in Morocco before. “In reality, it’s a very difficult circuit.” “Because it’s not a permanent track, the surface is very slippery at the start of a meeting. The key to a fast lap lies in how you tackle the rumble strips. You have to climb over them, or sometimes jump them, while making sure not to end up in the wall, of course! Obviously, we’ve worked on this in testing, but we will have to wait to be out on the track to get a clearer idea of what to do.”
With a very busy start to the season in prospect, the quadruple World Champion also thinks that starting the WTCC adventure on a street circuit will be particularly challenging: “Only a week after Marrakech, we’ll be at Paul Ricard for the second round. Even if all goes well, the mechanics won’t have a lot of time to get the cars ready. If there’s a lot of damage, things will be even tougher for them. That adds a little extra pressure.”
A baptism of fire for Seb and Pechito
Marrakech will be a first for Sébastien Loeb and José-María López. “Generally, I’m quite comfortable on street circuits, like Pau, Baku or Monaco,” says Seb, “but I haven’t had time to get to know Marrakech… and that won’t be the only new thing I have to get to grips with in the next few days! Even after a full season in GT, I’m still dreading the starts. It’s often very tricky when you’re trying to avoid dropping places on the first few corners…
At the moment, the one thing I am sure about is the car, the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I know that we have done some good work on it and I’ve got a good feeling at the wheel. We may have got a head start on the competition in terms of development, but we also have less room for improvement than the teams that have only started their testing in the last few weeks. Like everyone, I’m feeling really motivated for the start of the season.”
“Testing is a really interesting part of our preparation, but I am glad to be going into the first meeting,” says Pechito. We’ll get out on the track with our rivals and finally see if the work we have done pays off. I’ve already raced on quite a few street circuits – we’ve got a few in Argentina. It’s not my favourite style of race, but I think it’s a really positive thing to bring motorsport closer to the people.
The circuit seems quite unusual, with high-speed chicanes and steep rumble strips, but we’ll see exactly what it’s like when we come to drive on it. The start of a season is always a special time, and this excitement is shared by the whole team. We are competitors, and we all want to make a good start and leave Marrakech in a good position in the championship!”
The WTCC cars will start their weekend with half an hour of free practice on Friday at 1.30 p.m. Two further practice sessions will be held on Saturday, at 9 a.m. and 11.15 a.m., to help the teams prepare for qualifying at 3 p.m. Like in Formula 1, the crucial qualifying runs will take place in three stages. After an initial 20-minute session, Q1, the 12 fastest drivers will proceed to Q2.
They will then have just 10 minutes to get themselves into the top 5 and win a place in Q3. In this last run, each driver has just one flying lap to try and clock the best time. The drivers who take part in Q3 receive 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points towards their World Championship tally.
On the Sunday, race 1 (14 laps) will get underway at 4.20 p.m. The teams will then have just 15 minutes’ ‘repair time’ to prepare and/or repair their cars before the second race, which starts at 5.25 p.m., with the top ten qualifiers lining up in reverse order on the grid. Points are awarded to the top ten drivers in each race, as per the usual FIA scale.