The Citroen Junior Team will make its competition debut on the opening round of the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally Ireland this weekend. Three Citroen C4 WRCs will be entrusted to Chris Atkinson/Stéphane Prevot, Conrad Rautenbach/Daniel Barritt and Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia.

Having claimed a fourth manufacturers’ title last year, Citroen has now entered a second team in this category for the 2009 season. Complementing the Citroen-Total World Rally Team, the Citroen Junior Team will reinforce the marque’s presence on the championship by providing a cradle for young talent.

Building on the foundations laid in 2008, the Citroen Junior Team will take the start of the first round of the year with three Citroen C4 WRCs. The crews of Australian Chris Atkinson and Belgian Stéphane Prevot, together with Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach and Briton Daniel Barritt have been chosen to score team points in the World Championship for Manufacturers. The French crew of Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will drive the third Citroen C4 WRC.

Rally Ireland marks the start of a season that will take in 12 rounds, and just like last year, the rally
route will run on roads through both the Republic of Ireland and also the United Kingdom. The fast, narrow and bumpy stages are guaranteed to pose a real challenge for the crews. The local weather at the end of January could well take in ice and snow – so all the drivers will be forced to think on their feet!

Chris Atkinson is the only member of the Citroen Junior Team to have already competed on the Rally Ireland, but he will be making his debut in the Citroen C4 WRC. After a test session earlier in January, the young Australian was already impressed.

“I had a good feeling with the car straight away and I felt more and more comfortable with every kilometre that went by,” he said. “The Citroen C4 WRC is different to the other cars that I have driven before. The more I attack the better it seems to work.”

The Australian is now looking forward to a welcoming but challenging event.

“There’s a fantastic atmosphere with a huge crowd,” he said. “The event itself is really tricky. The roads are bumpy and often very dirty. At this time of year, we might even find some ice. We’re going to start the event using settings that the team has already established from the past. Then, when it comes to the start of the rally, we will see how we are getting on. I’ve got no other aim other than just to score some points for the Citroen Junior Team and demonstrate our competitiveness compared to the other crews.”

Following his debut season in the Citroen C4 WRC last year, Conrad Rautenbach is planning to up his game in 2009.

“I learnt a lot from last year,” he said. “That first season with Citroen Sport Technologies allowed me to gain a lot of experience. I now understand the C4 WRC and its behaviour a lot better. This year, I’ll be able to push much harder in the places that I know well. Rally Ireland is certainly one of the most difficult events of the whole championship though. My primary objective will be to get to the finish with the aim of scoring points. I was able to see once more just how difficult the roads in Ireland were when I took part in national rally there in January, driving a Citroen Xsara WRC. The conditions were particularly difficult and I’m sure that will be the case again on the Rally Ireland next week. The event also allowed me to get up to speed with my new co-driver, Daniel Barritt. So everything went really well.”

After clinching the 2008 Junior World Rally Championship in a Citroen C2 Super 1600, Sébastien Ogier will now tackle his first season at the wheel of a World Rally Car.

“The 2009 season promises to be a nice one for me, thanks to a very good programme with the Citroen Junior Team,” he said. “I took part in the Ulster Rally last year with a Citroen C2-R2 MAX. It was my first experience of Irish roads, even though the profile of the World Rally Championship event there looks somewhat different. I think this is going to be a very complex rally, with some ice and frost expected at this time of year. The roads are narrow and bumpy, plus they get dirty very quickly. By starting the first day around 10th on the road, we are sure to find some particularly delicate conditions. My key objective is to finish. I don’t have any real pressure in terms of results: I just need to keep making progress and learning as the event goes on.”

Three questions to...Benoit Nogier - Team Manager – Citroen Junior Team

What is the thinking behind the Citroen Junior Team?

“This initiative is a natural continuation of the programme that we put in place last year. Our aim was to enter a genuine manufacturer team. This project led to the birth of the Citroen Junior Team. It’s an opportunity to maximise our growing profile, even though we are very aware that we have different objectives to the factory team. The Citroen Junior Team is a programme with which to develop drivers. Thanks to this structure, we hope to find some future drivers for Citroen.”

How will the team operate throughout the course of the season?

“The exact programmes are still being finalised. We have entered the Citroen Junior Team onto all 12 rounds of the 2009 calendar with a minimum of two cars per event, which allows us to score points towards the World Rally Championship for Manufacturers on each round. Conrad Rautenbach will be present on all 12 rallies. Evgeny Novikov will start his eight-round programme on the Rally Norway. Sébastien Ogier will take part in the first six rallies, but he has a real opportunity to bulk out his programme as the season goes on. As for Chris Atkinson, he will drive one of our Citroen C4 WRCs in Ireland. As we already made clear when we signed the deal there are no plans currently in place beyond then, even though there’s a strong will to do so from both sides.”

What is the team’s goal on its World Championship debut?

We would like to prove that we can be competitive compared to the opposition. The average age of our four drivers – Chris Atkinson, Conrad Rautenbach, Sébastien Ogier and Evgeny Novikov – is just 22. They will all certainly want to demonstrate their outright speed, but the team’s objective is for them to acquire as much World Rally Championship experience as possible and get to the finish of each event. That’s our priority.”

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