Citroen out to continue winning streak
- 31st March 2009, 1:51pm
Following its absence from the 2008 calendar, the Rally de Portugal returns to the FIA World Rally Championship this year.
For Citroen Total WRT, which saw both its C4 WRCs finish on the podium here two years ago, this weekend's encounter will provide a pointer to the real potential of the different runners and riders on the loose. Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have yet to be beaten in 2009 and will looking to build on their current run. For Dani Sordo and Marc Marti, the proximity of Spain will be an added source of motivation as they target a top-three finish.
The Rally de Portugal is one of world class rallying's classic fixtures, and this year sees it return to the WRC fold with a significantly revised route and the Estadio Algarve as its epicentre. The stadium will also serve as backdrop for the super-special which is always a highlight for the connoisseur Portuguese spectators.
After claiming victory on the first three rounds of the 2009 championship, Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena go to the first all-gravel showdown of the year intent on continuing their winning streak. "The Citroen C4 WRC is competitive on all the different types of surface, as our recent successes in the rain in Ireland, on snow in Norway and on the mixed-surface Cyprus Rally show," observes the five-time World Champion. "Portugal marks the return of a more conventional format. If we are competitive here, it would suggest that we are also likely to be strong on the year's other gravel rounds."
In addition to adding a second Rally de Portugal success to his name, Sebastien Loeb will be targeting his 51st WRC victory: "I start every event with the intention of winning. We will push hard from the start and see how things unfold..."
With a score of 17 points to their name, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti have got their 2009 campaign off to a flying start and have high hopes for the fourth round of the season: "There are plenty of new stages, but I enjoy this rally which is very varied. The stages are narrow in places, and fast and wider in others. It's a concentrate of what we will find in Argentina, Greece and Sardinia later in the year."
During his visit to the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, Dani Sordo will be able to count on the support of fans who make the trip from Spain: "If only for them, I will give it my very best shot. It's always nice to feel their support behind me. As in 2007, my aim will be to finish on the podium."
The Rally de Portugal marks the debut of the 2009-homologated C4 TWRC. Both Citroen Total World Rally eam cars will feature small Tmodifications to the engine, gearbox and suspension.
Three questions to... Sebastien Loeb
After a year away from the WRC calendar, the Rally de Portugal is back on the programme. What is your opinion of this event?
"It's a really nice rally which deserves its place in the World Championship. It attracts big crowds and the local spectators know their rallying. We always get an excellent welcome and it's nice to feel that our sport counts for the people here, and that the WRC is seen as a major event. I love the stages; they are very varied with a range of different surface types. The weather tends to be good, too, so it's basically got all the ingredients anyone could ask for to be a great weekend!"
This is the first all-gravel round of the year. Does it set the tone for the rest of the season?
"A crew or a car which goes well in Portugal will also be competitive on events like Argentina, Sardinia and Greece. We kicked off the season with three very specific rallies, and Portugal is the first round to feature a more conventional format and spirit. Given the level we have reached with the development of the C4 WRC, we have a shrewd idea of where we stand. In Cyprus, for example, we worked from the same basic set-up we used in Wales. That suggests that our car is versatile enough to adapt to all types of terrain."
You have begun the 2009 season by winning the season's three opening rounds, which is a first for you. There are 12 rounds in the calendar; do you think a grand slam is possible?
"On paper, I know we are capable of winning every event, so a grand slam isn't out of the question, but 12 rallies is a lot. Last year, we won 11 rounds from 15, and we are enjoying a good run at the moment, but it's really not the sort of thing I think about. I take each outing as it comes, and our main objective is the title."
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