Monte Carlo Rally – Citroen preview
- 15th January 2007, 8:23am
The 2007 World Rally Championship will kick off this weekend (19-21 January 2007) in Monte Carlo with Citroën’s return to the sport after a year’s sabbatical with the launch of the new Citroën C4 WRC, bidding to regain the manufacturers’ title it held in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb aiming to hold onto the drivers’ title he has won for the last three years.
Loeb is, with three wins and a second place in the last four events, the reigning king of the Monte Carlo rally, but he goes into the event in a new car and still recovering from the mountain bike accident that knocked him our of the final events of the 2006 season. So, the first question has to be, has he recovered?
"I have yet to recover all my strength and I still have difficulty making certain movements. I'm still a little stiff,” says Loeb. “But it's getting better all the time and I only feel pain when I make sudden movements. I was able to get in a lot of kilometres during testing and my injury didn't prevent me from being quick. Anyway, I intend to go into the rally as though nothing was wrong and see how it goes."
And the second question must be is the new C4 WRC better than the Citroën Xsara WRC that has been the dominant force in rallying for the last four years?
"I haven't got as much experience with this car as I have with the Xsara,” explains Loeb. “Globally, the feeling is positive. The C4's balance is excellent and it responds well. To my mind, we have done enough testing and there is reason to be optimistic but, as I often say, testing is one thing. The true litmus test will be actually competing. I know I will discover new things about the C4 on the event!"
Kicking off the new season with a new car was always going to be a challenge.
"Despite all the hard work we have accomplished with the C4 WRC and although it has proved more competitive than the Xsara, we still lack hindsight," says Citroën Sport Team Director, Guy Fréquelin. "Citroën Sport is in a similar frame of mind as it was before the start of the 2003 season. After a year away, during which Citroën hasn't competed officially, it's like making a fresh start. We also have a new car, the C4 WRC. The members of the team feel a lot of pressure. They are vigilant and anxious, but also eager to see how it goes."
Indeed, the new car is poised to make its debut on the new look Monte Carlo Rally, one of the toughest of the calendar's sixteen rounds, and that only serves to make the challenge even more complex. Everyone at Citroën Sport is acutely aware of the volume of the task that awaits them though, and all the work that has been done during the past year was planned to give the team the best chances of success.
In its bid to eliminate unwelcome surprises and to allow the C4 WRC to make its debut in the best conditions possible, the French squad has effectively put in a very special effort. In addition to Sébastien Loeb, Juuso Pykälisto, Philippe Bugalski, André Bourdon and Kris Meeke, all took turns at the wheel of the C4 in the course of its development programme in 2006. Seb himself had a busy end to the year with a schedule of several test sessions aimed at covering as many of the different types of conditions that can be expected on the Monte Carlo Rally as possible. Dani Sordo has also made an active contribution, especially since the confirmation of his nomination as the team's second driver for 2007.
As Citroën Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon explains, this lengthy preparation period has been very fruitful, but that won't stop the team lining up for the new car's maiden outing with a certain reserve:
"The test programme went well, but we are a little cautious going into the Monte because we don't know how we compare with the opposition. We have no particular concerns regarding reliability, but here again caution prevails."
For 2007, the Monte Carlo Rally organisers have decided to return to the scene of some of the finest chapters of the event's history by shifting its focus to the city of Valence which will host the event's headquarters and principal service park. There is a good chance that this year's visits to the Vercors and Ardèche regions will produce wintry conditions and, true to its legend, the rally could well prove more indecisive than ever. But many questions – like "Will the bitter wind that frequently blows over the plateau near Lachamp-Raphaël bring snow?" "Will the Saint Bonnet le Froid loop – the northernmost part of the route – be as icy as it used to be?" "What tyres will be the most suitable for the 46km run over three mountain passes from Saint Pierreville to Antraigues?" – will all have to wait until the day to be answered.
As if discovering a brand new car in anger for the first time on unfamiliar stages wasn't a bug enough challenge, Sébastien and Dani are expecting some pretty tough calls on the tyre front too. To help them, however, they will be able to count on the combined experience of Citroën Sport and BFGoodrich's technical staff, as well as in the competitiveness of the latter's products. The many unknowns that mark the build-up to the 2007 Monte mean that Guy Fréquelin, who is familiar with the potential pitfalls of the Ardèche region, is even more guarded than usual.
"We face several unknown factors which are further complicated by the fact that the Monte Carlo Rally is such a specific event," he says. "That said, without wishing to sound too presumptuous, we will do our best to win."
Questions to the team
…to Guy Fréquelin:
In what frame of mind is your team with the start of the 2007 season fast approaching?
"Citroën Sport is in a similar frame of mind as it was before the start of the 2003 season. After a year away, during which Citroën hasn't competed officially, it's like making a fresh start. We also have a new car, the C4 WRC. The members of the team feel a lot of pressure. They are vigilant and anxious, but also eager to see how it goes."
Citroën's return coincides with the Monte Carlo Rally which itself returns to some of the stages that have helped forge its legend. Does that complicate your come-back at all?
"We will only know afterwards whether the changes to the event were positive or not for us. The Monte is incontestably the toughest round of the year and also the event where the drivers cover the greatest distance on unsuited tyres. By definition, you're never on the right tyres because you're always having to make compromises, and that is clearly more of a concern for me here than on any other rally. Getting to know both the C4 WRC in rally conditions and the new route at the same time is another source of concern."
What do you remember of the stages in the Ardèche?
From my days as a driver, I have fond recollections of the Ardèche stages and they promise to be as selective as ever."
The 2007 season marks the introduction of several new regulations. What do you think of them?
"Regarding the Superally ruling, for example, the regulations have above all been modified to ensure we don't get the same situation that occurred on last year's Monte. Having to cover three rallies with the same engine is also obviously a constraint, as is the availability of just two gearboxes for two events. But these changes have been made to achieve cost savings, which is what we asked for, so it will be up to us to be reliable and adapt accordingly."
…to Sébastien Loeb:
How is your arm?
"I have yet to recover all my strength and I still have difficulty making certain movements. I'm still a little stiff. But it's getting better all the time and I only feel pain when I make sudden movements. I was able to get in a lot of kilometres during testing and my injury didn't prevent me from being quick. Anyway, I intend to go into the rally as though nothing was wrong and see how it goes."
What is your impression of the C4 WRC after your most recent pre-Monte test?
"I haven't got as much experience with this car as I have with the Xsara. Globally, the feeling is positive. The C4's balance is excellent and it responds well. To my mind, we have done enough testing and there is reason to be optimistic but, as I often say, testing is one thing. The true litmus test will be actually competing. I know I will discover new things about the C4 on the event;"
What does the fact that the 2007 Monte will feature some of its former legendary stages inspire in you? Daniel Elena has already competed on them. What has he told you? Is it a fitting place to attempt to equal the record of four Monte wins held by Sandro Munari, Walter Röhrl and Tommi Mäkinen?
"Getting to know the C4 on new stages complicates matters a little. There's a lot that will be new at the same time. I have no idea yet what the stages are like. Daniel and I haven't talked about them. This year's event might mark a return to classic Monte territory, but at the same time the most legendary stage of them all – the Col de Turini – has disappeared in the process. So, all in all, apart from change, the move hasn't brought anything. Perhaps there'll be a higher chance of snow and that would be good for the spirit of the Monte Carlo. On the other hand, if it doesn't snow, locals who live near the stages tell me they will be very fast. As for equalling any records, I haven't given it a thought. The most important thing will be to find out whether the C4 is competitive or not and my objective for this event, which has tended to go well for me in the past, is to win. If that enables me to equal the record, then that's cool."
...and to Dani Sordo:
On the eve of the 2007 Monte Carlo Rally, what is your impression of the C4 WRC?
"Very positive! The first time I drove it, I saw it had remarkable potential. Since then, it has continued to evolve, practically on a daily basis! There is still work to be done but it is already very quick on asphalt and dirt. From the driving point of view, the C4 WRC is very different from the Xsara which more like a kart. The new car seems statelier. My seating position is some way back which has changed my view of the road and everything seems bigger. I don't yet feel as comfortable with it as I felt with the Xsara, but little by little my driving is becoming more precise and I feel more in control. After a few events, I'm sure the C4 will be like family."
How will you approach the Monte Carlo? Is it a special event for you?
"It is a legendary rally and I think it will be as difficult as ever. For me, the key will be the tyres. The conditions can change very quickly and can even vary from one kilometre to the next. That's not really the sort of situation I like the most. I'm hoping there won't be too much snow because I have no benchmarks on this type of surface. But I have every confidence in the BFGoodrich technicians and in the experience of both Sébastien and the team to make sure we get tyre choices right. All I know of the stages is what I've been told. If the weather proves changeable it promises to be a fairly complex few days."
What is your objective on the Monte Carlo Rally and, more generally, how do you see the season shaping up?
"The Monte is an event on which it's not only the driver that counts. More than anywhere else, the outcome is dependent on genuine teamwork between the ice-note crews, the weathermen, the team and the people at BFGoodrich. For the Monte Carlo, my objective will be to keep it on the road all the way to the finish in a bid to score as many points as possible for Citroën. In fact that's what I will be trying to do all season. Sébastien's job is to win rallies and the Drivers' championship, and together our mission will be to secure the Manufacturers' crown for Citroën. For me, it's too early to be taking any risks. I will first need to gain more experience."
The 2007 Monte Carlo Rally in brief:
* The 2007 Monte Carlo Rally will be the 75th edition of the event which is the World Rally Championship's longest-running fixture.
* The total length of the 2007 event is 1,185km, including 328km divided into 14 stages (7 different) plus a superspecial.
* The rally's host town is Valence which is in France's Drôme department. The stages are based in the Rhône-Alpes and Auvergne regions. Monaco will host the superspecial and finish ceremony.
* The service park is based in Valence's Exhibition Centre (Parc des Expositions). Rally HQ, the Press Office and the covered parc ferme are situated close to the service park.
* New: after an absence of ten years, the Monte Carlo Rally returns to the Vercors and Ardèche regions. The programme features some of the stages that have helped forge the Monte legend, including Le Burzet, Saint Bonnet le Froid and Saint Jean en Royans. There will not, however, be any stages in the mountains north of Nice. As was the case in 1997, a superspecial has been organised along the part of the harbour front in Monaco used by the Grand Prix circuit.
* Note: Although many of their names are reminiscent of Monte Carlo Rallies of yesteryear, only two stages have previously been run in an identical form to that chosen for the 2007 event, namely the opening stage, Saint Jean en Royans (record: 14m 48s in 1988, last used in 1990), and the Saint Bonnet le Froid loop (record: 13m 27s in 1996, last used in 1997). All the other stages are new, although many include portions visited at one time or another in the past. Such is the case of the middle of SS2. The start of Saint Pierreville-Antraigues (SS3/6) is new, unlike the formerly classic downhill run from the Col de la Fayolle to Antraigues. The section from Le Burzet to Lachamp-Raphaël (SS4/7) used to form part of the Burzet-Burzet stage (but in the opposite direction). Saint Martial-Beleac (SS5/8) has never been used before, although this minor road has already been seen in a variant of the Burzet test. Lalouvesc (SS9 and 12) is practically identical to the stage run in 1997, unlike Lamastre-Grozon (SS11 and 14) which is the only all-new stage. The superspecial in Monaco has also been modified since it was last run in 1997.
*Engines: the engines used during the Monte Carlo Rally will also be used in Sweden and Norway.
* A maximum of two gearboxes is available per car during the Monte Carlo Rally.
* Tyres: the maximum tyre quota per driver is 80 'asphalt' tyres and 40 'snow' tyres. Of these, drivers may use a maximum of 50 (shakedown included). In the case of 'snow' tyres, the list of barcode numbers an
d patterns was registered on January 12. The date limit for 'asphalt' tyres was January 15. The maximum number of patterns authorised for this event is three.
*Recce (two passes per stage) is scheduled for Tuesday January 15 and Wednesday January 16. Recce of the superspecial – by foot – will take place from 8.00am on Sunday January 21.
* Shakedown will take place on Thursday January 18 (08.00 until 12.00). A mini service park will be set up in Mauves (16km north-west of Valence) and the 5.2km test stage will use the D219 between Mauves and Plats.
* The official start ceremony will begin at 18.00 (first car) on Thursday January 18 in the centre of Valence (Place du Champ de Mars).
* Leg 1 (Thursday January 18): 171.42km, including 46.40km divided into 2 stages. Starts in Valence at 18.00. SS1 (Saint Jean en Royans/Col de Lachau, 28.52km) and SS2 (La Cime du Mas/Col de Gaudissant, 17.88km). Service A at the Valence Exhibition Centre (21.31, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 23.45.
* Leg 2 (Friday January 19): 550.02km, including 150.62km divided into 3 stages run twice each. Cars leave parc ferme from 06.50. Service B (06.50, 10 minutes). SS3 (Saint Pierreville/Antraigues, 46.02km). Remote service in Vals les Bains (09.25, 15 minutes). SS4 (Burzet/Lachamp-Raphaël, 16.48km) and SS5 (Saint Martial/Le Chambon/Beleac, 12.81km). Regroup, Valence (12.58, 30 minutes). Service C (13.28, 30 minutes). SS6 (Saint Pierreville-Antraigues). Remote service in Vals les Bains (16.23, 15 minutes). SS7 (Burzet/Lachamp-Raphaël) and SS8 (Saint Martial/Le Chambon/Beleac). Service D (19.56, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 22.10.
* Leg 3 (Saturday January 20 and Sunday January 21):463.38km, including 131.52km divided into 7 stages (three run twice, plus the superspecial). Cars leave parc ferme from 06.00. Service E (06.00, 10 minutes). SS9 (La Batie d'Andaure/Lalouvesc, 19.57km), SS10 (Saint Bonnet le Froid/Saint Bonnet le Froid, 25.93km) and SS11 (Lamastre/Saint Barthélémy-Grozon, 18.76km). Regroup in Valence (10.57, 15 minutes). Service F (11.12, 30 minutes). SS12 (La Batie d'Andaure/Lalouvesc), SS13 (Saint Bonnet le Froid/Saint Bonnet le Froid) and SS14 (Lamastre/Saint Barthélémy-Grozon). Service G (16.29, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme in Monaco at 00.45. Sunday morning: SS15 (Monaco circuit superspecial, 2.8km).
* Superspecial: Between 09.00 and 09.50, the driver classified in last position will compete head-to-head with the driver classified last-but-one, and so on. From 09.55, the driver classified 20th will compete head-to-head with the driver classified 19th. These 'duels' will continue until 10.50 when the top two classified drivers will go head-to-head.
* The prize giving ceremony (Palais de Monaco) starts at 15.00.
* Citroën has won Monte Carlo Rally five times. The first win dates back to 1959 (Coltelloni/Alexandre/Derosiers, Citroën ID19). The next win came in 1966 (P. Toivonen/Mikkander, Citroën DS21). Much later, Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena won with the Citroën Xsara WRC in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
* Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have competed together on the Monte Carlo Rally on six previous occasions. They finished 15th in 2001 (Citroën Saxo Kit-Car, 2nd in Class A6), 2nd in 2002 and 2006, and won outright three times (2003, 2004 and 2005) with the Citroën Xsara WRC.
* Daniel Elena has competed twice on the Monte Carlo Rally as a driver: 1997 (Peugeot 106 Rallye, retired) and 1998 (Peugeot 106 Rallye, 36th o/a, 2nd in Class N1).
* This will be Dani Sordo's third Monte Carlo Rally start. He finished 15th in 2005 (Citroën C2 S1600) and 8th in 2006 (Citroën Xsara WRC). He was navigated on both occasions by Marc Martí.
* Marc Martí will be starting the Monte Carlo Rally for the ninth time. He competed with Oriol Gómez (Ibiza GTi) in 1997 (15th) and 1998 (retired). He then competed in 1999 and 2001 (retired both times) with Jésus Puras (Saxo Kit-Car). In 2003 (3rd) and 2004 (retired), he competed with Carlos Sainz (Citroën Xsara WRC). In 2005 and 2006 he partnered Dani Sordo (see above).
* A Citroën Xsara WRC has been entered for privateers Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor by OMV-Kronos World Rally Team.
2007 WRC Calender
31/08-02/09/2007 New Zealand
30/11-2/12/2007 Great Britain
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