6th ADAC Rallye Deutschland (August 17-19, 2007) Citroën looking to return to
its winning ways in Germany
The 2007 WRC calendar's recent sequence of six consecutive gravel rounds has
come to an end as the championship's regulars move on the Rallye Deutschland,
the second asphalt fixture of the season for which Citroën Sport has entered
Citroën C4 WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí.
Like January's Monte Carlo Rally, the German round is regarded as a sealed
surface event but, as Guy Fréquelin explains, it's not quite as simple as that:
"Depending on the weather, it can be something of a lottery as far as tyre calls
go. The conditions can vary so much on a single stage that choices can sometimes
be even more difficult to make than on the Monte."
The main feature of the Rally Deutschland is its cocktail of three distinct
stage types which range from the labyrinth of narrow lanes and countless hairpins
of the Mosel Valley vineyards, the soiled concrete, hinkelstein-lined tank tracks
of the Baumholder military ranges and, finally, the fast and slippery Saarland
stages, which this year's rally actually barely visits. In short, there is a
little of something to suit all tastes.
"All these different surface types and the notoriously changeable weather
make this a complex but interesting rally," says Citroën Sport's Technical Manager
Xavier Mestelan-Pinon. "To ensure our crews are as competitive as possible on
all the different types of road, we work closely with them to establish a range
of compromise set-ups that function across a broad spectrum of conditions. This
will be the Citroën C4's first asphalt outing in war temperatures. True, the
weather was clear during the Monte Carlo Rally, but the asphalt was still cold
and that is unlikely to be the case in Germany. We will also perhaps get to
see how our car performs in anger on wet roads that offer little grip."
Given the complex nature of the German round, it comes as no surprise to learn
that Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí are somewhat on their
guards. "People see us as the favourites, the team to beat," exclaims Seb. "But
it won't be easy. In fact none of my wins in Germany have been. I have had some
big fights there over the years and I can't see our rivals making life easy
for us this time round. For me, this event is always a special occasion because
it takes place near my home region, Alsace, and I always have lots of supporters.
I intend to give it my very best shot for them, as well as to try to notch up
another win to put us back in the chase."
"I enjoy competing on asphalt, but it's difficult to consider the Rallye Deutschland
as a typical sealed surface event," observes Dani. "It sometimes seems more
like a gravel rally… with a bit of asphalt. It's so easy to be caught out by
a hazard or by a storm. We will try to make the most of the C4's potential to
score a top result, but that's no foregone conclusion."
Although the cautionary words of the crews, who came first and second here
last year, may come as a surprise, Guy Fréquelin's don't: "It's difficult not
be wary going into a event where there is so much at stake. OK, I believe we
are capable of scoring the sort of result that would put us back in the running
in both title chases. I am also convinced that our crews and the Citroën C4
WRC have the necessary credentials, and I have no doubts about the motivation
and will to win of everyone at Citroën Sport. Even so, I refuse to get carried
away; I know only too well that it only takes a tiny detail to throw everything
wide open. We have prepared as well as we can for this event; it's now up to
us to ensure we don't waste the opportunity."
Rally Finland wasn't an easy event for Citroën Sport. Is it a rally you'd rather forget?
What lessons did you learn from it?
"We were confident before the start, but it turned out to be more complex than
we imagined and the end result wasn't what we wanted. The gaps have even widened.
We now need to understand what didn't function and learn from that to make sure
we don't make the same mistakes again. We found solutions on Saturday evening
and we have several avenues to explore in order to move forward. We saw during
the weekend how it can be more difficult in Finland than anywhere else to put
into practice what you learn during testing when repeat runs over the same stretch
of road can cancel out the sensation of 'discovering' the stages one at a time
you tend to get on the rally.
In testing, we felt the C4 was very quick through the long, fast corners but
that turned out not to be the case and the local knowledge factor played in
favour of the Scandinavians. Give the speeds the drivers get up to, you lose
time the instant you hesitate or try to correct your line…"
The Xsara went unbeaten in Germany from 2001 to 2006. Do you believe the
Citroën C4 can pick up from where its predecessor left off?
"I hope so! This event needs to be a springboard that permits us to get back
into the fight for both championships. Pre-event testing brought us some interesting
data which we hope to put to good effect on the event."
How do you explain Citroën and Sébastien Loeb's domination of this event?
How much is that a confidence booster for you this time round?
"I think that there are several factors. To begin with, we have succeeded in
carrying over the experience we gained in the French Championship to develop
our cars and in our approach to world level competition. On top of that, our
drivers feel comfortable on asphalt, which isn't the case for all their rivals.
Sébastien always has a good feeling for these stages, but that isn't enough
to make me feel 100 per cent confident! The specific features of the Rallye
Deutschland make it a challenging rally. Add to that the importance of the stakes
in championship terms and it's easy to understand why the entire team and I
feel more worried than usual."
is your analysis of the way Rally Finland went? It doubtlessly didn't go they
way you were hoping?
"To come third after finishing second in 2005 and 2006 wasn't the sort of result
we wanted and we ended up dropping four points in the Drivers' championship.
We did all we could to take the fight to our rivals, but that wasn't enough.
There are three more fast gravel events to come, but our opponents won't have
the benefit of local knowledge on those. We will need to match their level of
performance again if we want to challenge for victory. I am not unduly worried,
but I know we've got a great deal of work on our plates."
You have won the Rallye Deutschland five times in a row and you are the
favourite to win again this year…
"…and I hope nobody beats me! To remain in the title chase, we will need to
start scoring more points than Marcus Grönholm soon. If we don't, it's going
to be very difficult to defend our crown. I hope we are able to fight for victory
again, but it won't be easy. What with the weather, the frequently difficult
tyre choices and the rest, it's not a simple event. I don't think you can say
that Germany is to me what Finland is to Marcus. We both have similar knowledge
of the German stages, which is something you can't say for Jyväskylä. Marcus
has even contested the Rallye Deutschland one more time than me because he was
here in 2001!"
What is the secret behind your domination of this event?
"I don't know if there is a secret! And even I had one, I wouldn't give it away!
Seriously, though, we have often been quicker than our rivals in Germany and
I think that's just because I feel comfortable on the stages. I'm not all that
enamoured with the event when the conditions are difficult and hazards abound.
I mean, who likes driving in rain on dry weather tyres? But perhaps my advantage
is that I seem to cope well with that sort of situation…"
...and to Dani Sordo.
were the positive points of Rally Finland for you?
"I still need to improve, but I feel I am getting more and more accustomed to
the event's specific terrain. I lacked consistency and I didn't want to take
too many risks on the new stages. We worked well with Citroën Sport's technicians
to find a set-up that enabled me to feel confident with the C4. I was sufficiently
quick to figure in the top-five before retiring and that's quite a satisfactory
result for me on what was only my second attempt at the event in a WRC car."
Last year was also your very first visit to Germany with a WRC car. What
do you remember of the 2006 event?
"How can I forget it? It was the first time I was nominated as eligible to score
Manufacturers' points. That was fantastic. On top of that, the weekend went
well: we ended up finishing second and I had great fun driving the Xsara."
What is your objective for the 2007 Rallye Deutschland? Do you feel under
more pressure than usual?
"We're under pressure all season long; it's something you have to come to terms
with. Perhaps I'm a little more anxious than last year because many people will
have high expectations of me and I'm known as an asphalt driver. I will need
to show that Guy Fréquelin was right to have confidence in me and, for that,
I will need have a good run and try to finish ahead of our rivals. I don't want
to get carried away, though, because that's by no means a foregone conclusion."