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An eagerly-awaited challenge for Citroen drivers
Catalunya - C2 Junior Experience - Preview
The Rally RACC Catalunya Ė Costa Daurada sees the Junior Championship enter a crucial phase as it marks the penultimate round of the series. On this occasion, the C2 Junior Experience will welcome two new drivers : Lithuanian Vilius
Rozukas in a Citroen C2-R2 and Spaniard Yeray Lemes in a Citroen C2 Super 1600.

In fact, exactly half of the entire Junior Championship field in Catalunya will be at the wheel of a Citroen, with 10 of the French cars entered. The C2 Junior Experience drivers are naturally expected to form a highlight of the action, particularly after Martin Prokop's victory in Spain last year.

Yves Matton, Citroen Sport's customer competitions manager, commented: "The C2 Super 1600 has always been extremely competitive on asphalt, as Prokop proved in Germany once more. I'm confident that the C2 will be right up there again in Spain."

After winning in Germany, the Czech line-up of Martin Prokop and Jan Tomanek come to the Catalunya Rally with the advantage of knowing the route. The itinerary is virtually identical to last year, but the C2 Super 1600 crew will have to be instantly back on the pace.

There are just two new stages added to this year's programme: Coll del Grau (26.33 km) and La Serra d'Almos (4.11 km). This last stage is actually the shakedown test run backwards.
With some fast sections as well as tight corners, the Citroen C2 drivers will have to rapidly find exactly the right compromise between speed and safety.

Martin Prokop will face stiff opposition in the fight for Junior honours. PH Sport driver Conrad Rautenbach is ready for action, with three Catalunya rallies already under his belt and a typical eagerness to get going.

Matton added: "Just like Prokop, Rautenbach can target a podium finish here. It's a golden opportunity to get up amongst the championship frontrunners. I'm quite confident that we'll see a C2 Super 1600 in the top three at the end of the year."

Aaron Burkart, in the third C2 Super 1600, will have to dig deep for a good result in Catalunya. Finally, newcomer Yeray Lemes Ė who has been invited to take part in his home rally by the Spanish motor sport federation Ė could cause trouble amongst the frontrunners on roads that he knows well.

There will be an equally frenetic battle to be on top of the Citroen C2-R2 runners. Yoann Bonato, who starred in Finland and Germany, will once more drive a C2-R2 backed by the Equipe de France.
Matton explained: "Bonato will certainly be feeling a bit of pressure at the start of this rally. With two wins so far from two events everyone will be expecting him to go well Ė especially as the Rally de France is coming up, where he will drive a C2 Super 1600."

The Frenchman is of course hoping to add another win to his collection, but Shaun Gallagher may have something to say about that plan... The World Rally Team Ireland driver is hoping for good things from his final drive in this year's C2 Junior Experience.

Matton said: "Gallagher will be intent on consolidating his position as leader of the R2 category, but it would be wise to keep an eye on the performances of Schammel and Auquier as well Ė who were both unlucky in Germany."

Gilles Schammel has the advantage of having contested the Catalunya Rally last year, but it will be the first time in Spain for Raphael Auqiuer, Stefano Benoni and Vilius Rozukas.

Finally, it's interesting to note that Citroen C2-R2 drivers occupy the top six places in the 'rookie' championship (for drivers of non-Super 1600 cars in their first year of the Junior series). Shaun Gallagher currently dominates the standings, in front of Raphael Auquier and Yoann Bonato.

RaphaŽl Auquier - CitroŽn C2-R2
"Like a number of us, I don't really know the stages in Spain at all, but I've heard people talk about the importance of cutting the corners correctly in our C2-R2s. It's important to cut the corners properly so as not to get caught on the loose gravel, but not so aggressively that you pick up a puncture. We've got to make sure that our lines are exactly right and that we drive cleanly. My co-driver competed on the Catalunya Rally in 2000, so I hope that he remembers something about it! In any case, we're going to do our best to make sure we maximise our chances on asphalt now: it's a surface I'm pretty familiar with."

Stefano Benoni - CitroŽn C2-R2
"It's another completely new event for me. I really don't know quite what to expect from the Spanish stages but of course I will be doing my best over all three legs. We've not been testing since our last rally, so naturally I can't wait to get back into the thick of the action. At the end of the rally, we want to be as well-placed amongst the C2-R2 runners as possible."

Yoann Bonato - CitroŽn C2-R2
"I don't know anything at all about this rally. The only thing I've heard is that it's very quick and you need to cut most of the corners. So everything will be a surprise to me. It's a good opportunity though to learn a new event, new stages and new roads. My objective is clearly to repeat the performance that we showed in Finland and Germany by winning the R2 category. But there were many other Citroen drivers who were quick in Germany and I'm sure that will be the case again."

Aaron Burkart - CitroŽn C2 Super 1600
"I've got more experience on asphalt than on gravel, through rallies I've competed on back home in Germany. I've done some tests with my C2 Super 1600 since the Rallye Deutschland, which has allowed me to develop my car's capabilities. Nonetheless, I know very little about this particular rally, but we're still going to do everything we can to score points. There are two asphalt rounds left and neither Patrik Sandell nor Jaan Molder are down to score in Corsica Ė so I hope to be in the top four of the championship at the end of the year. This of course means that we can't afford any mistakes in Spain..."

Shaun Gallagher - CitroŽn C2-R2
"It's going to be my first time on the Catalunya Rally so I'll find out all about it on Thursday morning at the shakedown. My goal is to have a good rally and drive cleanly. I'm very pleased to be leading the R2 championship and obviously I hope to hang onto that lead. It's also my last rally of the year, so generally speaking everything is looking very positive. I hope to end this season on a high note in preparation for next year."

Yeray Lemes - CitroŽn C2 Super 1600
"I'm delighted to be able to take part in the C2 Junior Experience with my C2 Super 1600. It will be my first World Championship Rally and the most important event of my career so far. I've only been rallying for two years, and I started with the Spanish Citroen C2 trophy. I don't really know the Catalunya Rally, but I've picked up an idea of what it's like from TV. I hope to learn a lot from this experience and above all to get to the finish without mistakes."

Martin Prokop - CitroŽn C2 Super 1600
"This event is going to be very different to the first asphalt rally of the season in Germany. In Spain the roads are very fast and almost like a racing circuit. We therefore need to make sure that the car is well-adjusted to this type of conditions. Me and my co-driver have the advantage of knowing these stages and having some experience of these conditions. Nonetheless, I'm in a delicate situation championship-wise ever since I went off the road in Finland. I'm going to be doing my best to score some points and I hope to be in the top three of the championship at the end of the year."

Conrad Rautenbach - CitroŽn C2 Super 1600
"Catalunya is what I would call a 'normal' asphalt rally. There's good grip on the stages with wide roads, but most of all it's important to get all the lines right. We've done some testing to refine our C2 Super 1600 so I'm really keen to get going now. I'm also very much looking forward to Corsica, which is one of my favourite rallies. The C2 is really strong on asphalt and I hope it can take me to a podium, or even a victory..."

Vilius Rozukas - CitroŽn C2-R2
"In order to prepare for this new rally, I competed on the Rallye Yalta Prime (Ukraine), where the roads are quite similar to those in Catalunya. I've got a very good feeling with the C2-R2 and I think I am well-prepared for this rally Ė especially because asphalt is my favourite surface. Even though I have never done the Catalunya Rally before, team technicians have given me some good information and the stages seem to be very interesting. By finishing the season in a C2-R2, I'd like to gain more experience and stretch my abilities to the maximum. It's good preparation for another season in the Junior Championship, which is my plan."

Gilles Schammel - CitroŽn C2-R2
"Having taken part in this rally last year, it's clearly a very special event Ė which I'm not particularly used to. The roads are wide but it's quite difficult to find the correct line. Catalunya is a very quick rally but it's vital to be careful. On this rally, like the next one, I'm going to try and follow Yoann Bonato's pace Ė who is a good benchmark for me. He's very quick, so me and my co-driver would be very satisfied to set the same sort of times as him."
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