Citroen Sport on unconquered ground
The second half of this year's World Rally Championship kicks off with the former 'Great Race' of Jyvaskyla', later known as the 1000 Lakes Rally from 1954 until 1996, and now officially called the Rally Finland. Citroen Total has entered
two C4 WRCs for this year's event which is not only the ninth round of the 2008 WRC but also home soil for the team's main opponents in the series. The two crews are Dani Sordo/Marc Marti and Sebastien Loeb
/Daniel Elena, while Conrad Rautenbach/David Senior and Estonians Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk who will practically be competing on home soil will be competing in privately- entered C4s run by PH Sport with the support of technicians from Citroen Sport Technologies.
After the six-week summer break, the WRC regulars return to serious business with one of the season's most demanding fixtures. This year's format features 342.08km of competitive action divided into 24 stages, twelve of which will be run just once, while there are 80km that are new to the drivers. Recce consequently promises to play a key role, and Marc and Daniel face the prospect of having to copy out copious pages of notes.
Today, there are fewer of the celebrated jumps that helped forge the legend of the 1000 Lakes in the past, but the subtleties of the Finnish gravel roads are as complex to grasp as ever. It takes several visits to get a real feel for their unique difficulties...
"It's not just the drivers who need experience of this event; the engineers also need a certain understanding of the roads before they can really hope to find the most suitable compromises when setting up the cars," observes Citroen Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon. "The ideal set-up isn't easy to find for these ultra-fast roads, but a nicely balanced car is vital. We are pleased with the results of our pre-event testing in July and also by the job Dani and Marc did on the event they contested. Citroen has yet to win here and it would be nice if we could succeed at last this year. But we are taking things one step at a time; our past experience of Rally Finland tends to make us particularly wary of this event."
Following their recent break, Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena are particularly fired up as they prepare to tackle the last seven rounds of the season, beginning with Finland. "We have never won this event and that is one of the targets I set myself for 2008," recalls Seb. "But however dearly I would love to win it, and despite the ground that would enable us to make up in the Drivers' standings, I have no intention of taking any more risks than usual just to add a fresh line to my personal record."
"This time last year, we were nine points down. This year, the gap is just three points," he continues. "We therefore can't afford to make any mistakes, yet it is so easy to put a foot wrong in these forests where you're constantly driving on a knife edge, with all the concealed bends and the trees so very close! This event will also allow us to see how the Pirelli Soft tyre performs. We won't be allowed to re-cut its pattern if there's mud about, so that could cause a few surprises."
Dani Sordo and Marc Marti resume world class action with their morale boosted by their recent success on the Kouvola-based O.K. Auto-Ralli. "It was first my win in a WRC car, and on gravel, too, so that was particularly pleasing," says Dani. "I am aware that the competition wasn't all that strong, though, and that we will face stiffer opposition on the Rally Finland. I have felt comfortable over these fast stages and long jumps on all my previous visits. I enjoy them, and the work we did in July should enable us be even more competitive against the local specialists. I am pleased with the settings we have found for the different types of surface we could well face, and I think we should be competitive with our C4. Our aim is to finish as high up the order as possible with a view to scoring points for Citroen."