Catalunya : CitroŽn Sport - Preview
The 44th Rally Catalunya-Costa Daurada sees the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship resume sealed surface action. Following consecutive one-two finishes for CitroŽn Total in Germany and New Zealand, the team now leads the Manufacturers'
championship standings, while Sebastien Loeb
tops the Drivers' points table.
The journey to Spain consequently stands out as a first class opportunity for the squad to consolidate its position, especially since the CitroŽn C4 WRCs entered for Sebastien Loeb
/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc MartŪ have already shown their ability in asphalt trim. C4 WRCs have also been entered by Urmo Aava/Kuldar Sikk and Conrad Rautenbach/David Senior. Both of these cars are prepared and run by PH Sport with the support of technicians from CitroŽn Sport Technologies.
As has been the case since 2005, the Spanish round will be based in Salou, 110km south of Barcelona, and the 1,313.99km route will take competitors inland from the coast some 30km to the north. The 18 stages total 353.62km and the format features two loops of three stages on each of the three days. There are consequently nine different stages in total, with several detail changes Ė including 45km that are new Ė compared with the 2007 event.
"The Monte Carlo and the Rallye Deutschland both take place on 'soiled' asphalt, so the RallyRACC Catalunya is generally seen as the first true asphalt rally of the season," says Sebastien Loeb
"The stages tend to be wide and fast, so it's all about choosing the ideal cornering lines. Another challenge concerns the extent to which we cut the apexes, something we are more or less forced to do. If we don't, we stray off the ideal line and there's very little grip on the gravel," adds Dani Sordo.
The combination of CitroŽn's three consecutive wins on this event and the C4's two successes on asphalt this year so far means that the team is considered favourite for the Spanish round. Meanwhile, the situation at the top end of the Manufacturers' and Drivers' championships is favourable to the French squad, and the Rally Catalunya stands out as an opportunity for the team to strengthen its provisional position.
"A top result in Spain would do our chances a world of good in both championships. But our rivals are aware of that, too, so they will have no intention of making life easy for us. That said, this is a rally I really like and I will try to make the most of this opportunity to pull further clear at the top of the Drivers' standings," warns Sebastien Loeb
whose lead currently stands at eight points. "It's a high-speed event and I enjoy the circuittype driving style the stages call for. There's no other rally like it in the championship and it's been particularly successful for us in recent years, while the C4 WRC was extremely competitive in Catalonia in 2007. Since then, we have sought to fine-tune its handling and balance, especially with a view to optimising its set-up to match our Pirelli tyres. Also, as we saw in 2007 at the end of last year's first leg, the changeable weather is a factor we can't afford to ignore, as is the fact that our tyres will not be equipped with a run-flat system."
The morale of Dani Sordo and Marc MartŪ has naturally been boosted by their remarkable second-place finishes in Germany and New Zealand, and the Rally Catalunya is clearly a special fixture for them. "It's not necessarily my favourite event, but it's our home rally!" points out the young Spaniard. "More than anywhere else, people will be watching closely to see how we perform, but we will be able to count on plenty of support, too. We will be in front of home fans and our friends will be out on the stages, so that puts us under a little extra pressure, but it's also added motivation!"
"Last year on this event, I found myself in the lead of a WRC round for the very first time. It was a very pleasant feeling which I have experienced again since," continues Dani. "This time round, we will probably have to adapt the way we drive and cut the corners less because our Pirelli tyres won't be equipped with mousse. However, that won't change my objective which is to continue the recent successful streak we've enjoyed since Finland, and also try to score valuable points for CitroŽn and ourselves."