Sardinia - Citroen World Rally Team - Preview
The Italian round of the 2009 World Rally Championship, which takes teams to Sardinia, will mark the season's halfway point. The Citroen World Rally Team travels to the event with the same hunger for success as usual.
Loeb and Daniel Elena - who are unbeaten so far this year - will be looking to extend their existing record of six consecutive wins, while Dani Sordo and Marc Marti will be out to defend second place in the provisional drivers' championship standings.
Although world-class rallying in Italy has long been associated with the legendary Rally Sanremo, the country's round was switched to Sardinia in 2004. The gravel tracks which weave their way through the forests and mountains of the Mediterranean island have since become familiar territory for WRC competitors because they are frequently employed by teams for testing purposes.
"The early editions of this rally tended to favour extremely twisty stages, but the organisers have taken steps to correct that over the years," says Sebastien Loeb
. "The tracks are now quite fast and technically very challenging. They are also lined in many places with stones and rocks, so your driving needs to be particularly precise here."
Previous wins in Sardinia in 2005, 2006 and 2008 make Loeb and Elena the pre-start favourites. On top of that, last month's Rally Argentina saw the five-time World Champions take their current sequence of straight wins to six, which equals their previous record notched up between the Rallies of New Zealand and Argentina.
Another success in Italy would see them establish a formidable new benchmark.
"My desire to win is the same at the start of every rally," warns Loeb. "I hate losing, so I am obviously delighted with the way things are going at the moment.
Every win we have scored so far this year has simply added to the flying start we have enjoyed to the 2009 season."
Meanwhile, Dani Sordo and Marc Marti have moved up to second place in the drivers' standings and intend to do their utmost to defend their position against the Ford team's Mikko Hirvonen.
"I see this round as a big test following my fifth place on last year's event. That wasn't such a great result for me," admits the Spaniard. "This season is a bit special because I sense I am making progress on all the different types of surface we encounter in the championship. If I can keep that up in Sardinia, I think I will be able to take the fight to Mikko."
"Being second in the championship hasn't changed my approach in any way," Sordo adds, "but it's true that I would like to hold on to second place..."
As with most gravel rounds, the phenomenon of 'roadsweeping' promises to play a big role in the way the Italian rally unfolds.
"I would even say it is probably the event where road order has the biggest influence," observes Loeb. "The ground is very hard-packed, but it is covered in a deep top-coating of sand. There are enormous differences in the times of the drivers who are first and second on the road."
"Friday will probably be a bit of a weird day regarding the way the classification goes," the Frenchman predicts. "But we feel confident we can handle the situation."