Loeb, Elena and Citroen out to defend their lead
After Europe, America and Asia the WRC is bound for Australasia for Rally New Zealand. Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena, victorious in the last three 2010 rallies, are heading for the Antipodes determined to continue in the same
vein. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti, their team-mates in the Citroen Total World Rally Team, are hoping to finally reap the rewards of their efforts with a place on the podium.
Rally New Zealand has been on the World Championship calendar since 1977, and is one of the classic rallies .The gravel roads are quick and really sort out the men from the boys: the drivers love them, and so do the photographers! The Whaanga Coast stage on a cliff bordering the Tasmanian Sea is considered by many as the most beautiful spot of the season.
The 2010 event marks a return to Auckland. The service park will be located on the port near the facilities used for the Americas Cup at the start of the noughties. The route promises a very varied challenge with three service parks in Whangarei (Friday), Hampton Downs (Saturday) and Raglan (Sunday).
In the last Rally New Zealand in 2008, Sebastien Loeb
and Dani Sordo gave the Citroen Total World Rally Team a double! The five-time world championship team will arrive in the country in the role of defender. This status is reinforced by the results of the opening rallies of the season, as after finishing second in Sweden, Loeb won the next three rounds in Mexico, Jordan and Turkey, so it's no surprise to find him leading the Drivers' World Championship, while the Citroen Total World Rally Team is in front in the Manufacturers' one.
Seb has a 40-point lead over his closest pursuer and he will leave Auckland leading the championship, no matter what the result. "Everything's gone well for us in the early part of the season," smiles the Citroen driver. "The fact that our main rivals have shared the runner-up spots has helped us to open up a gap in the overall classification. Even if we've won the New Zealand Rally on two occasions I'm still being a bit cautious, as our rivals are usually very strong on this type of surface. Whatever the case, I'm really looking forward to racing in this event. The stages are magnificent and fairly easy on the car; it's one of the rallies where you get the most pleasure out of driving."
Dani Sordo has had an up-and-down start to the season with two fourth places and two retirements. The Spaniard has always been on the pace in terms of sheer performance, but he hasn't yet managed to turn this into results. "I hope that Lady Luck's going to smile on me at last and that I'll be back on the podium," he states. "We've been among the front-runners in all the events so far; there's no reason why it should be any different in New Zealand. What we've been lacking is just that little bit of success to transform our potential into results for the team. I'll devote myself to continuing in the same vein in this event that I really like."
Three questions to Olivier Quesnel
Rally Turkey was a very exciting event to follow and the pace wasn't dictated by the usual questions of strategy. Are you happy about this?
"It's absolutely true. This rally was run in perfect sporting conditions. I think it's what the teams, drivers, media and the spectators prefer. Rally Jordan showed the limits of the regulations! Malcolm Wilson, the Ford team manager and I concluded a gentleman's agreement not to have drivers clocking in in advance so that they would sweep the road. The Stewards of the Meeting of Rally Turkey also made it clear that any manoeuvres harming the image of the sport would be penalised. All this allowed us to have a great weekend in terms of sport. We'll see what happens in New Zealand where the positions on the road could be crucial."
How would you judge the Citroen drivers' start to the season?
"With 93 points scored out of a possible 100, Sebastien Loeb
is true to himself! People often ask him if he's not a bit blase but I can tell you that he's as motivated as ever to win his seventh world title on the trot! Dani Sordo's results are a bit more irregular. I hope he's got the monkey off his back for the season and that he'll make his usual contribution to the team. His retirement in Turkey is a perfect illustration of his lack of success. All the leading drivers went off in the same spot, but he was the only one who damaged his car. In each rally we've been surprised by Sebastien Ogier's continually improving performances. He just gets on with the job, listens, learns and progresses in each rally. It won't be long before he scores his first victory! I'm also very happy with Kimi Raikkonen
's progress. He's slotted into the team very well and he's had two good races in Jordan and Turkey. That'll help give him confidence for the second part of the season." Yesterday, the FIA published the 2011 World Championship calendar. What do you think of it?
"It's a coherent and interesting that includes car markets that are important for Citroen. We're happy to see the return of historic rallies like Greece and Argentina and the fact that the French round has been kept. We've also noted the fact that the FIA reserves itself the right to add a fourteenth round to the calendar, and it would be a nice surprise if it were to happen."