Citroen out for a hat trick in Portugal
Thanks to their victories in 2007 and 2009, Sebastien Loeb
, Daniel Elena and the Citroen C4 WRC are unbeaten in Rally Portugal. On their third outing in this event they are determined to score a hat trick, which will help them to extend
their lead in the Drivers' World Championship. In the Manufacturers' title chase, the Citroen Total World Rally Team has a 5-point lead over its nearest rival. More than ever, the support of Dani Sordo and Marc Marti will be crucial to make the break before the summer interlude.
Rally Portugal was one of the great events in the World Championship up till 2001. It was reinstated on the calendar four years ago. The rally, now based in the Algarve, enjoys the type of popularity common to south European events. "We love the enthusiasm of the spectators," smiles Sebastien Loeb
. "The region is very pleasant; it's usually fine and you really feel the people's love of rallying. What more can you ask for?"
The six-time world champion has won the event on his two participations and he has but a single aim: score his fifty-eight career victory. "I like this rally very much but it's not all that easy," explains Seb. "Since the start of the season in each event the stages have had a lot of overcrests; those little humps that prevent us from reading the corners that lie just behind. Portugal will be the pits in this area! Apart from that you can't say that the rally is a very difficult one. It's a kind of digest of everything that you'll find on gravel wide quick sections, others that are slow and twisty."
Thanks to his three victories and two podium finishes in five rallies Loeb has a comfortable lead in the world championship. Although he scored his worst result of the season in New Zealand - third (!) he's drawn positive conclusions from his trip to the Antipodes. "We arrived in Auckland with a forty-point lead over Petter Solberg and we came home with thirty-six points in hand over Jari-Matti Latvala. Four points lost with one less rally to go is a pretty good operation. This season there are six drivers capable of winning each event. Finishing among the front-runners is good for us for the moment, but it's not the time to relax."
For Dani Sordo, Rally Portugal will be another home event: "With Mexico and Spain, it's a rather special rally for me. The spectators cheer us on more than elsewhere as we're defending the colours of the Iberian Peninsula! But this doesn't change the way I'm preparing for the event. I know Citroen is counting on me to score the maximum number of points towards the Manufacturers'' Championship. As usual, I'm starting the rally with the aim of finishing on the podium. I came third in my first two outings here; I'd be happy to do just as well this year!"
For this rally, the Citroen Total World Rally Team C4 WRCs will carry the colours of the road safety campaign, Make roads safe, set up by the FIA and backed by Citroen Racing and its crews.
Three questions to Frederic Banzet
Citroen general manager
After the first five rallies of the season, how would you describe the performance of Citroen and its drivers?
"Thanks to their three victories, Sebastien Loeb
and Daniel Elena are leading the Drivers' World Championship while Citroen is first in the manufacturers' one, so it's all very positive. Even though we didn't win, I found the battle in the New Zealand rally was very exciting to follow. This season is very indecisive and above all, we must never let up. We've only got a five-point lead in the manufacturers' championship so that shows how close our battle is with our rival. I'd like to say bravo to Dani Sordo, Sebastien Ogier's progress and Kimi Ra´kkonen's courage. Our four crews are really grandstanding the Citroen colours."
Citroen's involvement in the WRC seems to be pretty solid. Why?
"Throughout its history the make's been involved in road-going sporting adventures. Today, rallying is part of Citroen's DNA and the WRC is the pinnacle of this sport. It's run on a worldwide basis in the best sense of the word, and it's in phase with our image. For an innovative manufacturer like Citroen involved in on-going research for new technologies, rallying is an ideal showcase. Each of our victories all over the world demonstrates the values of creative technology."
You will be present at the Portuguese Rally? What does this event represent for Citroen?
"First and foremost, it is an important commercial market as Citroen is among the leaders in terms of private vehicle sales and leads the utility vehicle section. Our volume of sales for private vehicles has gone up by more than 19% from the start of the year to the end of April. The Portuguese Rally is one of the historic events in the world championship. Far from hanging on to the past, the organizers are doing a great job in terms of promotion. Everything's being done for the spectators beginning with the super special in the Algarve stadium. Citroen, its branches and its partners are taking advantage of this event to put on public relations operations. We'll have a lot of people supporting the team and its drivers next weekend!"