Hirvonen & Sordo take over

Hirvonen & Sordo take overFrom Citroen Press [ 01/03/2013 ].
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After two unusual events, the WRC begins a series of six gravel rallies in Mexico. The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, which currently leads the Manufacturers’ World Championship, will be represented by the crews Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen and Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio. The DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT will be driven by Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot.

As it celebrates ten year since joining the WRC, this year’s Rally Mexico will be different for several reasons. The first of these is that the list of entrants at the third round of the season does not include the no.1, as Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are not taking part in the rally. This has not been the case since 2006, which means a new line-up for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT. Alongside Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, nominated to score points in all thirteen rounds, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio will be competing for the works team for the first time this year.

Mikko Hirvonen has high expectations for this first gravel rally: “For me, this is where the season starts for real. We now have a very good idea of the level of our rivals. I think we can say that we’ll have to fight on every stage and produce a series of flawless performances in order to win rallies. Last year, I was pretty close to Seb for long periods of the race. I know I am capable of producing very good performances on this surface and I like racing here. We have done a lot of work in testing since Sweden, both on my driving and on the set-up of the car.”

“With Seb not competing, maybe this rally is a little bit peculiar for Citroën Racing,” continued the Finn. “It really is the start of a new era for the WRC, but I don’t think that it means there is any additional pressure on me. My job is to get the best possible results and to help Citroën to win. All the people supporting me want that too. I feel full of positive energy and I can’t wait to show everyone that I can win.”

Dani Sordo is also hungry for success. Although he missed the last two rallies held in Mexico, the Spaniard isn’t here just to make up the numbers: “Along with Argentina and Catalonia, this is my third ‘home’ rally! I like this event, especially the second runs on the stages, when there is a lot more grip. That means that the qualifying stage and the choice of starting positions for day one will therefore be very important.”

After taking part in the 2012 Rally Finland in a DS3 WRC, Chris Atkinson will be competing in a Citroën in Mexico. Selected by Khalid Al Qassimi to drive the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT’s car, the Australian was clearly excited to be competing in Mexico: “I'm always happy to be back in the WRC and race with a team as competitive as Citroën Racing. It’s a magnificent opportunity for me, because I had no plans to take part the World Championship this season. I’ll be going all out to score some points for the team again. I tested the car in Portugal a few days ago. Although it was raining, it did give me the chance to get back into the swing of things. I hope I can secure a top 5 finish; that would be a good result.”

A fourth Citroën DS3 WRC will be entered privately and driven by the Beníto Guerra/Borja Rozada crew. Last year’s P-WRC World Champion, the Mexican will be taking part in his first rally in a World Rally Car. Based in León – Mexico’s shoe-making capital – Rally Mexico will get underway on Thursday evening in Guanajuato. After the traditional ceremonial start held in the streets of the former mining city, the competitors will complete two special stages. The rest of the route is largely unchanged from previous years, with long stages – such as the 55km-long Guanajuatito – interspersed with countless short stages, which can also prove decisive in the outcome of the rally!

THREE QUESTIONS FOR… DANI SORDO

You rejoined Citroën Racing at the start of the year. How do you feel the last few weeks have gone?
“Obviously, things went much better in Monte-Carlo than in Sweden. It was fantastic to be a part of the Citroën family again for the start of the championship. In fact, it was almost as if I hadn’t been away! The rally went well and we finished on the podium, so I couldn't have hoped for a better result for my first race back with the team. Things were more complicated in Sweden, as I didn’t make it to the end. But I still learned a lot of things. My understanding of how the Citroën DS3 WRC works is getting better all the time.”

It’s as if you never left, but your state of mind seems to have changed in the last two years. You seem more aggressive…
“I have started 100 WRC rallies since 2003, but I have yet to win. I want to put this right. I don't want to become obsessed by it, but this is my personal goal for the year! To achieve this, I have to keep working relentlessly in order to improve. I had my first outing in the DS3 WRC on gravel in testing a few days ago, which enabled me to get an idea of its handling, although the weather conditions were closer to what you might expect in Great Britain than Mexico! Now, it’s time to get on with the race.”

You have spent the majority of your racing career with Sébastien Loeb as a team-mate. What do you think this first rally without him will be like?
“Well, I hope that the team won't spend the whole weekend crying! (laughs) It will undoubtedly be a little bit strange, but I know that the people here are very professional and that they will be focussed on the rally itself. This change gives us more responsibility and we’ll have to step up to the plate. I don’t think anyone can replace Seb, but we’ll be doing everything in our power to ensure Citroën stays ahead of its rivals.”