Many debuts in France!

Many debuts in France!From Chris Biewer [ 19/04/2004 ].
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The Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières, the first round of the French Rallye Championship 2004, took place last weekend. Ironically this event is based just around the Bozian home, while the entire Bozian team were on another event about as far away from home as they could get, in NZ! Still, the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières saw some debuts, drivers and cars that give us plenty of reason to mention this event. News are not only for the Peugeot fans. Alongside Peugeot matters you find here a note about the Citroen C2 debut and a new Subaru driver. Only 135 cars took the start of the event (yes, that’s slim for France), but it was a quality entry with many A8 cars and some unusual cars, including a selection of BMW models such as even a Z3 M.

Overall result:

Overall victory however went to the BSA team and the reigning French Rallye Champions Alexandre Bengué and Caroline Escudero (yes, in France they still officially have navigators, and nobody seems confused). Alexandre Bengué may be known by WRC fans since the Tour de Corse 2003, where he was in 9th place before he crashed out and he posted some top4 stage times, beating Peugeot works drivers, despite Alexandre being in a customer spec 206 WRC Evo1. The Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières was some kind of a debut for Alexandre Bengué as it was his first start in a 206 WRC Evo3. The car Peugeot Sport gave to BSA for Alexandre Bengué is the last ever built 206 WRC, 283 NNN 75, new for Grönholm in Deutschland and only used for Panizzi on the Tour de Corse thereafter. Alexandre Bengué completely dominated proceedings in his new BSA run 206, he won every single stage bar the super special!

Alexandre Bengué, Caroline Escudero, Peugeot 206 WRC Evo3 won the event with a margin of 2m53.5s over Stephane Sarrazin, Patrick Pivato, Subaru Impreza WRC03 with Xavier Lemonnier, Magali Cosette, Subaru Impreza WRC02 (also an ex-works car, but I couldn’t identify it beyond the reg plate being X2? SRT) completing the podium.

Subaru and Sarrazin:

This leads us straight to Subaru’s new driver. I don’t know if the above result is good or bad news for Subaru. Ex Formula 1 driver Stephane Sarrazin has been competing in rallies since a while, mainly in group N cars however. So while Sarrazin is not new to motorsport nor to rallies, this was his first event at the wheel of a WRCar – a very new one, the car was new for Mikko Hirvonen only in Monte Carlo 2004, S800 WRT. In any case, Stephane Sarrazin is supposed to become an official Subaru driver for the WRC events Deutschland, Tour de Corse and Catalunya, so well worth keeping an eye on him!

For the Subaru fans:

While two famous Imprezas made it onto the podium, although with a big time deficit to the winner, two more intersting Imprezas were present: Richard Hein had another ex-works Impreza WRC03, S80 WRT, the car Tommi Mäkinen used in NZ a year ago and it won Cyprus in the hands of Petter Solberg. Fabien Vericel drove an A8 Impreza 555, registered P555 BGM, BRC fans will know it. Unfortunately both cars made it onto the retirement list. There were a few more Imprezas, but these are the main ones.

For the Peugeot fans:

BSA might run two 206 WRC in the French Championship starting from round 2, the Rallye Alsace-Vogues. Benoit Rousselot was 2nd in the French Championship 2003 as the official Subaru France driver. Benoit has announced he wants to change camp and it appears he is in contact with BSA to swap his Subaru for a Peugeot.

S1600 competition:

It seems funny in the FIA’s attempts to promote the S1600 category and in the light of barely a year ago David Richards having said the BRC should ban WRCars and run a championship solely for S1600 cars, “Look at France”, Richards said. I looked at France, they ran two championships last year and the S1600 championship was that superb, that it has been canned after the 2003 season! However S1600 cars can start in the main championship and they are eligible for manufacturer points.

Round 1 has very much been a Renault show. There were 5 official S1600 entries in the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières. The Renault Clios very much dominated the show and current JWRC leader Nicolas Bernardi won ahead of his team mate Simon Jean-Joseph. 3rd in this class was Emmanuel Guigou in a private Clio. The Peugeot 206 XS had not much in reply to the Clio, to be honest, and Cedric Robert came home in 6th place. It looked a little better earlier on in the event as Bryan Bouffier was at least ahead of the Citroens, but crashed out with two stages left to go. Bryan Bouffier was half a minute ahead of his famous team mate Cedric Robert. This is an interesting note as Bryan is a potenital candidate for a 307 WRC drive at World level later this year. Bryan has already tested a 206 WRC with the works team and is reported to have been amazing!

Citroen C2 debut:

Not that much to report other than note the car has now officially debuted. In the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières an official Citroen C2 was in the hands of Pascal Henry, navigated by regular Bugalski co Jean-Paul Chiaroni. While the car ran reliably, it was nowhere near the pace of the Renault Clios. It eventually finished 4th in class. It is hard to judge the real performance of the Citroen C2 from this, as Pascal Henry is a very unknown youngster. This is not to say Pascal Henry is a bad driver, more he is a new driver with limited experience at the moment.

The F2 competition:

Maybe doesn’t look too good on Peugeot, but I can’t let you miss out on that one. The 306 Maxi was very much a front running car in France even in overall results in the proper (=not S1600) championship. One of the drivers that enjoyed annoying WRCars last year is BSA’s Jean-Pierre Landon. This time round Jean-Pierre and his 306 Maxi couldn’t even win the F2 category. They came second, beaten by Patrick Rouillard and his BMW 318ti Compact. And yes, that BMW is RWD and is a proper F2 kit car with the wings and everything!

Peugeot’s new group N car:

The Peugeot 206 RC had its competition debut on the Rallye Lyon-Charbonnières. It is a group N car and on asphalt it is considered to be an alternative in group N to Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. This trick could indeed work as far as the group N 206 RC has 200BHP, just below 1000kg weight and a 6-speed gearbox. On its debut the 206 RC was driven by Nicolas Vouilloz, on this occasion with famous navigator Denis Giraudet.

The debut sadly didn’t last very long as Vouilloz had a mild off in SS4, he ran into further problems soon after and retired the car in SS6. Judging by the few stages the 206 RC completed trouble free, it indeed seems to be keeping up with its promise, never mind it lacks 4x4 & turbo compared to the Japanese group N opposition. After SS3 Vouilloz and the little 206 RC was 3rd in group N, ahead of the fastest Subaru Impreza WRX! At that point it was as little as 5.2s off the group N lead and only 0.1s behind the eventual group N winner!