Perfect Position - Argentina Preview

Perfect Position - Argentina PreviewFrom Citroen Press [ 15/07/2004 ].
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Citroen will start the Rally of Argentina this weekend (14-18 July 2004) ideally positioned to strengthen its grip on the World Rally Championship. With Sébastien Loeb leading the drivers' championship having collected 28 points from a maximum of 30 in the last three rounds and Citroen controlling the manufacturers' title chase, having collected 42 points during the same events. But this does not mean that Citroen is going to rest on winners' laurels collected by Loeb in four of the first six events of the season.

"In this sport, the difference between winning and not winning can sometimes hinge on the smallest of details," says Guy Fréquelin, Team Director. "A rock hitting the underneath of the car in the wrong place in Mexico, for example, put Seb out of the event or the rain on Day One in Turkey which provided an unexpected helping hand to Seb whose road position made him 'road sweeper' during the opening leg. If we were prone to letting results go to our head, which isn't at all our style, we would only have to remember the finale in Turkey to get our feet firmly back on the ground: Seb's last-minute wheel-bearing failure could have turned a win into a DNF right at the end of the event!"

"We are currently competing in our second full season at WRC level and there are still some events on which we are still feeling our way, as was the case in New Zealand. It's for all these reasons that I implore the team not to drop its guard, although I have no doubts concerning its motivation which has been significantly strengthened by the results of the last three rallies."

To this end there has been no let up in the preparation of the Citroen Xsara WRC for its second trip to the Southern Hemisphere of the 2004 season.

"We have used the data we collected there in 2003 to fine-tune the basic set-up we had in Turkey which was very competitive," explains Technical Manager Jean-Claude Vaucard. "We have also taken certain features of Rally Argentina into account, including the river crossings, and have worked on the small problems encountered in Turkey, notably the engines stalling at stage starts."

The drivers are in an optimistic mood, while Carlos Sainz says that "to do well in a rally, you have to like it". Indeed, the Spaniard adores Argentina and his success rate there is particularly impressive. Last year, spurred on by the countless Spanish-speaking spectators who chant his name football-fan fashion, he produced one of his finest performances ever on this event and could have won outright had he not collected a 1-minute penalty following a misunderstanding with his co-driver at the La Cumbre service park in-control. Even so, his stage times demonstrated how well the Xsara was adapted to the terrain.

"I am sure it's going to be a great rally this year," says Sainz. "There are lots of interesting stages and the organisers have found a way for us to return to the Mina Clavero area where the scenery is simply stunning. I am delighted at the idea of doing 'Giulio Cesare' and 'El Condor' again. They are legendary stages. My only minor concern is the state in which we will find them, and we'll see that in recce. But overall, I think it's really nice to broaden the mix, to propose different stages, which means we won't have to repeat too many!"

The 2003 rally was less successful for Sébastien Loeb. But despite it being his first visit to the event, his stage times were very close to those of the top runners, a feat that prompted widespread praise. His times also echoed those of his Spanish team-mate, corroborating the technical staff's evaluation of the Xsara's potential in Argentina.

Seb, like Carlos, enjoys this rally and is delighted to be back. His strong position at the top of the Drivers' championship puts him in a positive upward spiral and, although he knows the scrap is likely to be fierce, he believes in his chances of a top result. So can Seb record a consecutive win on gravel?

"Why not?" Says Loeb. "The problem is that victory in Argentina seems just as possible for Marcus, Petter and Markko [Märtin], not forgetting Carlos who will practically be on home ground! There is not just one favourite, but many! The competition is very tight at the moment, with each rally being dominated by a different driver: Marcus in Cyprus, Petter in Greece, Daniel and me in Turkey. With some adjustments to its set-up, the Xsara I drove in Turkey should be competitive in Argentina. The jumps and the fords aren't a problem for the car, nor is the rougher going and its traction is now very good over the 'ribbed' portions. So it will be up to us to make the most of all that once the first loop of stages, over which we will probably play the role of 'road sweepers', is behind us."