Loeb triumphs in New Zealand

Loeb triumphs in New ZealandFrom Citroen Press [ 10/04/2005 ].
Click to read all other Citroen Citroen News.

A perfectly paced run during Leg 3 ensured victory for Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and Citroën at the finish ceremony of the 2005 Rally New Zealand in Waitemata Plaza in Auckland's harbour district. The Franco-Monegasque pair's second win of the season takes them to 2nd place in the provisional Drivers' Championship standings.

An equally well judged final day performance from François Duval and Stéphane Prévot secured 4th place at the flag for the Belgian pair who secured their first points of the year, while Citroën moves into 2nd place in the Manufacturer's championship to conclude in style a highly successful trip for Guy Fréquelin and his team to the other side of the planet.

"It was absolutely essential that we finished in the big points here," stressed the Citroën Sport team boss. "The fact that we won after only two previous visits to this event speaks volumes for the team's capacity to adapt and progress. Everyone was intent on finding the secret to winning in New Zealand and they have succeeded! The Xsara was involved in the fight at the sharp end from the start which shows its set-up was a perfect match for the Kiwi stages."

The Xsara's winning form was compounded by the decisive contribution made by the French marque's longstanding partner Michelin whose new Z ‘BTO' tyre and hard compound performed marvels during the second passes through the stages which were run twice – and therefore cleared of their traditional loose gravel top-coating – despite the high ground temperatures in the hot sunshine. The combination of the Xsara's excellent balance and its Michelin tyres allowed the defending World Champion to adopt an aggressive driving style which saw him emerge in front on Friday before pulling out a practically unassailable advantage of around a minute over his closest chasers on Saturday.

"It's very nice to win here in New Zealand after our frustrating outings in Sweden and Mexico," said Seb. "It shows that we were simply down on luck on those two rallies. I am particularly pleased with this weekend's result because we won in a straight fight with Marcus [Grönholm] and Petter [Solberg]. Also, winning on this terrain – which tended to be a little difficult for us in previous years – is a positive sign on two accounts. First of all, it proves that the Xsara continues to progress and, secondly, the fact that we are now competitive on fast gravel means we can hope for a top result in Finland."

The question remains whether François Duval could have finished on the podium had he not been slowed by a fall-off in the performance of his brakes – the only problem to trouble the team's weekend – just as it looked as though he could challenge for a place on the podium. François is a driver who asks a lot of his brakes and the pads fitted to his car are the most effective possible but the price to pay for that is that they tend to wear more quickly and the second run through the long 'Bull' stage proved a little too much for them.

"My target was always to finish inside the top five," underlines François. "I needed to score my first points with the team and I couldn't have taken more risks than I took. It was only my second outing on gravel with the Xsara and I succeeded in being consistent. I am really very happy with this result."

The privately-entered Kronos-run Xsara of Manfred Stohl figured in a flattering 8th place on Friday but the Austrian driver unfortunately lost a place after a spin and a small off in the early part of Saturday's second loop of stages. However, as in January's Monte Carlo Rally, that didn't prevent him from finishing best-placed privateer.