Victory for for Citroën?

Victory for for Citroën?From Citroen Press [ 13/09/2005 ].
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Wales Rally GB not only marks the return of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship to gravel but it also stands out as the last round before the current series enters its fourth and final quarter. The Manufacturers' championship leaders Citroën have entered two Xsara WRCs for the British classic, for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and François Duval/Sven Smeets who together claimed an emphatic one-two result on the recent asphalt interlude in Germany.

The French carmaker has twice finished Rally GB in 2nd spot: in 2003, when its efforts where essentially focused on (successfully) securing the Manufacturers title, and again in 2004 after leading until 10km from the chequered flag. This time round, the Versailles-Satory squad has prepared particularly carefully for the visit to Cardiff and will be out to finish one place higher, which would be its first success in the British event...

Last year saw Britain's round switch from the traditional November date it had held since 1959 to a new mid-September slot. In the Brecon Beacons National Park, which stretches north of the imaginary line between Cardiff and Swansea, this is often a transitional moment of the year in weather terms. It's not yet winter and, in any case, the proximity of the sea all but eliminates the likelihood of snow and ice which used to be a hallmark of RAC Rallies of yesteryear. However, the region could either still be enjoying summer sunshine, or it could equally turn out to be autumn already, with weather changes possible during the weekend, or even during the same day!

The stages themselves are practically identical to those employed twelve months ago and use the country's celebrated wide and generally well-maintained forest tracks. "The stages are fast," says Citroën Sport's Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon. "They are a bit like Finland, but without the jumps and with the odd rougher portion. In dry weather, the stony surface is very abrasive but if it rains it becomes covered in a top-coating of extraordinarily slippery mud. Temperatures can vary considerably too. The best tyre – that is to say the most competitive tyre – can extend from the softest available in the range to the hardest..."

To cope with the different possible scenarios, one tactic is to select a broad spectrum of tyre types when nominating the drivers' individual quotas. The number of covers that can be registered is restricted to 70 however. Which means that if the drivers do make a wide choice, they will only have limited quantities of each type. On the other hand, if the conditions prove consistent, the ideal tyre will be the same from start to finish and the driver could well find himself short. Drivers faced exactly this sort of situation last year when omnipresent mud and low temperatures meant that the soft compound was the most competitive option over the three days

Another approach consists in having total confidence in the forecasters' predictions and selecting a large quantity of the tyre type suited to the anticipated conditions. With the weather being so unpredictable and changeable, this sort of gamble could well lead to the driver hitting the jackpot… or it could end in disaster. Such, in any case, is the conundrum faced by the teams right up to the tyre nomination ‘deadline’ on the afternoon of Monday September 12th.