C4 looking strong on gravel

C4 looking strong on gravelFrom Citroen Press [ 10/03/2007 ].
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Sebastien Loeb, his co-driver Daniel Elena and their Citroën C4 WRC completed the opening day of the fourth round of the 2007 season – Rally Mexico – on top of the overnight leaderboard. Their team-mates Dani Sordo and Marc Martí follow in fourth position.

Once again, the Rally Mexico is giving this year's World Championship regulars their first taste of gravel which is the season's most commonly featured surface type (9 rounds from 16) and can therefore be expected to play a big role in the way the series unfolds.

Citroën Sport was keen to see whether the new C4 WRC would live up to the promise it had shown during testing. "The C4 is a brand new car," recalled Guy Fréquelin prior to the start, "and Rally Mexico is its first outing on gravel. We are naturally very interested to see how it performs here."

The car's debut on dirt was complicated by the specific features of the American round and the 145.62 km of Leg 1's eight stages gave competitors a good cross-section of the event's traditional difficulties, namely high temperatures (between 25 and 35°C), hard-wearing conditions for the tyres, plus, above all, high altitudes and consequently rarefied air. Today's stages peaked at a high 2,700m (Ortega, SS2/5) and, at these altitudes, the brakes are less well cooled while the engines lose power. However, the C4 and both Citroën Sport crews came through the day with flying colours.  

"There will be no jockeying for position. It will be maximum attack from the start," predicted Daniel Elena as crews set out this morning, and he was right. The opening loop notably gave the reigning World Champions the opportunity to see that the work put in by the Citroën Sport squad upstream of the event had been in the right direction.

"The C4 is competitive and I was immediately happy with its performance," reported Loeb at the lunchtime service halt in Leon. "It still needs some fine tuning but it has real potential on the loose. It's just a shame we were hit by a stone thrown by a spectator on SS2. That's such a stupid thing to do."

Meanwhile, Dani Sordo slipped into his French team-mate's wake to confirm the new car's form. "It's great to be back on a type of surface on which I feel more confident. Like Sébastien, I found there was still a certain amount of surface gravel by the time we started the stages but generally I am happy with the way the morning went because we are up there with our main rivals."

The afternoon's loop – a repeat of the morning's run, plus two attempts at the superspecial – produced another strong run from the Citroën pair. Sébastien gave the C4 WRC its first fastest time on gravel on the lofty Alfaro stage (SS4) and, by the start of SS6, the three-time World Champion was just 2.1 seconds behind the early leader before the latter retired, handing him top spot.

"It was a lot closer during the afternoon and we had to push hard to make our mark, but I am pleased with my day and with the competitiveness of the C4 WRC," commented the Frenchman. Sordo chose a quick but safe pace, but a misadventure cost him a little time on SS5: "Someone had intentionally put rocks in my path. They damaged my steering and broke a rim." However, the incident didn't prevent the Spaniard from putting in a strong performance to conclude the day in fourth place.

With one of his team's cars sitting at the top of the provisional leaderboard and the second C4 WRC in fourth position, just seconds off second place, Guy Fréquelin was positive about the way the opening leg unfolded. "I am encouraged by the car's debut on the loose and globally pleased with the runs of both crews. It's still very close though, and Seb and Dani have had to push very hard to make their mark on the event. Last but not least, the incidents that affected several drivers were inadmissible. Rallying comes with enough inherent risks as it is and we can well do without such stupid, irresponsible acts."