C4 faces a rough & tough time in Greece

C4 faces a rough & tough time in GreeceFrom Citroen Press [ 25/05/2007 ].
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Just before the calendar's two-month summer recess, the World Rally Championship moves on to Greece for the 54th Acropolis Rally for which Citroën Sport has entered two Citroën C4 WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/ Marc Martí.

Last year saw the organisers of the Greek classic switch their event's base to Athens and
they have again set up camp in the country's capital this time round, although this season it
has moved from the Olympic Stadium to the Equestrian Centre that was also built for the
2004 Games. The rally's other notable feature concerns the route which includes some
100km of stages that will be new to competitors. The first and third legs will take crews
north-west of Athens, while the second day – the longest of the weekend – heads out to
Loutraki where a remote service park has been programmed. Saturday's action also
includes two attempts at the marathon Agii Theodori stage (SS10/14, 48.88km) which, true
to the Greek round's reputation, promises to be an awesome test of man and machine.
Indeed, the Acropolis Rally's stages are unique in the World Championship, as Citroën Sport's
Technical Manager Xavier Mestelan-Pinon explains: "This event is a very special challenge.

Sardinia served as a sort of foretaste but this will essentially be the C4's maiden outing in these
conditions which combine high temperatures and extremely rough, hard-packed stages where
the suspension has to soak up the countless rocks that litter the surface. Reliability will play a
key role and the regulations further spice up the weekend's prospects: following his retirement in
Sardinia, Seb's C4 will benefit from a new chassis and engine, but Dani's engine will be starting
its third event, and his chassis its second rally. Given the state of the stages, this dials in a
further unknown, as well as extra pressure which we will need to overcome."

The Acropolis has rarely been successful for Citroën which has only won once in Greece from
five starts. "Perhaps this year's visit will enable us to improve on that statistic," suggests Guy
Fréquelin. "In recent years, we have no doubt been less well prepared for this type of terrain
than for the others. I hope the Citroën C4 WRC will enable us to reverse the trend. Luck can also
play a big role in Greece, so let's hope it will be on our side this time."

"You do need a little luck to win the Acropolis Rally," echoes Sébastien Loeb. "The stages are
varied and often interesting, but the down side is that they can be so rough in places that the
event becomes something of a lottery. It's especially complex if you try to push hard, especially
for the tyres." Loeb's co-driver Daniel Elena pounces on that last comment to underline what he
believes to be the best tactic for the weekend's longest stage: "If you're going to have a
puncture, make sure it's as near as possible to the finish…"

Dani Sordo plans to approach the final event before the break with caution: "Competing in hot
weather is never easy, but everything suffers in Greece, from the crews and cars to the tyres. To
avoid breaking everything, it's important to find the right pace. There are also lots of new stages
this year. That should be good for me, but I have no intention of allowing that to go to my head!"

Guy Fréquelin's objective for the Acropolis Rally is simply to try and win! "Given our positions in
both championships," he observes, "we cannot target anything less. Our disappointment in
Sardinia demonstrated that even the best of them are not immune from trouble, and our rivals
are just as prone to this sort of misadventure. It will be up to us to tackle the Acropolis in such a
way that we don't compromise our title chances before going into the second half of the season."

Questions to….

Guy Fréquelin…
Have you recovered from your disappointment in Sardinia?
"Yes and no! 'Yes' because you have to tell yourself that this sort of thing can happen to
even the best of them and that nothing is sealed in either championship despite the
outcome of the Italian round. 'Yes', too, because Dani put in a fine performance and that
was very encouraging. Finally, 'yes' because the team worked well and we didn't have
the slightest problem with the C4. On the other hand, though, the fact that this incident
occurred while Seb had a good lead and wasn't even pushing is really infuriating."

Would you agree that the Acropolis is the toughest round of the season? How
have you prepared for it?
"You know, despite its debonair aspects, Sardinia also has some pretty rough stages, but
the terrain in Greece is indeed extremely hard and aggressive on tyres, while the heat
only serves to accentuate the challenge. There is also the problem of punctures and I
hope our pre-event testing will enable us to take that in our stride. In Italy, the Citroën C4
WRC proved very reliable for such a recent car. I touch wood that this will be the case
again in Greece."

Once you have finished with the Acropolis Rally, will you consider that the
toughest half of the season for Citroën is behind you?
"We must first of all finish this event! All the rounds are now sprints; it's almost as though
the championship was just one rally comprising 16 stages. You need to do well in all of
them to stand a chance of a top result at the end of the year. On paper, the rest of the
season may appear favourable to Citroën but I prefer to keep up my guard. We mustn't
think that the sealed surface events will be easy. Anything can happen just as easily on
asphalt…"

…to Sébastien Loeb…
How do you analyse your accident in Sardinia?
"Rally driving is not an exact science and we are forever on a knife-edge. At times there
isn't a big difference between staying on the road and going off. What's really frustrating
is that I wasn't even pushing when I made my mistake. But it happened, so we've just got
to put it behind us and look forward. Neither championship has been lost and the
Acropolis is only the halfway point of the season. We will still have eight rallies to make
up ground after the break."

What do you remember of the 2006 Acropolis Rally?
"It was very rough! The previous years' events were based further to the north, near
Lamia, and I found the stages interesting. You could push without too much fear of
destroying your car. Last year, following the switch to the Athens region, the conditions
were very badly cut up for the second passes and there was nothing nice about that.
More than 100km of the stages are new this time round; let's hope they will be in good
condition."

You have only won the Acropolis Rally once. Do you not find that strange?
"It's not the only WRC event I've only won once, but the Acropolis isn't my favourite rally
either. I don't enjoy seeing the car suffer which is often the case in Greece, and a stray
rock can bring your rally to a halt at any time. You're often forced to just sit in the ruts
formed by the other competitors and that stops you from choosing your own lines. I hope
the C4's suspension will enable us to be competitive over the rougher portions."

...and to Dani Sordo.
You were on the podium for the second time in two years in Sardinia. The island
seems to be happy hunting ground for you...
"It's true we also came third in 2006, but I don't think that stems from the event because
it's not really my favourite rally. The conditions are very difficult and it's so easy to make
a mistake. I was a little fortunate and you mustn't forget that I would have finished fourth
had it not been for Seb's retirement. I was happy to come third, though, because it meant
valuable championship points for Citroën on a type of terrain where I still need to find my
marks."

Even so, you seem to have found the sort of speed and consistency that will be
useful in Greece?
"Along with everyone at Citroën Sport, we worked well in Sardinia. The dialogue with my
engineer is improving all the time and I personally tried to stay concentrated from start to
finish, which is just as well with the two Solberg brothers snapping at my heels! Some
people believe I have passed a watershed. Well, let's wait and see how it goes in Greece
to see if they are right. Although I am making progress, I still need to bridge the gap that
separates me from the quickest drivers…"

How will you approach the Acropolis Rally?
"It's an event I enjoy only moderately. It's not much fun driving over rocks when you're
stifling from the heat inside a rally car. There are portions where you can give yourself a
free rein but you often have to pace yourself and make sure you don't get carried away
so as not to risk damaging the car or destroying the tyres. It's a different approach and
not necessarily the one I prefer. It will be important to try and score a good result for the
championship."