The Citroën Junior Team starts round 12 of the season with two objectives: sealing third place in the World Rally Championship for manufacturers and allowing Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia to defend their second place in the drivers’ standings. In the team’s second Citroën C4 WRC Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindström will also be aiming to make their mark on Catalan asphalt.
Mixed-surface events are gradually coming back to the FIA World Rally Championship. After one day of the 2009 Cyprus Rally that was held on asphalt and the Rally of Turkey this year that mixed some asphalt sections on an all-gravel route, the Spanish round of the World Championship also brings a new dimension to the end of the year.
On Friday, the crews will face a stage that is 100% gravel and two mixed surface stages. The two Citroën C4 WRCs will be in gravel configuration on the first day, but will be put into full asphalt specification for Saturday and Sunday during a long service halt (1h15m) on Friday evening.
Citroën Junior Team manager Benoit Nogier commented: “There’s going to be a lot of work to convert our Citroën C4 WRCs from gravel to asphalt specification. We’ve prepared for this service halt especially so that we can be both quick and efficient. The team will be embarking on two 75-minute sessions, which in theory gives us enough time to do everything we need to do…as long as all goes according to plan.”
The two Citroën Junior Team crews each spent a day testing in the south of France in order to prepare for the penultimate round of the season. Sébastien Ogier reported : “The roads were damp. It wasn’t ideal for us to work on the set-up but it was really important to get the kilometres in for both myself and Kimi, who was asking me a lot of questions so that we could compare our impressions.”
“We’ll start second on the road for day one so we’ll certainly suffer a bit with road-sweeping,” continued Sébastien. “We’ll just need to stay in touch and not lose too much time compared to the drivers who are starting behind us. This first mixed day could well play an absolutely crucial role in the final classification. My objective is to finish runner-up in the World Championship and so I need a good result in Spain.”
“It’s another step into the unknown,” added Kimi. “I don’t really know if our start position will be a help or a disadvantage. On the gravel, we will maybe have a clean line to help us but the asphalt sections might be very dirty. It will be vital for us to come out of the first day without making any mistakes so that we are in a good position for the rest of the rally.”
Three questions to… Kimi Räikkönen
Let’s go back to the Rallye de France-Alsace. Why did you call it a day on Saturday night?
“We start each rally with the aim of learning and taking away as much experience as we can. In Alsace, I learned a lot once more. I felt comfortable in the quick parts but I struggled in some of the slower corners. There was so much mud on the road that it hardly looked like an asphalt rally any more. It was a useful experience, but there was no point in continuing like that under these conditions. I wouldn’t have learned anything more on the final day. The best decision was to save the car for the Rally of Spain.”
Have you got any particular ambitions for Spain?
“Since the start of the season I’ve heard that this rally would be the one that suits my driving style most. The stages are quick and quite wide. It’s the place where rallying comes closest to racing, so the drivers all have to concentrate hard on their lines. However, it’s also a rally that everyone knows very well. Obviously I’m going to have quite a disadvantage in terms of experience. My objective is to be as close as I can to the top six, maybe a bit closer than I was at the start of the rally in France.”
The first day of the rally will take place on both gravel and asphalt. Are you worried about these surface changes?
“I’m learning all the rallies this season and each event has its own individual characteristics. On the recce, I come across new things all the time that I just have to get used to. Part of the game is to know how to deal with all these different things. On the World Championship you go from gravel to asphalt and asphalt to gravel several times over the course of a season. This time, it will all happen in the space of the same stage. So let’s just see what happens on Friday.”