Oct 27

WRC: Championships the target for Citroen on crucial rally

The long journey from Paris to Sapporo for next week’s Pioneer Carrozzeria Rally Japan

It could be Citroen’s most productive trip of the year if the French team achieves its aim of wrapping up both 2008 FIA WRC titles there. 

Heading to the penultimate rally of the year, Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena hold a 14 point advantage over Mikko Hirvonen in the drivers’ championship. If the gap is at least 10 points after the finish of the Rally Japan, the crown will be theirs for the fifth consecutive year.

But for Citroen a championship win for Loeb might be only half of the story. In the battle for manufacturers’ honours Citroen’s lead stands at 23 points over Ford. If the gap is 18 points or more on Sunday afternoon, then the Makes title will go to the French outfit for the fourth time.

Loeb won Rally Japan in 2006 but failed to finish it last year after a pace-note error caused him to drive off the road. This year’s event is based from Sapporo for the first time and features three days of completely new stages.

“It has always been a particularly complex event,” explained Seb.

“The first time we did the recce, we wondered whether in fact it was possible to stay on the road for three days! The stages of the Obihiro based rally were fast, narrow and difficult to commit to memory, and there was always a chance you could be caught out by one of the innumerable changes in grip.”

” Moving to another region probably won’t make matters any easier. Contesting a new event with the title at stake only adds to the stress, although it’s not the first time we have faced this situation. We are also aware of how competitive our C4 is, and we will still have the Wales Rally GB to come afterwards. That takes away some of the pressure, but our objective will be to try to sew up the championship in Japan.”

“If our rivals win,” continued the Alsace-born driver, “we will need to come away with at least six points. That means finishing in third place and we will start with that in mind and see how things unfold. We will always have the possibility of adjusting our pace to ensure we stay concentrated and don’t make any mistakes. I would like to wrap up the title in Japan so that we can focus our attention on winning when we go to Wales.”

Supporting Loeb and Citroen in Japan will be Dani Sordo and his co-driver Marc Mart. The Spanish pair crashed out of Rallye de France three weeks ago.

“We have put our off in Corsica behind us,” says Dani. “I made a mistake and there’s no point in dwelling on it. I prefer to look ahead. I only contested the Obihiro-based Rally Japan twice and I’m not against the switch to Sapporo, although I’m not expecting our task to be any easier this time round.”

“The switch to a new region will level the playing field and I am encouraged by our recent runs on the loose compared with the drivers who are known to be quick on gravel,” he added.

“It’s now up to me to try to catch them. It won’t be simple, but we will try to find a fast but safe pace. If we succeed, we should be able to secure a good result to score the points Citroen needs in the Manufacturers’ championship.”

source: wrc.com