Three weeks after the tarmac of Rally Germany, the WRC heads ‘down under’ for the gravel stages of Rally Australia. The Citroën Total World Rally Team, victorious in the last eight rallies, is aiming to continue its winning streak with crews Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia. Another 1-2 finish would give Citroën its seventh Manufacturers’ world title.
Rally Australia, run in the Perth region on the west coast of the country for several years, moved to New South Wales in 2009. After a year’s break, due to the rotation with the New Zealand Rally, the event is back on the calendar with a new route based around Coffs Harbour. The little town, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, is equidistant between Sydney and Brisbane, and is preparing to welcome the teams taking part in the World Rally Championship. The organisers have come up with an itinerary combining gravel and forest roads, mixing twisty and very quick sections. The Coffs Harbour super special tarmac stage will be covered six times, but it should not be taken lightly as the total distance comes to over 22km.
The Citroën Total World Rally Team has won eight of the nine rallies held this season, so it arrives in Australia as the hot favourite. The DS3 WRC remains unbeaten on gravel and should enable its crews to put on a scintillating performance on these unfamiliar roads.
Sébastien Loeb, the current leader in the Drivers’ World Championship after scoring four victories (Mexico, Sardinia, Argentina and Finland), has a 25-point lead over his team-mate, Sébastien Ogier, who has also won four times (Portugal, Jordan, Greece and Germany). The seven-time world champion will be handicapped as he will be first out on the road: “I’m getting used to it on gravel! You just have to factor in this parameter. Obviously, we don’t know these stages, but it looks like we’ll have dry weather so I expect to lose a lot of time on the first day. But we’ve also proved that we can win despite this handicap, and we’re determined to score the maximum number of points in this rally. Thanks to our lead in the world championship, we don’t have to take a lot of risks.”
Sébastien Ogier scored his first victory on tarmac in Germany and also went into second place in the Drivers’ World Championship. “On several occasions this season we’ve seen that a race can be turned on its head at any moment. So you have to stay concentrated and be ready to seize the slightest opportunity. I’m happy to be back in Australia, and competing in a new event. In these conditions where experience is of less importance, I generally feel more at ease. I hope it’ll be the same thing in this round and that we’ll have a good scrap.”
With a 91-point lead in the Manufacturers’ World Championship, the Citroën Total World Rally Team has a slight chance of clinching its seventh world title. To achieve this it has to stretch its lead to more than 129 points. As a double counts for 43 points, it’s mathematically possible.
Three questions to Xavier Mestelan-Pinon
The Citroën DS3 WRC has won eight of the nine rallies run so far this season. How do you explain this success?
This overall result has given a great deal of satisfaction to the Citroën Racing technicians and engineers who have never stopped working to make the car quick and reliable. It’s the fruit of painstaking work based on ten years’ experience at the top level in rallying. But this score doesn’t really tell the truth about the fight put up by our rivals. Quite a few rallies have been won by seconds - or even less! We’ve never come out on top easily, and our rivals are never far behind in terms of sheer performance. We’ve managed to make the difference because of our reliability as none of the Citroën Total World Rally Team cars have been eliminated by mechanical problems.”
Has the DS3 WRC received many updates since the start of the season?
“Because of the technical regulations we can’t update the car as quickly as in the past. But we still have a few areas left and we can have options homologated every three months. We’ve already used two of the five jokers granted by the FIA for the car’s first year. These modifications have been made to the suspension and the steering. Where the engine’s concerned, we’re now working more in view of 2012. We have evolutions aimed at improving the overall performance and reliability as we’ll have to do six rallies with the same engine!”
Rally Australia will be run over a new route. How have you prepared for this race down under?
“We’ve defined the car’s setup according to the type of weather we’re expecting and the layout of the stages. According to the information we’ve collected, we can expect very quick and relatively car-friendly stages. Even so, each rally has its own special features and we don’t exactly know what we’ll have to cope with. As in all the rallies, the race engineers will go through the stages to assess the difficulties of the route from a purely technical point of view. If necessary, we can make some adjustments during the preparation of the cars.”