Citroen on home ground at Rallye de France-Alsace

After travelling to the other side of the world, the 2011 World Rally Championship will finish in Europe. The ‘Rallye de France-Alsace’, the first of the three remaining events, will be on Citroën’s home turf. Last year, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won their seventh world title in Strasbourg, and the Citroën Total World Rally Team scored its sixth Manufacturers’ World Championship crown. Twelve months later Citroën is aiming for more wins with its two crews.‘Rallye de France’ was held in Corsica since the creation of the world championship in 1973 but in 2010 it moved to Alsace. Taking place in the heart of Europe, the event was a huge success attracting over 250,000 spectators. The majority of attendees only had eyes for one driver, Sébastien Loeb, the local lad who was on his way to winning a seventh world title. Despite the pressure and various pitfalls of the route, Loeb scored a hands-down victory giving him and Citroën, more world titles.A year later, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena start the eleventh round with a 15-point lead over their nearest rival. “We have to watch out as proved by the results in the last two rallies,” says Loeb. “A puncture in Germany and we lost victory; a moment’s inattention in Australia led to an off and prevents me from tackling the end of the season in a calm state of mind. We won Rally France last year, so we’re the favourites and we’ll do everything possible to honour this position. But victories don’t fall off trees! Before even thinking of the podium we have to master the difficulties of this very tricky route. Last year, the speeds we reached on the roads really struck me. With potentially capricious weather and innumerable changes of surface, you have to know how to read the road to adapt your braking distances and your trajectories. The organizers have announced that they’re going to put posts on the apexes to prevent the roads from getting dirty too quickly. Maybe that’ll make things easier on the second pass.”Last year, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia made a great start to the rally and then lost time due to a suspension breakage after an impact on an apex. They saw the flag in sixth place overall after showing real potential. Since then the pair won their first tarmac rally in Germany a few weeks back. Ogier also made a mistake in Australia and lost second place in the world championship to Mikko Hirvonen. The Frenchman is now 29 points behind his team-mate (more than a rally victory) and knows that his chances of winning the title are slim. “I’m at the team’s service to help it win more titles. To fine-tune my preparation for this type of terrain, which I’m slightly familiar with, I took part in the Vosges rally two weeks ago. That helped me to gain experience on terrain that’s similar to that of Rally France in racing conditions,” said Sébastien. “We’ll see how the race pans out, but I’m going to try and stay close to my team-mate who’s the benchmark on this type of surface.”As in Australia, the Citroën Total World Rally Team can win the manufacturers’ title before the end of the season. To achieve this the team must extend its lead to 86 points compared to 62 at present.Three questions to Sébastien LoebAttention seems to be concentrated on your duel with Sébastien Ogier. But as the end of the season approaches Mikko Hirvonen is now your most serious rival, isn’t he? “Sébastien and I had the same race in Australia! We both made mistakes and left the door open for our rivals. The first consequence is that the Citroën Total World Rally Team’s lead in the Manufacturers’ World Championship has been cut. The second is that Mikko has closed the gap in the drivers’ title chase. We’re now under pressure from a driver in another make of car, so it’s not the same thing. This is why the team gave orders at the end of the rally so I could add another point to my total. In this type of situation every point is worth its weight in gold!”With two tarmac rallies out of the three rounds left, the situation is still to your advantage, isn’t it? “In theory only! We’re always at the mercy of a driving error or a mechanical problem. Despite eight wins on the trot in Germany, I wasn’t able to continue the series. At the same time Mikko is a rival who gives nothing away, and he’s shown that he can never be ruled out. We have to watch out and transform our theoretical advantage into points!”Do you have any special feelings about taking part in the second Rally France-Alsace? “I’m here above all to compete in a rally - and to try and win it if possible! Like last year I’ll have to concentrate on my race and try and ignore everything else that’s going on around me. I‘ll do my best to remain accessible, but there are so many people that I can’t do it for all my supporters. Although it’s mathematically impossible for me to win the title this weekend, the pressure’s the same. I could say that I haven’t got a title to win yet, but rather that I’ve got one not to lose!”