After a three-year absence, the Rallye Monte-Carlo makes a muchanticipated return to the FIA World Rally Championship as the opening event. Five-time winner in the Principality with Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, Citroën Total World Rally Team is delighted to race again in the world’s most famous rally. To kick off the 2012 season, the seven-time World Championship winning team has a new driver pairing in its second works DS3 WRC. Winners of the 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen begin a new journey with Citroën.
Barely two months after the 2011 season ended, the WRC gets underway again in the south of France. Starting inValence (Drôme) on Wednesday, 18 January and arriving in Monaco on Sunday 22 January, the rally will take thecompetitors through the Ardèche, Haute-Loire, Vercors and Alpes-Maritimes regions. With a total of 430km of timed sections, the 18 special stages read like a list of rallying’s great monuments: Le Moulinon, Burzet, Saint-Bonnet-le- Froid, Saint-Jean-en-Royans and the famous Col du Turini, to mention just a few. Offering a real challenge for drivers, a headache for engineers and a delight for spectators, Monte Carlo is every inch the classic rally.
Five-time winners Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are excited at the idea of racing in one of their favourite ralliesagain. Adept at handling the many grip changes that are typical of the particular challenge of the route, the Franco-Monegasque driver pairing will start as favourites. “And yet, it’s three years since I last competed in this rally”, played down Sébastien Loeb. “I don’t doubt my ability to be on the pace, since we haven’t really stopped since the end of last season. But this rally is so specific, you can never be sure of anything.”
A key feature of success at Monte-Carlo, tyre management can indeed muddy the waters. “With five types of tyre –three slicks, one snow tyre and one studded tyre – we’ll have a fairly wide range of options available to us. Even if we don’t get wintry conditions, just being able to choose between three types of slicks with varying compounds could create huge gaps,” summarised Sébastien Loeb.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen make their competitive debut for Citroën in the no.2 works DS3 WRC. TheFinnish driver pairing has made a habit of getting off to a good start. Winners in Sweden in the opening rally of the2010 and 2011 WRC, they also won the 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Super 2000. “Although I really enjoyed racingin Sweden, I think it makes more sense to start the season here,” confirmed Citroën Total World Rally Team’s newdriver. “That said, I’m a little apprehensive about Monte-Carlo. Starting a stage where there are icy patches on slicktyres is not something I am particularly looking forward to, but that’s part of what makes this rally special! My aim for this weekend will be to ‘survive’, or in other words, make it to the finish without incident and pick up as many points as possible in the championships.”
“Our goals for the season are simple, yet difficult: keep our two world titles. The Rallye Monte-Carlo is the perfect place to start the season and I am proud to be leading the current World Champion Team,” added Yves Matton, who was appointed Citroën Racing Team Principal on January 5th. “With ten wins in thirteen rallies, the Citroën DS3 WRC has already set the standard. And in Sébastien and Mikko, we have two drivers with complementary styles, both capable of winning rallies. I am fairly confident in our ability to make a positive start to the year!”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR… YVES MATTONCitroën Racing Team Principal
You were recently appointed Citroën Racing Team Principal, on January 5th. How haveyou found the first few days at Versailles-Satory?
“I was very pleased to rejoin an organisation in which I had already spent five years. Inaddition, my previous professional activities kept me in regular contact with Citroën Racing.With two weeks to go until the Rallye Monte-Carlo, my priority was to meet the various teammembers to get up to speed. There is such great stability at Citroën Racing that the majorityof the faces were already familiar! I am now in charge of a highly organised structure, a team that has made itselfsynonymous with winning, and I will benefit from all the team’s experience.”
What, specifically, have you been set in the way of targets?“Citroën Racing has won both the ‘Manufacturers’ and ‘Drivers’ championships for the last four seasons. The target is to keep this record going thanks to our strengths: the DS3 WRC, our two driver pairings and a closely-knit teamsupporting them. That’s the easy part. In addition, I have to work on the ‘post-Sébastien Loeb’ issue. Although I was not involved in the agreement, the arrival of Thierry Neuville in the team will help us to prepare for the future by training up a promising young driver. As standard bearer of the Brand, Citroën Racing must continue to raise its profile internationally to represent the Brand as effectively as possible. In this respect, the participation of Nasser Al-Attiyah in a DS3 WRC, starting at Rally Sweden, will help us to raise the profile of Citroën in the Middle East.”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR…XAVIER MESTELAN-PINONCitroën Racing Deputy Team Principal and Technical Director
What are the main technical developments carried out on the DS3 WRC for the newseason?
“As we have said many times before, the working philosophy at Citroën Racing basicallyinvolves permanently reviewing and analysing, constantly looking for ways to improve. Ourcar is always developing, sometimes with very minor changes. Having said that, threenoteworthy changes have been made to the car for the start of the season: a significant engine upgrade, a new clutchand an altered electrical circuit. We have also worked with Michelin on adjusting the set-up of the cars, with the supply of new tarmac tyres which offer greater protection against punctures. The arrival of Mikko Hirvonen has also enabled us to improve certain points on the handling of the DS3 WRC by taking advantage of his extensive experience and knowledge.”
The Rallye Monte Carlo kicks off the championship. It has a reputation as a tough rally – what are the mainchallenges?
“Yes, we have had to trawl through our archives for information with this rally back on the WRC calendar! In fact, the first challenge involved bringing together all the information that we have collected about the rally in order to prepare as well as possible, both from a technical perspective and in terms of team organisation. And then you have the changing and varied weather conditions, which make tyre choice complicated. The difference in the car’s handling according to the choice of tyres – suited to the road surface or not – can really be very significant and create huge differences in the times. More generally, for the entire season, we want to do everything we can to ensure our driver pairings feel as comfortable as possible in their cars. This is already the case for Sébastien and Daniel but we’ll be trying hard to adapt to the needs of Mikko and Jarmo.”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR… SÉBASTIEN LOEBYou made it clear you were disappointed to see Monte-Carlo disappear from the WRCcalendar, so you must be pleased to see it back again?
“For me, it’s a no-brainer: the Rallye Monte-Carlo has to be in the World Championship. It isthe world’s most famous rally; you just can’t have a world championship without it! It’s also arally where I have always done well. The roads are very enjoyable to drive and there is alwaysa great roadside atmosphere for the special stages. And let’s not forget this is Daniel’s homerally. I’m sure he’d rather be on my right in the DS3 WRC than behind the wheel of a DS3 R3 like last year!”
You begin this new season with two new team-mates. How has your new working relationship with MikkoHirvonen gone so far?
“I’ve only ever known Mikko as a rival, so it’s nice to be working on the same side now. We get on well and I think we have a lot of respect for one another. We’ll have to change our working habits a little and communicate in English, but I think that is a fairly positive thing. For the time being, we have the same feeling about the car, but that was already the case with my previous team-mates. Mikko has lots of experience and he has moved from a team with a very fast car. I am sure he will bring new ideas on board and that will help us to improve.”
TWO QUESTIONS FOR… MIKKO HIRVONENHow have things gone since you joined Citroën Racing?
“I was immediately struck by the very warm welcome that was extended to me. I have found ateam full of people who are passionate about what they do. I have been especially impressedby the rigour of the working methods and the care taken over every detail. Although the teamis predominantly French-speaking, there have been no communication problems. I alreadyfeel very much at home. And with testing and the technical meetings at the plant, I havealready spent a lot of time with various members of the team.”
The team is reputed to have been built around Sébastien Loeb, who is regarded as the no.1. Does that botheryou?
“No, I see this opportunity to work with Sébastien as being of great benefit to my career. It’s not about being number one or two. We all start the season with no points on the board and the 2012 regulations will make racing fairer, both for team-mates and rival drivers. To some extent, it’s fairly natural that the team expects more of Sébastien; he has been with them for ten years and has been World Champion for the last eight years running! That takes a little bit of the pressure off me, so I’ll be able to take the time to become totally accustomed to the car, the team and how it operates. In any case, I always try to adopt a positive approach to situations, as that tends to be the best way to make progress.”
MAJOR CHANGES TO THE REGULATIONS FOR 2012
Start order on tarmac: In accordance with the championship standings for the first section, and then in accordance with the previous day’s race standings, grouping together P1 and P2 priority drivers.
Start order in Sweden and on gravel: The driver with the fastest time in the Qualifying Stage of the shakedown is first to choose his position on the road for the first section, and so on. On the following days, P1 and P2 priority drivers start in reverse order of the previous day’s race standings.
Qualifying Stage (QS) procedure: From 8am to 10am, each driver pairing can complete two non-timed runs. From10.30am, each driver pairing completes a single run in the order of the championship standings. QS is governed by the same service rules as the rest of the rally (eight mechanics with armbands for two cars). At the end of the QS, the cars must be taken to the Parc Fermé.
Rally 2: This is the new name for SupeRally. The organisers of an event are free to include this or not. There will be no Rally 2 at Monte Carlo.
Engines: Only three engines per car, per season, are permitted. Links: Each manufacturer must choose three links of three rallies and one link of two rallies in which the transmissions, subframes, steering racks and turbochargers are limited.
RALLYE MONTE-CARLO Round: 1/13 Base: Valence and Monaco Service Park: Parc des Expositions “Le Polygone”, Valence / Quai Antoine 1er, Monaco. Surface: tarmac, with snow and ice Weather: Overcast, 0°C to 6°C in Valence. Sunny, 4 to 10°C in Monaco. Ice and snow on the special stages. Sunrise and sunset on the first day of the rally: 7.59am / 5.22pm Local time: UTC+1Technical information: Rallye Monte-Carlo is not part of a link for Citroën Total World Rally Team.Tyres: 45 tyres are available, including 20 studded snow tyres, 8 non-studded snow tyres, 12 super softs, 36 softs and 8 hard tyres. Studded tyres may not be combined with non-studded tyres and the use of snow tyres is forbidden in the shakedown. Tyres used in the shakedown may be reused in the rally proper. The studs may not be removed.
Reconnaissance: From Saturday, 14 January at 1pm until Monday, 16 January at 7pm. Shakedown: Tuesday, 17 January from 8am until 12 midday to the south of Valence, on the plateau de Lautagne located 8km from the service park near to the D261 road, over a distance of 3.58km.
. Start: Tuesday, 17 January at 7pm, from the Champ de Mars in Valence. Route: 18 special stages (11 different stages). 433.36km of timed sections. Total distance: 1,772.52km Podium: Sunday, 22 January at 3pm, Place du Palais Princier in Monaco.
RALLYE MONTE-CARLO SCHEDULEWednesday, 18 January 20128.00am: Start - Valence9.03am: SS1 - Le Moulinon – Antraigues 1 (36.87km)10.21am: SS2 - Burzet – St Martial 1 (30.48km)12.46pm: Service Park A – Valence (30 min)2.21pm: SS3 - Le Moulinon – Antraigues 2 (36.87km)3.39pm: SS4 - Burzet – St Martial 2 (30.48km)5.52pm: Service Park B – Valence (45 min)
Thursday, 19 January 20127.55am: Service Park C – Valence (15 min)9.33am: SS5 - Labatie d’Andaure – Lalouvesc 1 (19km)10.14am: SS6 - St Bonnet le Froid - St Julien Molhesabate - St Bonnet le Froid 1 (25.22km)11.37am: SS7 - Lamastre – Gilhoc – Alboussière 1 (21.66km)12.57pm: Service Park D – Valence (30 min)2.50pm: SS8 - Labatie d’Andaure – Lalouvesc 2 (19km)3.31pm: SS9 - St Bonnet le Froid - St Julien Molhesabate - St Bonnet le Froid 2 (25.22km)4.54pm: SS10 - Lamastre – Gilhoc – Alboussière 2 (21.66km)6.02pm: Service Park E – Valence (45 min)
Friday, 20 January 20128.44am: Service Park F – Valence (15 min)10.02am: SS11 - St Jean en Royans-Font d’Urle (23.28km)10.43am: SS12 - Cimetière de Vassieux – Col de Gaudissart (24.13km)3.11pm: SS13 - Montauban sur Ouvèze-Eygalayes (29.89km)7.56pm: Parc fermé – Monaco
Saturday, 21 January 20121.15pm: Service Park H – Monaco (45 min)3.11pm: SS14 – Moulinet - Col du Turini - La Bollene-Vesubie 1 (23.41km)3.54pm: SS15 – Lantosque - Luceram 1 (18.81km)5.53pm: Service Park I – Monaco (30 min)7.34pm: SS16 – Moulinet - Col du Turini - La Bollene-Vesubie 2 (23.41km)8.17pm: SS17 – Lantosque - Luceram 2 (18.81km)9.32pm: Service Park J – Monaco (45 min)Sunday, 22 January 20129.05am: Service Park K – Monaco (15 min)10.11am: SS18 - Sainte Agnes - Col de la Madone (5.16km)11.04am: Service Park L – Monaco (10 min)11.17am: Finish – Monaco
DRIVER PAIRINGS RECORD PRIOR TO THIS RALLYSébastien Loeb Daniel Elena Mikko Hirvonen Jarmo LehtinenFirst rallySpain 99Saxo Kit Car / Retd.Monte Carlo 97106 / Retd.Finland 02Clio S1600 / 21stFinland 97Civic gr. N / 38thWRC rallies 151 154 124 128Wins 67 67 14 14Junior titles 2001 - - -WRC titles 8 (2004-2011) 8 (2004-2011) - -
DRIVER PAIRINGS RECORD AT MONTE CARLOSébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen2011* - -2010* - 1st (Fiesta S2000)*2009* - -2008 1st (C4 WRC) 2nd (Focus RS WRC)2007 1st (C4 WRC) 5th (Focus RS WRC)2006 2nd (Xsara WRC) 7th (Focus RS WRC)2005 1st (Xsara WRC) -2004 1st (Xsara WRC) Retired (Focus RS WRC)2003 1st (Xsara WRC) Retired (Focus RS WRC)2002 2nd (Xsara WRC) -2001 15th (Saxo group A) -* Not part of WRC