THE RETURN OF A CLASSIC: RALLYE MONTE-CARLO
The Rallye Monte-Carlo returns to the FIA World Rally Championship as the 2012 season opener
Citroën Total World Rally Team aiming for a sixth victory at the event with two works DS3 WRC crews
Mikko Hirvonen & Jarmo Lehtinen make their competitive debut for the team in a DS3 WRC
Loeb: ‘It is the world’s most famous rally’
Hirvonen ‘It makes sense to start the season from here’
After a three-year absence, the Rallye Monte-Carlo makes a much anticipated 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 in Valence (Drôme) on Wednesday 18 January and arriving in Monaco on Sunday 22 January, the rally will take the competitors 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 rallies again. Adept at handling the many grip changes that are typical 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 mix things up. “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. The Finnish driver pairing has made a habit of getting off to a good start. Winners in Sweden at the opening rally of the 2010 and 2011 WRC seasons, they also won the 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Super 2000. “Although I really enjoyed racing in Sweden, I think it makes more sense to start the season here,” confirmed Citroën Total World Rally Team’s new driver. “That said, I’m a little apprehensive about Monte-Carlo. Starting a stage where there are icy patches on slick tyres 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 5 January. “With ten wins in thirteen rallies, the Citroën DS3 WRC has already set the standard. 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 to… Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal
You were recently appointed Citroën Racing Team Principal, on 5 January. How have you found the first few days at Versailles-Satory?
“I was very pleased to rejoin an organisation in which I had already spent five years. In addition, 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 team members to get up to speed. There is such great stability at Citroën Racing that the majority of the faces were already familiar! I am now in charge of a highly organised structure, a team that has made itself synonymous 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 team supporting 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 to… Xavier Mestelan-Pinon, Citroën Racing Deputy Team Principal and Technical Director
What are the main technical developments carried out on the DS3 WRC for the new season?
“As we have said many times before, the working philosophy at Citroën Racing basically involves permanently reviewing and analysing, constantly looking for ways to improve. Our car is always developing, sometimes with very minor changes. Having said that, three noteworthy changes have been made to the car for the start of the season: a significant engine upgrade, a new clutch and 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 main challenges?
“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 to… Sébastien Loeb
You made it clear you were disappointed to see Monte-Carlo disappear from the WRC calendar, 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 is the world’s most famous rally; you just can’t have a world championship without it! It’s also a rally where I have always done well. The roads are very enjoyable to drive and there is always a great roadside atmosphere for the special stages. And let’s not forget this is Daniel’s home rally. 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 Mikko Hirvonen 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 to… Mikko Hirvonen
How 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 a team full of people who are passionate about what they do. I have been especially impressed by the rigour of the working methods and the care taken over every detail. Although the team is predominantly French-speaking, there have been no communication problems. I already feel very much at home, both with testing and the technical meetings at the plant, I have already 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 bother you?
“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.”