After an incident-packed sixth and final round, the outcome of the 2012 Citroën Racing Trophy was finally decided as Quentin Gilbert was crowned champion.
Leader ahead of the final stage of the Rallye du Var, the man from the Vosges region drove carefully on the last test, even if meant Mathieu Arzeno snatched the win from under his nose. 23 year-old Gilbert wins a drive in next year’s Rallye Monte-Carlo in a DS3 R3. He will also join Citroën Racing’s team of customer racing test drivers.
Four drivers were still in contention for the title going into this, the final round of the season: Jean-Sébastien Vigion, Quentin Gilbert, Stéphane Consani and Mathieu Arzeno. The rally opened on Friday with four stages scheduled on day one.
Sébastien Chardonnet looked set to influence the outcome of the championship, as he was first to hold the lead in the Citroën Racing Trophy. A few seconds back, Stéphane Consani looked very sharp. After claiming three stage wins, he ended the day with a 2.5s lead over Chardonnet. Some 25s off the pace, Quentin Gilbert made a cautious start to the rally. Although only few seconds further back, Mathieu Arzeno was unable to hide his frustration at not managing to be among the front-runners. Sixth-placed Jean-Sébastien Vigion also remained in the hunt.
Saturday began poorly for Chardonnet, who fell out of contention for the win after picking up a puncture. On the day’s second stage (SS6), Jean-Sébastien Vigion had to retire (gearbox failure) whilst Stéphane Consani moved clear of Quentin Gilbert at the front.
A series of fastest stage times saw the Provence-based driver build up a lead over a minute… before going off on the infamous Vidauban test (SS9). This allowed Gilbert to move into the lead, 36s ahead of Mathieu Arzeno. A little further back, Keith Cronin and Mathieu Maurage were also still fighting for the win.
There were still three stages to complete on Sunday before reaching the final podium. On SS10 (La Garde Freinet), Gilbert almost got caught out by the extremely slippery conditions. In his DS3 R3, having shaken off his earlier engine cut-out problems, Arzeno went quickest: he narrowed the gap to the leader to just 12s!
SS11 (Collobrières 2) saw Robert Kubica go off. The Polish driver had dominated the rally in his Citroën C4 WRC up to that point, having established a lead of over five minutes. The crew escaped unhurt, but the car was totally burned out after the accident. The stage was cancelled, leaving just the final run on Vidauban to decide the outcome of the Citroën Racing Trophy.
Focussed on the title, Quentin Gilbert made no attempt to keep pace with Mathieu Arzeno, who went on to collect his third win of the season. Mathieu Maurage completed the podium, around twenty seconds ahead of the Belgian Kevin Demaerschalk, whose fourth place finish was his best result of the year.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal: “When we first decided to create the Citroën Racing Trophy as a promotional formula, the idea was to promote the development of talented young drivers and perhaps find a new Sébastien Loeb. I am most of all pleased that two juniors have managed to compete for the title against established drivers such as Jean-Sébastien Vigion and Mathieu Arzeno. Stéphane Consani made a mistake after a great start to the race, but Quentin Gilbert drove an intelligent race to claim the championship. We will now begin preparations with him for Monte-Carlo. He’ll team up with Andrea Crugnola, the winner of the Italian Citroën Racing Trophy. Although the experience didn’t turn out quite as we had all hoped, we are happy to have supported Robert Kubica in his return to rallying. He is an engaging character and we hope that we’ll have other opportunities to see him drive a Citroën.”
Quentin Gilbert: “I’m just very happy. My season has been a bit up and down, but it has finished on a high thanks to a great team. I’d also like to thank my co-driver Isabelle Galmiche, who was a very calming influence this weekend. There are many other people I’d like to thank: all those who have believed in me and who have worked so hard to help me get to where we are today. This rally was tough and I had to stay focussed. I can hardly believe that I will be lining up at the start of the Rallye Monte-Carlo in under two months’ time.”
Mathieu Arzeno: “There really were several points at which I thought about giving up. But the team worked hard to resolve our problems and I was able to push on the final day. I am pleased to secure my third win on tarmac. We didn’t manage to win the title because we weren’t sufficiently well prepared for the gravel rounds. But I have picked up some experience so I don’t have any regrets. Well done to Quentin for winning the title, he’s had a great season.”
Mathieu Maurage: “After a difficult series of races, it’s great to finish the season on the podium! At the start of the rally, I didn’t feel confident and was quite far off the pace. I gradually picked up my pace as the rally went on. The most pleasing thing for me is that I didn’t make any mistakes despite the extremely difficult conditions.”
Citroën Racing Trophy STANDINGS – Rallye du Var (6/6)*
1. Arzeno / Jamoul 2:46:29.2
2. Gilbert / Galmiche +22.9
3. Maurage / Levratti +2:28.8
4. Demaerschalk / Miclotte +2:50.2
5. Chardonnet / de la Haye +3:40.6
6. Latour / Collongeon +5:55.1
7. Cronin / McNulty +5:57.5
8. Condroyer / Cavallaro +15:57.1
9. Dubois / Ponchant +23:31.3
* subject to ongoing Scrutineering checks
Riedemann / Wenzel Mechanical failure SS3
Vigion / Yvernault Mechanical failure after SS6
Consani / Vilmot Went off on SS9
Citroën Racing Trophy overall standings
1. Quentin Gilbert 125.5 points
2. Mathieu Arzeno 114.5 points
3. Jean-Sébastien Vigion 103 points
4. Stéphane Consani 63 points
5. Vincent Dubert 63 points
6. Mathieu Maurage 52.5 points
7. Thomas Privé 39 points
8. Sébastien Chardonnet 38 points
9. Bertrand Latour 27.5 points
10. Kevin Demaerschalk 27.5 points