Held for the third time this year in Alsace and the Vosges, the Rallye de France should see the Citroën Total World Rally Team enjoy great support from the home crowds. As was the case in 2010, Loeb and Elena return to Seb’s native region with a chance of being crowned World Champion there.
Given that their team-mates, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, are the only ones standing between them and a ninth consecutive title, everyone in the team is in a very relaxed mood. A strong overall performance would also enable Citroën to win its eighth Manufacturers’ title, so the stakes are high for this home round!
Ever since it moved to Alsace in 2010, the Rallye de France has enjoyed a level of popularity that compares favourably with the enthusiasm generated by the WRC in Argentina, Mexico, Finland or Spain. Several hundred thousand fans looked on as Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena won the first edition and with it, their seventh world title. Forced out of the rally prematurely last year, the crew returns this year highly determined to add to their tally of 74 wins.
“Like the fans who turned out to support me, I was disappointed to retire last year, but that kind of thing is also part and parcel of racing,” confirmed Seb. “I feel that there’s some sort of revenge to be had! This year, we can secure the outcome of both championships. In the Drivers’ championship, there is only Mikko and me that can win the title. Obviously, I’d prefer it if I won and I’m going be trying very hard to do just that. The maths isn’t very complicated, as I will win the title if I finish ahead of my team-mate next weekend. Just like the other rounds, this rally has specific features that give the event its complexity. However, even with the artificial chicanes that you sometimes find on the itinerary, the stages are among the quickest that we have ever completed. The constant changes in road surface make the tarmac difficult to ‘read’ and the work of the gravel crews is essential given that the road can become very dirty between the two runs. Especially if it rains…”
Rain, fog, the racing line made slippery by mud: Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are all the more familiar with these factors following their winning performance at last weekend’s Rallye Vosgien. “It was a great learning experience for me. I don’t think I have ever driven in such difficult conditions on tarmac,” admitted the Finn. “We tested different set-ups to adapt the DS3 WRC to the road conditions, which varied between being wet, drying and totally dry.”
Third in Germany at his first ‘proper’ tarmac rally in the Citroën, Mikko believes he is gradually improving: “Although it is not my favourite surface, I like tarmac and I can’t wait to compete in the Rallye de France! In Germany, gradually I understood how to change my driving style to suit the characteristics of the DS3 WRC. I made even more progress last week, so we’ll see where how far I have come. To be honest, I’m not thinking about the Drivers’ title at all. Seb has been as strong as ever this year and he has such a big lead that I don’t see how I can beat him in normal racing conditions. My goal is to continue to improve and score the points needed by Citroën to win the Manufacturers’ World Championship.”
In order to be crowned World Champion after this rally, Sébastien Loeb will need to hold onto 56 of his 61-point lead over Mikko Hirvonen. In the Manufacturers’ championship, the Citroën Total World Rally Team needs to maintain a lead of over 86 points, compared with its 111-point lead ahead of the French round of the WRC.