After winning the first gravel event of the World Rally Championship in Mexico the Citroen Total World Rally Team heads to Portugal aiming to extend its winning streak.
Sebastien Ogier claimed his first WRC victory on the Algarve event in 2010, and with much of the stages the same as last year the Frenchman will be hoping for a repeat of that success.
“It's a great memory, one that I'll never forget,” said Ogier, reminiscing about last year's svent. “We drove an almost perfect rally, and we pushed from start to finish. Even though we were first out on the road on days two and three, we still managed to fight off our rivals.”
Ogier didn't end up with such a good result in Mexico last time out though, crashing out of the lead on the final morning. This will give him a good road position for Portugal, though. “Although we didn't score points in Mexico there are a number of positive conclusions to be drawn from the first gravel rally of the season. Despite having to do a lot of sweeping, I think we showed our competitiveness. Here in Portugal, I'm determined to make the most of our starting position on the opening day. It will help us to plan our rally more easily than in Mexico. We've only competed in two out of the thirteen events on the calendar, so there are still plenty of opportunities left to score good results.”
Sebastien Loeb won in Portugal in 2007 and 2009 and will want to score a third win to add to his first win of the 2011 season in Mexico. “The Citroen DS3 WRCs were very quick in Mexico, but they have always dominated their rivals in this rally,” said Loeb. “If the weather is good in Portugal, we'll find out just how competitive the cars really are in fairly standard conditions: namely, those similar to the ones we'll have to cope with in several other rallies. This race combines all the difficulties we'll meet in the championship. The rhythm changes often from quick sections to more twisty ones with lots of crests that require very accurate pace notes. Our aim is to do as well as in Mexico and that means only one thing – victory.”
Citroen Racing boss Olivier Quesnel said: “It's no different from the previous or the next rally: we start the event with the intention of winning. Our drivers know what's at stake; they have to help Citroen score another Manufacturers' World Championship title. If they achieve this aim, then it's obvious that one or the other – or both – will be in a position to bag the drivers' title. In Portugal, they must score a big haul of points. To do so, they have to start the rally with the intention of winning.”
In addition to the privately-entered cars of Petter Solberg and Kimi Raikkonen that have been present in the WRC on the two previous events, Citroen Racing Technologies will provide a third DS3 WRC for customers on Rally de Portugal, as Peter van Merksteijn Jr begins his season behind the wheel of a Citroen.
“The changes in the regulations have forced all the drivers to enter the latest generation WRCs,” explained Benoit Nogier, Citroen Racing Technologies director. “CitroÃ«n Racing has decided to provide CitroÃ«n DS3 WRCs for privateers. These cars have the same specification as the works cars and comply with the same homologation sheet.”
Solberg will be hoping to score a podium finish in Portgual having narrowly missed out on a top three finish in both Sweden and Mexico for his Petter Solberg World Rally Team. “I always enjoy rallying in Portugal,” said the Norwegian. “The event is both quick and very technical and suits me good. We learned a lot about the car on gravel in Mexico, and also learned a lot during our test day here in Portugal. As usual, I want to finish on the podium, and I know we have the speed to do so. I'm crossing my fingers for a problem free rally.”
Raikkonen and his Ice 1 Racing team return to the WRC after missing Rally Mexico, which was not part of the Finn's programme for 2011. “We made a good start to the championship in the Swedish Rally,” said Raikkonen. “We were closer to the leaders than last year. But we're still learning. Since then we've taken part in a test day to get to grips with the car on gravel. It feels good and I can't wait to be at the start of the Portuguese Rally.”
Van Merksteijn Jr, who will compete for the family Van Merksteijn Motorsport operation, said: “I was able to get used to the car in a two-day test. We ran through a wide range of setups. The DS3 WRC is a bit like a kart as it reacts immediately to the slightest input from the driver. The car really made a big impression on me as did the team, which is very professional. I'm really looking forward to tackling my first rally of the season.”