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Sordo: Citroen's Swedish Saviour!

February 11th, 2008

Sweden was never going to be easy for Citroën.

For a start it’s a unique event, doubly so this year as it’s the only snow event on the WRC calendar and its winner’s list reads like a Swedish phone book. Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb may be the only non-Scandinavian to have won this event, but it has also been the scene of some of the very few disappointments of his career, while his team mate, Dani Sordo, has little experience of driving studded tyres on snow and ice.

Added to this Citroën entered the event already penalized with Sordo carrying a five minute penalty because of an engine change between events, that plunged him down the leader board before the event even got underway.

Loeb started cautiously, letting Ford’s Scandinavian drivers make the pace in what was becoming an increasingly difficult rally as the snow and ice melted, leaving deeply rutted gravel and mud, not ideal for the narrow stuffed tyres. But it all went wrong on stage four for Loeb. In a sweeping corner the front of the car clipped a soft snow bank, pulling the car off line and into a rock that then flipped his Citroën C4 WRC over onto its roof.

Loeb and Elena got the car going again and limped into service. But it was a small, short service, where the team can only use parts carried in the car to repair it, making it impossible to get the Citroën C4 WRC working properly again, so Loeb retired.

"I hit a snowbank with the front of my car on the inside of a fast left-hander and that sent us into a spin,” explained Loeb. “I tried to get the car back in line but we hit a bank and rolled. We landed on the stage but a problem with the clutch meant that we weren't able to re-start at once. It was a driver error but the car didn't really take a big knock. Had we been able to service after the stage, I think we would have been able to continue."

He started again on the following day under super rally rules, with a huge amount of time – some 24 minutes – to make up to even get Citroën back into the points. He made up some time on the Saturday, even setting two fastest stage times, but the engine was sick and on the penultimate day, with little hope of getting into the points, it was decided with withdraw Loeb from the event.

“In the sort of situation we were in, it's never easy to know what tactic to adopt,” said Loeb as he slipped into retirement. “We tried to push hard to stay concentrated and everything went well up to the service halt, but we decided not to go any further because our engine had suffered too much in our off on SS4. My new tactics for the day? To go home…”

Meanwhile Dani Sordo was quietly getting on with the job in hand. On stage one he may have been eighth fastest, but that five minute penalty meant he wasn’t even in the top 20 overall. Nevertheless, by the end of day one he had climbed to 17th place.

"I knew it wouldn't be easy to recover the five minute time penalty we were given before the start for putting in a new engine,” said Sordo at the end of day one. “I therefore chose a pace that would enable me to find my marks again on ice and check my pacenotes. Once I began to feel confident, I was able to start pushing harder and I felt quite comfortable, so that's very encouraging for tomorrow."

And so it was. By the end of Saturday, Sordo had climbed up to a comfortable seventh place.

"I was more familiar with today's stages than those programmed yesterday and I found a good pace at once,” said Sordo at end of Saturday’s run. “My driving on these slippery stages is getting better all the time and I was pleased with my run today. My C4 WRC coped very well with the rougher portions, too, and I hope I can improve my position further still to score extra points for Citroen. The conditions don't get any worse than this in Sweden. The grip kept changing all the time and there was no way of knowing whether the next corner would be icy or just dirt. And there are no snow-walls to keep you on the stage either! You've got to be on your toes all the time."

Sordo certainly kept on his toes, as on the final day he climbed another place and salvaged valuable manufacturers’ points for Citroën from the Swedish event.

"It's not much fun competing in conditions like this. The stages were even more treacherous than usual," summed up Dani Sordo. "You just couldn't tell what the surface would be like through the next corner. On the final day's six scheduled tests, for example, there was more dirt than ice."

"Even so, I have to say I am pleased with our run," added the Spaniard. "Replacing our engine before the start meant we carried a five-minute penalty even before we drove off the start ramp! I consequently began by bedding myself in before gradually upping my pace. My pacenotes were better than last year and I felt increasingly confident. I was no doubt helped by the lack of real wintry conditions, but our car performed impeccably, too, and I managed to work my way up the leaderboard to finish sixth, which brings Citroën a few points. I also feel more comfortable in these slippery conditions and our Pirelli Sottozero tyres worked well despite the delicate task they faced. It was a good weekend, but I'm now very much looking forward to Mexico!"

With Sweden only his second event as the Team Director, Sweden was a tough event for Olivier Quesnel.

"This result doesn't bring us many points, but we can still take away some positives," he observed. "To begin with, the Citroën C4 WRC was competitive and reliable, while the performance of Dani and Marc was a good omen for the rest of the season. Despite his limited experience here, Dani showed that he is capable of driving quickly in slippery conditions. I particularly appreciated the way he put his time penalty to the back of his mind and just got on with the job we expected of him. In Mexico and beyond, I hope he succeeds in putting in the same sort of display to earn even more points for Citroën. The off of Sébastien and Daniel on the first day showed that nothing can ever be taken for granted in motor sport, but I have every confidence in their ability, and that of everyone at Citroën

Sport, to recover the situation very quickly."

"As for the Citroën Sport Technologies drivers," concluded Olivier Quesnel, "Conrad

Rautenbach and David Senior continued to familiarise themselves with their Xsara WRC, while Urmo AAva and Kuldar Sikk targeted a gap of 1s/km compared with the front-runners for their debut outing with the Citroën C4 WRC. They finished 0.8s/km down, which is a very satisfactory and highly encouraging result."

Rally statistics

Stage wins

Day 1: SS1: Petter Solberg (Subaru Impreza) – SS2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7: Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford Focus) – SS8: Gigi Galli (Ford Focus).

Day 2: SS9: Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C4) – SS10: Dani Sordo (Citroën C4) – SS11: S. Loeb – SS12 : Cancelled – SS13: D. Sordo – SS14: Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Focus).

Day 3: SS15, 16 and 17: Henning Solberg (Ford Focus) - SS18: Cancelled – SS19 and SS20: H. Solberg.

Best performers: JM. Latvala, 6 stage win – H. Solberg, 5 - D. Sordo, 2 and S. Loeb, 2 - P.

Solberg, G. Galli, M. Hirvonen, 1.

Leaders: SS1: P. Solberg – SS2 to SS20: JM. Latvala.

Final leaderboard on 57th Swedish Rally*

1. JM. Latvala/M. Anttila (Ford Focus) 2 h 46 min 41,2 s

2. M. Hirvonen/J. Lehtinen (Ford Focus) + 58,3 s

3. G. Galli/G. Bernacchini (Ford Focus) + 2 min 23,2 s

4. P. Solberg/P. Mills (Subaru Impreza) + 2 min 59,4 s

5. A. Mikkelsen/O. Floene (Ford Focus) + 5 min 46 s

6. D. Sordo/M. Martí (Citroën C4) + 7 min 13,1 s

7. T. Gardemeister/T. Tuominen (Suzuki X4) + 10 min 35,3 s

8. J. Hänninen/M. Markkula (Mitsubishi Lancer) + 12 min 27,5 s

9. M. Østberg/OK. Unnerud (Subaru Impreza) + 13 min 28,5 s

10. J. Ketomaa/M. Teiskonen (Subaru Impreza) + 13 min 50,7 s

FIA World rally Championship’s rankings ‘Manufacturers’ (round 2/15)* 1. Ford, 26 points - 2. Subaru, 16 pts – 3. Stobart, 16 pts - 4. Citroën Total, 15 pts – 5. Suzuki, 5 pts.

*Subject to final publications of the results by the FIA.

FIA World rally Championship’s rankings ‘Drivers’ (round 2/15)*

1. M. Hirvonen, 16 points - 2. S. Loeb, 10 pts – 3. JM Latvala, 10 pts – 4. P. Solberg, 9 pts - 5. G. Galli, 9 pts - 6. C. Atkinson, 6 pts – 7. F. Duval, 5 pts – 8. A. Mikkelsen, 4 pts – 9. D. Sordo, 3 pts – 10. JM. Cuoq, 2 pts – 11. T. Gardemeister, 2 pts – 12. PG. Andersson, 1 pt – 13 J. Hänninen, 1 pt.

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