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Can the King of Monte Carlo Keep His Crown?

January 23rd, 2008

The biggest question posed by this weekend’s (24-27 July 2008) Monte Carlo Rally, the first round of the 2008 World Rally Championship, is can Sébastien Loeb keep his crown, with four wins and two second places after six WRC starts, as the King of the Monte Carlo Rally?


A unique blend of mountain passes, death defying drops, roads that can be anything between dry, icy and covered in snow – on the same stage – make this, the oldest event in the World Rally Championship, a unique test of skill and, it must be said, bravery, as well as tactics by the team managers. Last year's event saw the return of legendary stages like Saint Jean en Royans, Burzet and Saint Bonnet le Froid, and this year's menu features the comeback of yet another classic: the Col du Turini.


Loeb’s first appearance was in the Junior WRC class with a Citroën Saxo, and then came the Citroën Xsara with three wins and two seconds. Last year, on its debut outing, he took the new Citroën C4 WRC to the top step of the podium en route to his fourth world title.


"I'm obviously dreaming of a white Monte Carlo, with real wintry conditions," says Sébastien Loeb. "The route focuses on three different regions, so the stages will be very varied. Thursday evening's tests are wide, fast and smooth. Those in the Ardèche are more technical, narrower and occasionally bumpy. Last year, the conditions were particularly dry but it should be fun if we get snow and ice this time round! I am delighted to see that the Col du Turini and some other classic stages in the southeast corner of France are back. That said, the challenge of having to contest the final day's four stages with the same tyres could well turn out to be quite delicate."


The stage conditions encountered on the Monte Carlo Rally have always been one of this fixture's main difficulties. The asphalt tests take place to a mountainous backdrop, with numerous high mountain passes to cross, and competitors constantly switch from shade to roads that are more exposed to sunshine. In the course of a single stage, it is consequently by no means rare to come across portions of clear asphalt and other parts that are covered in ice and/or snow, so tyres frequently play a decisive role.


"We will have the choice between three types of tyre," explains Citroën Sport's Technical Manager Xavier

Mestelan-Pinon. "If the conditions are dry, the only option we will have will be the soft compound dry weather tyre. If it snows, our crews will be able to choose between studded and non-studded snow tyres, depending on the temperature and how much snow they expect to find. The Monte Carlo Rally promises to be a particularly tough rally because, like the other teams, we have no real hindsight following the work we

have put in with our cars running on Pirelli tyres. As far as the evolutions to the C4 WRC are concerned, we will have a new engine – the 'EW' – for the Monte Carlo Rally, as well as some aerodynamic evolutions at the front."


This event marks the debut of a new boss for the Citroën Team, with Olivier Quesnel taking over from Guy Frequelin, the man who made Citroën one of the most successful WRC teams of all time.


"We will take a measured approach to the start of our 2008 WRC campaign," points out Citroën Sport's new director, Olivier Quesnel. "The switch to a single tyre manufacturer will be the principal change for the first round of the championship and, as always in such cases, we will need time to adapt. We have done as much work as we can to amass as much data as possible concerning the tyres we will have for the Monte Carlo Rally but we are aware that we still have a great deal to learn. The Monte Carlo Rally has always been a challenging event, not only because of its stages but also because it is the first round of the season. It will be especially difficult this year because of the tyre factor with which we will have to come to terms on the event itself. The competition promises to be extremely fierce, too, but I have every confidence in our technical staff who have worked hard to make the Citroën C4 WRC even more competitive. I also believe that Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí form a very strong line-up and I know they will be looking to start the year with a repeat of their exploit of last year. Our objective for 2008 is to win both

the Manufacturers' and Drivers' world titles, so a top result would obviously be a first class omen."


Should Seb and Daniel succeed in adding a fifth Monte Carlo victory to their record, they will become the most successful crew in the winter classic's history.


"As is often the case at the start of a new season, there are a lot of unknown factors," explains Sébastien . "We will need to find the best match between the tyres we have and the stage conditions, but our aim is to try to win and get the year off to a positive start."


"I'm very much looking forward to the start of the Monte Carlo Rally, although we will probably need time to adapt to our new tyres," echoes Dani. "We have prepared thoroughly for this event but nothing can replace actually being on the rally. The Monte's stages are fantastic but we will need to stay focused from start to finish if we want to achieve our objective which is a top-three finish with a view to scoring as many points as possible for Citroën."


Event notes: the 2008 Monte Carlo Rally

· The 76th Monte Carlo Rally (January 24-27): round 1 of 15

· Surface type: dry or wet asphalt, ice, snow

· Where: Valence, the Ardèche mountains, Monaco, the southeast French Alps

Service Park in Valence from Thursday to Saturday.

· Technical matters: the engines and chassis of the C4s are sealed and will also be used in Sweden. The engine will also go on to compete in Mexico. Two gearbox/differential packages are authorised per driver. Five sets of dampers and five hub carriers are authorised per event.

· Tyres: tyres a draw will decide the allocation of tyres to teams by the FIA. For the Monte Carlo Rally, three types of tyre will be available: soft compound asphalt tyres, studded tyres on 18-inch rims and non-studded snow tyres on 18-inch rims. The number of tyres that can be used during shakedown is limited. It is mandatory to fit fresh tyres at the start of each group of stages. It is possible to carry two spares.

· Recce: Monday January 21, Tuesday January 22 and Wednesday January 23. Two passes authorised at a maximum speed of 90kph.

· Shakedown: Thursday January 24 (08.00 until 12.00). The test stage is new this year and uses a 5.03km portion of the D21 near Vernoux-en-Vivarais, 42.73km west of the service park in Valence.

· Press conference: Thursday January 24 (from 14.00) in the conference room of Valence's

Exhibition Centre.

· Start ceremony: Thursday January 24, from 17.30, Place du Champ de Mars, Valence.

· Route: total distance is 1,481.25km, including 365.09km divided into 19 stages (11 different).

Day 1 (Thursday January 24): 169.31km, including 45.70km divided into 2 stages (2 different).

Starts from the service park, Valence (17.30). SS1 (St Jean en Royans, 28.12km) and SS2 (La Cime du Mas-Col de Gaudissart, 17.58km). Service A (21.01, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 23.15.

Day 2 (Friday January 25): 544.25km, including 116.96km divided into 6 stages (3 different).

Starts from parc ferme. Service B (06.50, 15 minutes). SS3 (St Pierreville-Col de la Fayolle 1, 29.52km), SS4 (Burzet-Lachamp Raphaël 1, 16.30km) and SS5 (St Martial-Le Chambon-Beleac 1, 12.66km). Regroup (12.44, 18 minutes). Service C (13.02, 30 minutes). SS6 (St Pierreville-Col de la Fayolle 2), SS7 (Burzet-Lachamp Raphaël 2) and SS8 (St Martial-Le Chambon-Beleac 2). Service D (19.11, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme at 21.35.

Day 3 (Saturday January 26): 443.26km, including 132.78km divided into 6 stages (3 different). Starts from parc ferme. Service E (05.55, 15 minutes). SS9 (Labatie d'Andaure-Lalouvesc 1, 19.37km), SS10 (St Bonnet-St Bonnet 1, 25.36km) and SS11 (Lamastre-Gilhoc-Alboussière 1, 21.66km). Regroup (10.43, 18 minutes). Service F (11.01, 30 minutes). SS12 (Labatie d'Andaure- Lalouvesc 2), SS13 (St Bonnet-St Bonnet 2 and ES14 (Lamastre-Gilhoc-Alboussière 2. Service G (16.04, 45 minutes). Last car due into parc ferme in Monaco at 00.30.

Day 4 (Sunday January 27): 324.43km, including 69.65km divided into 5 stages (3 different).

Starts from parc ferme (07.50). remote service, Gilette (08.50, 15 minutes). SS15 (La Bollene Vésubie-Moulinet 1, 22.68km), SS16 (Luceram-Loda 1, 15.34km), SS17 (La Bollene Vésubie-Moulinet 2), SS18 (Luceram-Loda 2) and SS19 (Circuit de Monaco, 2.70km).

· Finish ceremony: Sunday January 27, Place du Palais Princier, Monaco (from 16.30).

· Post-event press conference: Sunday January 27 (from 17.30), press office, Sporting d'Hiver, Monaco.

· New: this year's rally takes place a week later than it did in 2007. The Ardèche stages have been modified. The portion between Col de la Fayolle (SS3/6) and Antraigues will be run as a road section. The finish of St Bonnet (SS10/13) has been slightly modified and SS11/14 now runs from Lamastre to Alboussière. The major difference compared with 2007 is the return of stages in the mountains near Nice.

· Citroën's Monte Carlo Rally record: six wins: 1959 (Coltelloni/Alexandre/Derosiers, ID19), 1966 (Toivonen/Mikkander, DS21), 2003, 2004 and 2005 (Loeb/Elena, Xsara WRC) and 2007 (Loeb/Elena, C4 WRC).

· The crews' statistics (before the rally):

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: WRC debut: Catalonia 1999 (Saxo Kit-Car, retired). WRC starts: 98. First WRC win: Germany, 2002 (Xsara). WRC wins: 36. WRC world titles: 4 (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007).

Dani Sordo/Marc Martí: First WRC rally together: Monte Carlo 2005 (C2S1600/15th) (Dani's

WRC debut: Catalonia 2003/18th). WRC starts together: 38 (Dani without Marc: 44). Junior title: 2005.

· The crews' Monte Carlo Rally records:

Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: this will be their eighth start together: 2007 (C4 WRC, 1st), 2006 (Xsara WRC, 2nd), 2005, 2004 and 2003 (Xsara, 1st), 2002 (Xsara, 2nd) and 2001 (Saxo Kit-Car, 15th). Daniel Elena also contested the Monte Carlo Rally as a driver in 1997 (106 Rallye, retired) and 1998 (106 Rallye, 36th overall, 2nd Class N1).

Dani Sordo: this will be his fourth start with Marc Martí: 2007 (C4 WRC, 2nd), 2006 (Xsara WRC, 8th) and 2005 (C2 S1600, 15th).

Marc Martí: this will be his tenth start: 2007 (C4 WRC with Dani Sordo, 2nd), 2006 (Xsara WRC with Dani Sordo, 8th), 2005 (C2 S1600 with Dani Sordo, 15th), 2004 (Xsara WRC with Carlos Sainz, retired), 2003 (Xsara WRC with Carlos Sainz, 3rd), 2001 and 1999 (Saxo Kit-Car with Jésus Puras, retired), 1998 (Ibiza GTI with Oriol Gómez, retired) and 1997 (Ibiza GTI with Oriol Gómez, 15th).

· A PH Sport-prepared and run Xsara WRC has been entered privately by Conrad

Rautenbach/David Senior.

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