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Citroën looks for further success in Austria

"A circuit where engine and aerodynamics are hugely important"

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By Olivier Ferret

18 May 2014 - 09:41
Citroën looks for further success in (...)

 The packed early-season calendar continues as the FIA WTCC heads to Austria’s Salzburgring.
 This circuit, which offers plenty of opportunities for slipstreaming, should be an enticing prospect for the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs.
 With two race wins each so far this season, José-María López, Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller are separated by fewer than thirty points at the top of the World Championship standings.

When they left the technical centre in Versailles after the meeting at the Paul Ricard circuit, Citroën Racing’s trucks were in fact setting off on a long, nine-week journey. After the Hungaroring, the Slovakia Ring and the Salzburgring, their European tour continues with a trip to the Moscow Raceway (7-8 June), before concluding at Spa-Francorchamps (20-22 June). Half of the season will then have been completed, and it will time to get ready for the overseas rounds in Asia and the Americas.

“The fact that we are competing in the WRC at the same time has made our schedule even more intense,” adds Citroën Racing Team Principal Yves Matton. “While Sébastien Loeb was winning at the Slovakia Ring last week, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle were securing podium places at Rally Argentina. It’s really gratifying for a manufacturer to be competing strongly in two FIA World Championships. It hasn’t happened for thirty years or so.”

For the time being, the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs are preparing just outside Salzburg. Famous as the birthplace of Mozart, the city, which lies on the border with Germany, also has a racing circuit, in the municipality of Plainfeld. The nature of the track is clear at first glance: two hairpin turns and one chicane aside, the majority of its 4241 m surface is made up of straight sections and fast bends. Last year, Yvan Muller grabbed pole position by driving at over 178 kph! Monza is virtually the only venue where higher average speeds can be found…

“This will be our first time at the Salzburgring, but we already know what to expect,” confirms Xavier Mestelan, Technical Director of Citroën Racing. “It’s a circuit where engine performance and aerodynamics are hugely important. Given that that is where the strengths of the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC lie, we should be in the mix, despite the regulation 60kg of ballast we’ll have to carry. Apart from the intrinsic qualities of the vehicle, the key to a fast lap is slipstreaming, so qualifying promises to be more intense than ever. The way the drivers handle Q2, when the cars are all out on the track together, will be crucial if they are to win one of the five spots in Q3. In Q3, with each participant alone on the track, only the driver can make a difference.”

Out of the seven races contested this season, the Citroën Total team has won six. As the three C-Elysée WTCC drivers have won the same number of races each, the gaps between them in the overall standings can be explained by the events of individual races and the occasional below-par performance.

So far, José-María López has been the most consistent: in addition to his two race wins (Marrakech 1 and Paul Ricard 2), the Argentine driver has notched up three runner-up spots, one fourth place and one sixth position. Sébastien Loeb trails the leader by 25 points, a gap largely attributable to his tough weekend at the Hungaroring. Yvan Muller, meanwhile, had to pull out of one race in Marrakech and made a false start in Slovakia, which explains his 29-point deficit.

“We can be proud that our drivers are all performing at the same level,” says Yves Matton. “They are all competing on equal terms, and are free to take each other on – in sporting fashion, of course. We have already seen cars bump into each other in previous rounds, but that’s just part and parcel of the competition. Even though Pechito has led the World Championship since the first round, he doesn’t have a decisive advantage. The situation could change very quickly. All three drivers know that they need to get the best possible results over the next few meetings to win valuable points off their rivals. We should see some more enthralling battles in Austria.”

THE PROGRAMME

The first free practice session will take place on Friday from 1.15 to 1.45 p.m. The two remaining sessions are scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Qualifying will begin at 2.30 p.m. Because Roland-Garros is being broadcast on Eurosport, the races will take place earlier than usual, at 10 a.m. and 1.45 p.m.

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