The Citroën C3 WRC heads for the clouds

At Rally Mexico

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By Olivier Ferret

4 March 2019 - 11:06
The Citroën C3 WRC heads for the (...)

The 2019 season hosts its first gravel event at Rally Mexico, where the Citroën Total World Rally Team crews Sébastien Ogier – Julien Ingrassia and Esapekka Lappi – Janne Ferm will tackle the invariably hot, high altitude roads around León. The team’s crews will be very determined to score their third consecutive podium.

Rally Mexico is an unusual event, with characteristics (heat and high altitude in particular) not encountered elsewhere on the calendar and that are impossible to reproduce in Europe, meaning that experience is primordial. It is fair to say that Citroën Total World Rally Team is not short on experience in Central America. The team holds the manufacturer’s record here, winning seven of the fourteen events that have been contested as part of the WRC. With Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, Citroën also have the crew with the second best record at the event with four overall wins, the last of which came last year. The French crew therefore has good reason to have genuine hopes of success, especially as the Rallye Monte-Carlo winners will be running third on the road on day one, seemingly better placed this time to get the absolute maximum from the C3 WRC.

Meanwhile, recent runners-up in Sweden Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm start fifth in the running order and can therefore expect more of the fine layer of sandy gravel to have been swept off the line by the time they tackle the stages. They will be looking to take advantage of the cleaner roads as they try to compensate for their lack of knowledge of the stages. Increasingly at one with the C3 WRC, the Finns will be determined to keep improving whilst also looking to continue scoring big points, and will undoubtedly adopt a more gradual strategy as a result.

After claiming its maiden career win at Rally Mexico in 2017 in only its third race, the C3 WRC also showed its qualities at this round last year, finishing on the podium (3rd) and claiming a total of eight stage wins, the most by any of the teams. In order to prepare for this year’s event and fine-tune its set-up even further, each crew had two days of testing in the south of Spain, in conditions close to those expected in León.

Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal

“We head for Mexico looking to confirm our strong start to the season and finish on the podium again, especially as Sébastien and Esapekka have decent road positions given that the level of grip will improve gradually as more cars come through the stages. We know that things can be completely shaken up on this first gravel event of the season, especially due to the unusually high stresses placed on the cars related to the altitude and the heat, but we’ve always done well here. Once again, we’ve done everything we can to come into the rally with the best possible preparation.”

Sébastien Ogier

“We had two good days of pre-event testing, on roads that were fairly representative of the kind of stages we’ll have to tackle this weekend. We were lucky with the weather during the tests, which was very warm, although obviously not quite as hot as in Mexico. After a tough Rally Sweden, where we weren’t able to express ourselves, I can’t wait to get started and realise our full potential. The stages are beautiful here but you do need to be careful on the afternoon loop, when it’s warmer. The second passes are always hard on the cars, especially as the high altitude means not only reduced horsepower but can also cause issues with cooling.”

Esapekka Lappi

“The tests held in Spain enabled me to feel even more comfortable in my C3 WRC, building on what we achieved at Rally Sweden. I feel increasingly at one with the car. Having said that, I know that my experience of Rally Mexico is very limited. I only have one competitive appearance here, at last year’s rally, in addition to completing recce in 2017. In light of that, a top-five finish would be a good result for me. Our starting order will give us an advantage over the first few crews so it’ll be up to us to make the most of it. You really need to be clean and efficient in your driving on these roads, given that we lose about a hundred or so horsepower due to the high altitude.”

RALLY MEXICO

Although it has been cut by around thirty kilometres compared with last year, the Rally Mexico route remains a classic, most of it very familiar to the championship regulars. Featuring a competitive distance of 114.19km on Friday, including two runs on the famous El Chocolate (31.57km) stage, and then a hefty 138.37kms on Saturday, with two passes on Otates (32.27km), the weekend’s opening two leg will undoubtedly provide the crews and cars alike with a heavyweight challenge.

With an average altitude of 2,200 metres, combined with temperatures that often flirt with the twenty-five degree mark, this round is a genuine technical challenge. Not only do the engineers have to carry out in-depth work on the mapping of the engine in order to limit power loss, but the lack of oxygen related to the high altitude means they must also pay special attention to cooling of the engine, the hydraulic components and the brakes.
Tyre choice is often another critical factor on the other side of the Atlantic. As wear is less significant than usual due to the relatively sandy roads and the reduced power of the WRCs, teams have to weigh up – despite the heat – whether to opt for hard Michelin tyres or to go with mediums.

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