The Citroën C3 WRCs head for winter wonderland!

After making a great start to the season in Monte-Carlo

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By Olivier Ferret

9 February 2019 - 10:23
The Citroën C3 WRCs head for winter (...)

Whilst the world skiing championship are currently being held in the country, Sweden is also preparing to be thrilled by a different set of acrobatic talents next week. Tightrope walkers like Sébastien Ogier – Julien Ingrassia and Esapekka Lappi – Janne Ferm, the crews competing in the Citroën Total World Rally Team’s two C3 WRCs, will brave the forests of Värmland at the second round – and the only one held exclusively on snow and ice – of the world rally championship.

Dominated by Scandinavian drivers in its first twenty-eight years in the WRC, Rally Sweden has only been won three times by non-Nordic crews since 1973. Winners for the first time in 2013, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are the only ones to have achieved the feat three times (their other victories coming in 2015 and 2016), which suggests that they know how to manage the subtleties of this high-speed balancing act. It is an exercise that differs each year due to the amount of snow and ice on the roads, which can vary enormously from one year to the next. After securing Citroën Racing’s historic hundredth win in the WRC at Monte-Carlo and the forty-fifth of their career, Sébastien and Julien will have the tough job of running first on the road in Sweden with C3 WRC and carving out the racing line for the rest of the field if there is fresh snow on the surface. Another difficulty at an event that is hardly lacking in that department!

Introduced to racing on frozen lakes from a very young age like most Nordic drivers, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm– despite having only made two appearances in Sweden to date – have a genuine feel for driving in these unusual conditions, where skill and bravery are needed in equal measure. You only need look at their performance in 2018, where they finished with a flourish on Sunday’s leg. The pair claimed one second fastest time (just 1.3s off the pace) and two stage wins, including the Power Stage. Their strong finish meant they ended the rally fourth overall, which suggests that they will be serious contenders for a podium spot this year, especially as they are due to start 10th in the running order.

Since finishing as runner-up last year after a hard-fought battle at the front, the C3 WRC has had improvements made to its dampers and suspension geometry. In order that they could adapt the new set-up as effectively as possible to this unique surface, which is only encountered once per season, and enable them to continue to get used to their new car, each of the Citroën Total WRT crews were able to take part in two days of pre-event testing in the kind of tough conditions they can expect next weekend.

Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal

“After making a great start to the season in Monte-Carlo, we are obviously determined to maintain our good form and challenge for the podium at this rally, where we finished as runners-up last year. However, we are very well aware that it’ll be a huge challenge and that it will be a very closely contested race. It’s a surface where confidence behind the wheel is critical. That is why we tried to ensure Sébastien and Esapekka come into the event in the best possible shape over the four days of testing. In principle, given that he is first on the road, Sébastien will not have an easy task, but we know how talented and tenacious he is. Meanwhile, Esapekka should have a better position in the running order and with the speed he showed last year, he’ll certainly have a great chance.“

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s a rally that I have always really enjoyed. You get a really nice feeling driving the WRCs here. I hope that we have good conditions so we can enjoy ourselves, although I’m aware that running first is very often a significant disadvantage, due to the layer of snow covering the ice. We’ll have to see how the roads evolve for the second passes, but I fear that with the layer of ice currently on the roads, the gravel will start to appear quite quickly. In testing, the feeling gradually improved as we covered more kilometres and as always, we are going to try and do our best.“

Esapekka Lappi

“If the conditions stay the same as those we had in testing this week, then the layer of ice is so thin that it is likely to leave the gravel exposed pretty quickly, which means we’ll have to manage the studs on the second runs. Whatever happens, we have a good road position. The stages are fast, which I like and I feel that we worked well in testing. I just hope we’ll have a bit of luck on our side this time and our hard work will pay off.“

2019 RALLY SWEDEN

Only limited changes have been made compared with last year’s rally, the main difference on the 2019 itinerary being the return of the Rammen (23.13km) stage on Saturday, replacing the Torntop test. This is a new stage, part of which was used in 2016, but is contested in the opposite direction this year. Two kilometres of Rôjden are also different to 2018.

With heavy snow having fallen in recent months, the drivers should have plenty of the famous snow banks to lean on as they exit certain corners, enabling them to maintain even greater speed. They will however need to carefully assess which ones are sufficiently solid to withstand the impact or else risk nosing the car. At best, the front bumper air vents can end up full of snow and at worst, you can get stuck in the bank for several minutes.

The layer of ice currently covering roads in the Torsby region, the hub of the rally, is not expected to withstand the 400hp plus of the WRCs and the 1,536 studs sticking out from the tyres by about seven millimetres. If the gravel does show through the ice and ruts form, then the challenge on the second runs will be to carry six tyres and switch them about at the right moment, so that the studs wear out evenly and the balance of the car is not disrupted.

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