Citroën is playing for high stakes in Rally France, the eleventh round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship. This event, which is being held for the first time in Alsace, will be a particularly emotional one for Sébastien Loeb, who will be racing in front of a crowd that will be rooting for him alone.
A 60th world championship victory will give Loeb/Elena their seventh World Championship title on the trot raising their own stakes even higher! The Citroën Total World Rally Team, which has also entered the Spanish crew, Dani Sordo / Diego Vallejo, is also well placed to win its sixth Manufacturers’ World Title.
Rally France is back on the World Rally Championship calendar after a year’s absence with a completely new event in Alsace. The rally, based in Strasbourg, includes a wide variety of stages in the vineyards, forests, high-altitude pastures, and a military camp! The last stage will be held in the streets of Hagenau in homage to Loeb who lived in this little Bas-Rhin community for a long time.
Loeb is of course the local hero, the driver all the spectators want to see winning on home turf: “It’s one hell of a lot of pressure. Given my success rate on this kind of surface, everybody’s expecting me to stroll home to an easy victory,” the six-time world champion admits. “But this rally won’t be any easier than the others. Quite the opposite in fact, as it’s a completely new event consisting of quick roads, which include most of the difficulties we normally meet on asphalt. This season, there are six drivers who are all capable of winning, so the overall level of the championship is very high and there’s no way victory for me in this event is a foregone conclusion.”
Seb has racked up five wins so far this season and he has a big lead in the overall classification with a total of 201 points. The only drivers who are in a position to catch him are Sébastien Ogier (158 points) and Jari-Matti Latvala (132 points). With three rallies left, the calculations are fairly simple – to bag their seventh title, Loeb/Elena have to win at least one of the three. “The ideal would be to clinch it as soon as possible,” goes on Seb. “Obviously, winning my sixtieth victory and my seventh world title at home would be the fulfilment of a dream.”
The Citroën Total World Rally Team is in a very strong position in the manufacturers’ classification. The French squad has a 95-point lead over its nearest rival so it can even afford to lose a few points in Alsace! If the gap is greater than 86 points after Rally France, Citroën will add a sixth title to its laurels. The team can also count on Dani Sordo and Diego Vallejo to achieve this objective. Dani finished second behind Loeb on the Bulgarian and German asphalt and he intends to add more points to his tally in Alsace: “I think that this rally will have an incredible ambience, and of course, all the fans will be rooting for Seb. I’m going to do everything in my power to obtain the best possible results. As usual, I’ll be aiming for a place on the podium. After a few stages we’ll see if it’s possible to go for the topmost step!”
Three questions to Sébastien Loeb
First of all, let’s go back to Rally Japan where you scored your worst result of the season. Was this a disappointment?
“I start each rally with the aim of winning it, so there’s no way I can be happy with fifth place. But it doesn’t worry me overmuch as I’ve never been very competitive in Japan. I was quicker this year than two years ago, but the overall level of the championship is higher than it was then. The positive aspect is that we were able to score those few crucial points that enabled us to be masters of our destiny. If we win one of the three remaining rallies we’ll be world champion for the seventh time.”
The ideal would be to clinch the title in Rally France…
“Obviously, when you look at the way things stand, it could be a dream. Winning my sixtieth world championship victory in Hagenau and also my seventh title would be sheer magic! But to do this it’ll take more than just dreams and magic! I’ll have to be very quick against rivals whose motivation will be boosted a hundredfold. There’s going to be a lot of expectations on the part of all those present, and what’s at stake for Citroën is also very important. All that adds to the pressure. I’ll just have to cope with it – I have to say that I’m really looking forward to this rally.
This rally is new, and you’re lucky enough to know the region well. What do you think of the route?
“I raced in several events in the region at the start of my career at the end of the nineties. The start of the Firstplan stage for example, corresponds to the very first stage that I competed in the 1997 Florival Rally. I remember the sectors of the Alsace-Vosges Rally pretty well, in particular near Chätas. Overall, the stages are very varied with wide quick sections followed by tight bumpy parts in the woods, in particular. On the other hand, I don’t know the Bitche military camp at all, but I don’t think it’ll be all that different to Baumholder in Germany.”