The Citroen Total World Rally Team will be aiming to win its seventh FIA Manufacturers' World Title in 2011 with the brand new DS3 WRC.
Two crews have been entered: the pairing of Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be gunning for their eighth Drivers' World Title in succession, while Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have been promoted to the works outfit full time after scoring two victories in 2010.
Three more Citroen DS3 WRCs will be driven by privateers: Petter Solberg, Kimi Raikkonen and Peter van Merksteijn.
Citroen Racing, which has been involved in top-level world rallying for ten years, is about to debut its third World Rally car. After the Xsara and C4, which racked up three world titles each, the DS3 WRC will enter the world stage in the Swedish Rally (10-13 February). The team, directed by Olivier Quesnel, has one simple but ambitious aim for this key season - to retain its Manufacturers' and Drivers' titles.
The DS3 WRC is more compact than the outgoing C4, which gives it much more spectacular behavior. The revolution continues under the hood, with the car powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder engine, designed in-house by Citroen Racing. It is coupled to a 4-wheel drive transmission with a manually controlled sequential gearbox and a constant power sharing system between the front and rear axles.
The Citroen DS3 WRC was unveiled at last year's Paris Motor Show, and has undergone multiple test sessions to be ready for a nine-month, thirteen-rallies season, each with its own specific characteristics.
From the polar chill of Sweden to the heat of the Jordanian desert, the World Rally Championship is a huge challenge for man and machine. The technical team, managed by Xavier Mestelan-Pinon, has reproduced the most extreme conditions during the sessions aimed at testing the reliability of the car and developing its performance.
Questions to Olivier Quesnel: Citroen Racing Director
What's the overall feeling at the start of the coming season? Are you impatient, relaxed or worried?
OQ: "I wouldn't say that we feel particularly relaxed! It's true that I'm looking forward to being in Sweden to find answers to all the questions that we're asking ourselves at the moment. Have we done a good job? Have we missed out on something? We'll only know a part of the answers at the end of the opening stages, but it should be remembered that Sweden is not really representative of the world championship as a whole. We also have to keep a cool head. Citroen Racing is a proven winning machine, and there's no reason why it should go on the blink from one day to the next. I have every confidence in the team's work, but we're very impatient to take the start of the Swedish Rally!"
Do you think you can handle the rivalry between Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier?
OQ: "It'll be easy in Sweden! Both drivers are starting off with a blank score sheet. As was always the case in the past, Citroen is giving them absolutely identical cars. If one sets a better time than the other it's simply because he's quicker. I'm not the kind of guy who puts himself under pressure: I don't have to cope with any rivalry at the moment. What I can tell you is that we all belong to the same family. While the drivers' title is a bit more prestigious and receives more media coverage, the manufacturers' crown has considerable importance for the make. Our two drivers are intelligent guys and they're fully aware of what's at stake for Citroen."
Citroen Racing Technologies is putting three DS3 WRCs at the disposal of private drivers. What's the aim of this?
OQ: "While awaiting the arrival of new manufacturers in the WRC, I think it's Citroen's duty to help improve the appeal of the championship. That's why we're happy with the agreements reached with Petter Solberg, Kimi Raikkonen and Peter van Merksteijn. Citroen Racing's ultimate aim is not to rent out cars, but we're proud to be able to count these drivers as part of our family."
Citroen Racing's activities are not limited to the WRC alone. 2010 was marked by the unveiling of the DS3 R3 and the DS3 Racing. What conclusions have you drawn from these launches?
OQ: "The DS3 R3 is the continuation of a long line of cars aimed at privateers. In just a few months it has become the new benchmark in its category. From a sales point of view this has resulted in a much greater number of orders compared to what we expected. We're delighted with the success of the DS3 R3 for which we've provided a showcase by organizing the Citroen Racing Trophies all over Europe. The DS3 Racing has also been a success."
What are the perspectives in these two domains?
OQ: "Designing series production sports models is a new activity for Citroen Racing, and it provides the make with fresh perspectives by opening up new markets. Boosted by the success of the DS3 Racing, we're thinking about adapting other models in the DS range. Concerning the competition/client department we're interested in a possible 'FIA R4' set of regulations, which will help to develop R3-type cars with 4-wheel drive. It would be a fantastic tool for training young drivers."
Questions to Xavier Mestelan-Pinon, Citroen Racing Technical Manager
What's happened since the unveiling of the Citroen DS3 WRC at the Paris Motor Show last October?
XMP: "Our priority has been to rack up the kilometers in testing in all kinds of conditions. Thanks to the construction of a second DS3 WRC for test purposes we've been able to organize a session every fortnight. These tests have allowed us to work on reliability, and also to get to know the car, how it reacts to setup changes etc. As time passed we froze the technical definition of the car. These past few weeks we've been concentrating on what might look like details, but which aren't - quite the opposite, in fact - like the positioning of the safety equipment and the FIA management systems, the installation of the crews and training them how work on the car outside the service parks. Our main difficulty has been trying to find hot weather conditions to work in: we managed to find some heat in the south of Europe."
Have you any worries about the car's reliability?
XMP: "I think we've done a pretty good job considering the time we've had at our disposal to bring this project to fruition. Obviously, risks exist. Don't forget that the DS3 WRC is a completely new car, unlike the C4, which was derived from the Xsara."
The most recent change was the tires. What impact has this had on the development of the car?
XMP: "As Michelin has been one of Citroen's historic partners, first of all I have to say how delighted I am to be working with this manufacturer again and a part of its engineering team. This enthusiasm in no way detracts from how satisfied we feel about the three years we spent with our previous partner. The profile of the Michelin tires is fundamentally different, so we've had to revise quite a few things in the area of the geometry of the running gear, the stiffness of the suspension, camber, anti-roll bars etc. The Michelin tires are quick and they behave very precisely, particularly on asphalt."
Do you think that these new world rally cars will be more spectacular than the previous ones?
XMP: "The smaller size will reduce the inertia. With no central differential, the cars will move about more under braking, even on asphalt. The engine will rev higher and make more noise. The absence of the semi-automatic gear selection will oblige the drivers to battle a bit more with the steering wheel. I'd say that these cars will be more fun to watch for the spectators."
Questions to Sebastien Loeb
How does it feel to drive the Citroen DS3 WRC?
SL: "The car feels very different to the C4. The DS3's shorter and so it's more agile in the tight corners, but it's also twitchier in the faster sections. Overall we're going to have to do more work behind the steering wheel for several reasons: the behavior of the car caused by its size, the lack of the central differential, which shared out the traction between the front and the rear, the return to mechanical gear selection, which means we'll have to let go of the wheel."
Are you happy with the work done during the winter break?
SL: "I think the team's done a good job, but we haven't achieved the same level of development on all types of terrain. We've spent a lot of time on gravel as it's the type of surface we'll race on most frequently in the world championship. I reckon we've still got a lot of progress to make on snow, but it's difficult to calculate as we haven't really got a basis for comparison given the way the new regulations have radically modified the cars' behavior."
What do you think of the new regulations? Are they good for the drivers?
SL: "Yes, the car's nice to drive. The performance of the engine means you can really get the best out of the chassis. Of course as always, we'd like more power, but I think the new WRCs will be very spectacular. As a driver you have to have the right feel to optimize the trajectories to carry the highest possible speed through the corners."
What does this season represent for you?
SL: "It's a new challenge with far more unknown factors than in previous years. Our rivals have developed their cars and we'll have to wait for the opening rallies to establish a hierarchy. But even before that I have to be quicker than the guys who have the same car as me. Beating Sebastien Ogier and Petter Solberg will be a tough challenge! I think it'll be a difficult season, but that only serves to boost my motivation even more!"
Questions to Sebastien Ogier
How do you feel behind the wheel of the Citroen DS3 WRC?
SO: "Like Seb I find that the more compact size of the DS3 has both advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of terrain. As the engine has less torque than what we've been used to, you have to keep the revs up all the time, a bit like with a normally aspirated engine. Because of the return to mechanical gear selection, the changes will be a bit slower and the driver will have to work harder. It won't pose problems in normal conditions, but could become tiring when it's very hot or at the end of long stages."
Are you satisfied with the work that's been done during the break?
SO: "I've been very impressed by the team's capacity for work as we've done a lot of testing since the end of last season. I reckon the time's been used well. I can't wait to be at the start of the Swedish Rally to fight against the stop watch."
Do you think the new regulations are a good thing for the World Rally Championship?
SO: "The aim is to attract new manufacturers. This year a third make will join in, and that's positive for everybody beginning with the spectators. I think that these new cars will be very spectacular with more sliding about and higher-revving engines. There's no doubt that it'll be at least as impressive as in previous years."
What are your aims in your first full season in the Citroen Total World Rally Team?
SO: "There are so many unknown factors that it's difficult to give a precise aim. The results of the Swedish Rally won't really provide a clear picture of the championship hierarchy. We'll know more about it after three or four rounds. Where we're concerned we won't be starting the first event in an overambitious frame of mind. So far we've only raced in two winter rallies, and it'll be difficult to compete on an equal footing with the Scandinavian drivers. Even if it's a longterm objective I'm not obsessed with winning the world title. On the other hand, I want to score points in each rally, be among the front-runners and gain more experience in the WRC."