Bold and decisive calls on tyre choice gave Citroen and Loeb the...

Bold and decisive calls on tyre choice gave Citroen and Loeb the victory in Spain

Sebastien Loeb
photo: Citroen Racing

The only previous occasion that Sébastien Loeb had successfully attempted a backflip on the final podium of a rally was back at the 2004 Tour de Corse to celebrate his first world title. The former gymnast repeated the feat last weekend, confirming the historic significance of this victory, claimed in the final guest appearance of his part-time return in 2018, six years after he contested his last full season in the WRC. Citroen Racing team principal Pierre Budar answers a couple of questions about the rally.

What can you say about this win?

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate the team! This win is incredibly good for everyone and is richly deserved. The team never gave up. We remained committed despite the difficult times that we have had to go through this season. In fact, everyone just worked even harder to succeed and manage to get this result. It’s especially satisfying to win once again and remain unbeaten in Catalonia for the second year running. This mixed-surface rally is one of the ultimate challenges of the season, and this year it was made even more difficult by the treacherous weather conditions, particularly on Saturday. In spite of this, we were competitive on both gravel and asphalt, particularly grabbing three stage wins on tarmac.

We also made some bold, decisive calls on tyre choice, and from a mechanical point of view, we had a completely issue-free weekend. And yet this weekend includes some of the hardest service periods of the year, particularly switching the cars from gravel to tarmac spec on Friday evening in just an hour and fifteen minutes. But we had prepared very well for the weekend in the workshop and everything went perfectly according to plan.

Did you think that Sébastien and Daniel Elena were capable of such a performance?

We knew that with Seb and Danos, you have to expect the unexpected! Once again, they proved it and in some style. They got their bearings back again very quickly, regardless of the surface, and performed at an incredible level, all of which without making any real mistakes. Sébastien and Daniel have undoubtedly written another page in their fantastic story this weekend. We have once again been involved in their extraordinary fate, and it’s absolutely fabulous to have shared such an emotional experience with them!

Cédric Mazenq, Sébastien Loeb’s race engineer this weekend, was at the heart of the action on Sunday morning when the call on tyres was made, a bold choice that would quickly prove to be decisive

He recalls the experience…

“It was an important moment! Being eight seconds behind the leader, if we wanted to close the gap, we had to gamble. And if we were going to attempt something, we had to do it in the morning because the grip was a little bit in between, with the damp patches drying out, whereas we were expecting it to be dry in the afternoon and the gaps would, therefore, be smaller. We had already had conditions like this in testing and so we could tell that the hard Michelin slicks were the best option, provided we could get them to warm up. We knew that the first few kilometres were dry at least, so we thought that would help get the tyres up to temperature. All these elements meant we could give Seb something to think about.”

“With the hard tyres, we reckoned that we could make up about thirteen seconds during the loop. Gradually, he began to warm to the idea, but he was afraid that it might rain because the weather was still changeable. That’s why we put softs on the car, whilst we continued to talk it through. But at the last minute, Laurent Poggi, our weather information man stationed at the end of the second stage, confirmed to Seb that the roads were drying out. That was when we put on the hard tyres, and that was also the point at which we won the rally!”