Rally Bulgaria an unknown for Loeb
|By David Evans
||Tuesday, July 6th 2010, 10:17 GMT
Sebastien Loeb will step into the unknown on this week's Rally Bulgaria as he attempts to further his extraordinary unbeaten record on asphalt rounds of the World Rally Championship.
The Frenchman hasn't been beaten on a pure asphalt round of the series since 2004, winning the last 15 sealed surface rounds of the series.
Since 2002, the Citroen driver has won 18 of the 22 asphalt world rallies run. But, this week, the six-time world champion faces a new challenge on Rally Bulgaria. None of the leading drivers have ever contested the Borovets-based event and the super-fast but bumpy roads in the Rila Mountains before.
Despite his massive success on asphalt, and a 38-point lead in the drivers' standings, Loeb won't be taking anything for granted in his lead up to the seventh round of this year's series.
"It's true that we've always been pretty successful on asphalt," he said. "But, it would be a huge mistake to think like that this is a foregone conclusion! It's true that asphalt is our favourite hunting ground, but we have to tackle this rally in a humble state of mind.
"We're going to discover a new route which will certainly have its own specific character. We'll have to cope with the weather as stages at 2000 metres above sea level can be upset by storms, and also there's the choice between the Pirelli P-Zero [compounds in] soft and hard. As always when I start a rally my aim is victory.
"Even if it's sometimes necessary, I don't like pussy-footing just to ensure a place finish if I know that I can win."
While the drivers haven't seen this week's stages, Pirelli's senior WRC tyre engineer Matteo Braga attended the event last season and knows what's in store.
Braga said: "It's going to be very interesting with the possibility of wet and dry conditions due to the rally being based in the mountains. Both Citroen and Ford will be prepared for this because on the practice rallies they did in Italy and Serbia respectively, they both experienced wet and dry conditions.
"But it will still create some extra excitement. There is also a big difference in the stages with old and new Tarmac, bumpy and smooth sections, up and down, fast and slow so it will be a big challenge for the drivers."
Of the seven WRC rounds remaining this season, four of those are on asphalt - including the all-new Rally of France which runs around Loeb's birthplace in Alsace. Understandably, Loeb is in favour of the asphalt bias for the second half of the year.
"It's all the more pleasant as last season we only raced in one true asphalt event," he said. "This year's calendar is better balanced and I'm delighted that Rally Germany is back on it again.
"There's also Rally France, which is going to be one of the high points of the season. We recently had a test session in the Vosges and I was amazed by the number of fans who turned up. I don't even dare imagine what the ambience will be like in the rally in Alsace!"