Preview: Citroen chasing title

Following his flawless drive in Corsica, world champion Sebastien Loeb will try to help his Citroen team to wrap up the manufacturers' title in this weekend's Rally of Catalunya

Preview: Citroen chasing title

The 31-year-old Frenchman completed the first clean sweep in rallying history by winning every stage on his way to his maiden victory on the twisty roads of Corsica last weekend and is hot favourite to claim his 10th triumph of the year in the penultimate rally of the season.

Citroen, who will also be represented by Belgium's Francois Duval in Catalunya, lead the standings with 160 points, 30 ahead of nearest rivals Peugeot. They need just a third-place finish from either driver to secure the title.

"Given our current successful run, the strength of the team, the fact that the Xsara WRC and our tyres couldn't be more competitive, nobody would believe me if I said I wasn't hoping to win," said Loeb. "So, yes, we will try.

"We're aware, of course, that we have to work to finish off the manufacturers' championship too. We really want the team to keep the title, so we won't do anything reckless."

Citroen team boss Guy Frequelin has also made it clear to his drivers where their priorities should lie.

"When you are this close to your objective you have no right to fail," he said. "It might look easy but we'll need to be as vigilant and focused as ever."

Former Champions

Attention will also be focused on the duel between former world champions Marcus Gronholm of Finland and Petter Solberg for the runners-up place in this year's drivers' standings.

Following the Finn's retirement in his Peugeot in Corsica and Solberg's third-placed finish for Subaru, the two drivers are level on 71 points, but Solberg has the edge thanks to his better win ratio this season.

This year's Catalan rally provides several additional challenges to the drivers and their teams as the season draws to a close.

For the first time this year the teams will have just a week to prepare for the rally as they skip across the Mediterranean from Corsica and will have to use the same engines and chassis for two consecutive events.

The route of the rally also differs to that of previous years, with all 15 stages now taking place in the Tarragona region near host town of Salou rather than in the traditional Costa Brava location.

Like Corsica, the Catalunya rally is held on asphalt, but the course is less twisty and narrow, while the fast roads make it the closest thing to a road track rally that drivers will experience this season.

To make matters trickier the forecast is for a wet start to the weekend with showers predicted for the opening legs on Friday and Saturday, which could make the fast tarmac corners very slippery.

Last year's winner Markko Martin will not be taking part following his decision to pull out of the last three races of the season after the death of his British co-driver Michael Park on the final day of last month's Rally of Britain.

Frenchman Nicolas Bernardi steps in to take the Estonian's place in the Peugeot once again, while Gilles Panizzi, who won in Catalunya in 2002 and 2003, also misses out after Mitsubishi opted to give the drive to young Italian Gigi Galli.

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Series WRC
Author Simon Baskett
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