A few days ago, when i had nothing to do after my class, i decided to take a walk to the supermarket instead of a bus, do myself, my legs and my pocket a big favour! Save 4 euros and stuff, while i was walking one the small quiet roads, i came across, in a narrow road, parked silently at the side, one of the most iconic cars of the 2000's era in terms of competition. A car which came in and dessimated the competiton on all surfaces, tarmac, gravel, ice&snow, mud, mized, you name it, it's won on that. One of the rare pieces of engineering excellence which help shed off the image of the French as "tarmac-specialists" (drivers and cars).
What looks like this
take this mule, keep the Logo, the name of the car and donate the rest to a washing machine plant. now, build a tubular space frame chassis, fit magnesium alloy wheels, enough braking power for 5 average cars and dampers and springs capable of taking a 10G impact. add a transverse mounted 2 litre, turbo charged, intercooled, in-line 4 cylinder, water injected, 310bhp, Magnetti-Marelli controlled engine. Put in a fire spitting anti-lag system for the fun factor. Gel this machichery to a longitudinally mounted non synchonized six speed sequential shift gearbox through a high performance clutch. finally throw-in three high performance, electronically controlled, active differentials, cockpit contollable anti-rollbars, variable engine maps and such small fancy things and you get this!
which, by the way looks nothing like the original road-going car, except for the name and the logo of course. but, you get a car which can do 0-100kmph in 2.5 seconds on gravel! or take a jump at 170kmph (and "fly" for 55 meters), or hit 230kmph on snow with tungsten spikes in the tyres. It's a Citroen Xsara WRC. One of the many French cars to have dominated rallying (and specially tarmac events in the past).
This domination started as early as the Group-B era in the 1980's and the Renault Maxi Turbo, then the Peugeot 205 T 16, and later in specialised dakar cars, the Peugeot 405, the Pikes peak Peugeot and the Cirtoen ZX (that time both had pulled out of rallying and were looking into rallyraids). Then the 90's was a quiet time for the French, as most of the sweeping was done was Lancia (late '80s and early to mid '90s) which went on to become the most successful Company in WRC history and also Mitsubishi to a considerable extent (mid '90s to late '90s and years 2000 and 2001). Somewhere in the middle, Carlos Sainz (Toyota Celica, Corolla group-A cars, champion 1990, 1992), Didier Auriol (Toyota Corolla Group A , Champion 1994) and Colin McRae (Subaru Impreza Group A, Champion 1995) turned up and won everything they laid their hands on!
At the end of the 1990's Ford announced their new car to replace the Escort, which was the Ford Focus WRC and Peugeot announced their return to WRC in 1999, and made the debut with the Peugeot 206 WRC. Citroen did too, but with a modified two wheel drive Citroen Xsara Kit car. The xsara was immediately on the pace, Philippe Bugalski, who was somewhat of a mad man, capable of lightening speeds on tarmac but could not always keep his head together, he gave the Xsara Kit car (which was still a semi-official entry by Citroen) its first victories in 1999 in the Rally of Catalunya in Spain and the Tour de Corse in Corsica. The year 2000 had three Tarmac events, Spain, Italy and France. Bugalski (he's French) won again in Spain, and Gilles Panizzi won in France and Italy in a Peugeot 206 WRC.
Marcus Gronholm was crowned champion in 2000, him alongside with tarmac specialists like Didier Auriol & Gilles Panizzi who dominated tarmac events gave Peugeot a very high rate of success as soon as their debut. During those times Citroen, peugeot and many such teams employed surface-specialists (there were really few drivers who could win anywhere, any time, any condition, any car, Carlos, Tommi and Colin were almost the only ones).
2001 marked the announcement of the Citroen Xsara WRC, the official car prepared and entered by the Citroen factory team into selected events, and had it's first win in the Tour de Corse 2001, this time piloted by Jesus Puras. The other two Tarmac events, Sanremo of Italy went to Panizzi and Catalunya went to Dider Auriol.
2002 was the year of Peugeot, With them winning in most of the events, but, however, their luck on safari continued to be down, they haven't won in Kenya since 1978 and although a peugeot finished second, it's still just second. Citroen competed for the first time, officially in many rallies with tarmac specialist Philippe Bugalski, Gravel Specialist Thomas Radstrom, and the-then rising star Sebastien Loeb (he had his first ever WRC win in the Rally Germany that year)
2003 was Citroen's year, although petter won the championship, citroen made quantum leap in development and with Carlos and Colin joining, were easily crowned the Manufacturers Champions.
During the years 2004, 05, 06, 07 and 08 Sebastien Loeb was unbeatable, with only ford being able to take the chase to the line on some rallies, during this period, Sebastien has either made or broken most of the records in the WRC.
But as it is with any sport, there's always progress, and the Citroen Xsara WRC had to give way to the Citroen C4 WRC in 2007 which has proved to be just as successful (or maybe better?) as the Xsara, while Peugeot entered their 307 WRC replacing the 206 WRC in 2004 and pulled out at the end of 2005. Citroen pulled out the same year too but promised to come back in 2007 (with the new C4), in the meanwhile helped Sebastien who competed as a privateer (and was perhaps the most successful privateer world Champion, when he won it in 2006).
When i saw this car, a memory of an era, perhaps not as inspirational as the Golden era of world rallying, but tough nonetheless came back to me, an era which inspired me to follow rallying, to know more about the drivers, the cars, teams, the history of the sport, the skills involved, the techniques (and perhaps to implement a few in my everyday riding, for which i've been cruelly criticized either as being suicidal or as a show-off :| ). Just felt like writing it down, so that next time i see a Xsara/Focus/Impreza/206 /307 i can open this, read and feel good :) Cheers!