Why Citroën is now a match for Škoda on gravel in WRC2

Improvements to the Citroën C3 Rally2 have given Yohan Rossel the belief he can now take the fight to Škoda

Yohan Rossel

If there were dramatic scenes at the head of the World Rally Championship field on last week’s Rally Portugal, they were nothing compared with WRC2.

Moments after overall leader Kalle Rovanperä crashed out of the event, WRC2 pacesetter Oliver Solberg did exactly the same. By that stage, Pepe López, Teemu Suninen and Pierre-Louis Loubet had already thrown their cars at the trees. New leader Gus Greensmith joined them on the sidelines later on Saturday. Then Sami Pajari, after enduring a catalog of incidents, crashed on the rally’s penultimate stage.

Through it all, Jan Solans became the rather unexpected driver to give Toyota’s GR Yaris Rally2 its first WRC2 victory, ahead of Josh McErlean and Lauri Joona.

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Oliver Solberg crashed out of the WRC2 lead in almost exactly the same spot as Kalle Rovanperä ended his overall rally hopes

Of the leading WRC2 championship contenders, only Yohan Rossel managed a half-decent score, picking up 10 points for fifth position. Having jointly led the standings with Solberg heading into the event, Rossel therefore has a 10-point advantage now.

Perhaps more importantly, of the six drivers within 25 points – the value of a win – of Rossel in the championship, only his DG Sport Automotive Citroën team-mate Nikolay Gryazin has competed in fewer than Rossel’s three scoring events to date.

But Rossel could easily have found himself with an ever greater advantage in the WRC2 title race. It was the Frenchman who inherited the lead when Solberg crashed out. But a puncture on the very next stage was compounded by a one-minute penalty for departing the scene before co-driver Arnaud Dunand had fully tightened his belts.

After dropping to seventh, Rossel climbed back to third on Saturday afternoon, only for another one-minute penalty for clocking in early to a time control.
Yohan Rossel

Rossel set four fastest stages times in WRC2, demonstrating the improved pace of the C3

Speaking after the event, Rossel’s disappointment was outweighed by his heartening pace, which gives him confidence that he has the weapons needed to defeat the likes of Toksport Škoda duo Solberg and Greensmith. Rossel has long been the championship’s benchmark on asphalt, but development to the Citroën C3 Rally2 is now allowing him to compete at the front on gravel too.

Of 20 stages he completed without dramas in Portugal, Rossel set 14 top-three stage times. Gryazin too ran strongly, winning the RC2 class overall – but was not nominated score drivers’ points on the event.

“We played against Škoda,” Rossel told DirtFish. “It’s a long time since we had this feeling on gravel, maybe two or three years. Yes, the car improved. [Previously] sometimes we are very good on high grip and not on low.

“This weekend, we have every surface and we are fast. I think we are a bit behind Oliver, because when he pushes very well, it’s so complicated to follow the rhythm. But we can fight.

“If you close the gap, you can fight. If the gap is too much, like last year, it’s impossible to fight. You finish fourth or fifth, you take the points but you don’t push to fight for the championship.

“Now it’s different. We can fight and improve my speed on gravel. It’s the plan this year with the team. We know I’m fast on Tarmac for sure, but my plan is to be a WRC driver. The plan is just to be fast every event.”

Rossel did, however, concede that his and Dunand’s mistakes could prove costly in what looks set to be a titanic WRC2 title battle. Asked how frustrated he was not to capitalize further on non-scores for Solberg and Greensmith, Rossel responded: “For sure – Suninen and Loubet [are also likely title contenders who failed to score].

“It’s maybe a good operation if you look at it in general, but at the end of the season, if you lose the championship by 10 points… I look in 2022, it was my mistake when I’m leading in Sardinia, third in Greece, and you lose the championship for 10 or 15 points. It’s like that.

Yohan Rossel

Penalties ultimately cost Rossel a podium finish, but he still leads the championship by 10 points

“But for me, the most important thing is to prove my speed on gravel. We are matching [Škoda] and we take a lot of pleasure in the car. It’s not like that last year. It’s so difficult for me to lead for a gravel event.

“Now it’s completely different. My team improved the car. Let’s see in three weeks [on Sardinia].”

Following Rally Portugal, Dunand announced that he had decided to step aside from his role, with Rossel later announcing Benjamin Boulloud as his replacement.