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GP Week : Issue 65
"I guess that I have been involved in rallies for about the last 15 years. My family went to all the rallies in the Cantabria region to follow my father when he was taking part. I became involved in active motorsport through karting, where you could compete when you were younger, then into hillclimbs and eventually into rallies. I liked the idea of rallying more than racing." was a concerted effort between my father and Citroen Spain and Carlos Sainz to find financial support." Like the reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb, Dani came to international prominence through the Super 1600 rallying in the world championship events. "I think this is a very good schooling for a young driver, better than Group N. I have experience of both. In many ways a Group N car is still very much like a production car, whereas a Super 1600 is an out-and- out competition car. The engine, the brakes, the way the engine revs, the sequential gearbox, the way you use left foot braking, everything about a Super 1600 car is a better experience. You learn much more about rally driving than in a Group N car." Rules say that once you win the Junior championship you cannot win it again, so his backers knew that this was the time when he had to make an upward step, but it all depended on available money. This became available, but the sponsors had some very strict house rules. It was made very clear that if there was one crashed World Rally Car, there would not be another, and he could not look to them for extra funds. "I finished the first eight events in a World Rally Car, gaining four podium results including the first two of my famous second places, and my backers were told I was officially part of the team and that I could try to go faster. I failed to finish the next two events, including two crashes." The second of these crashes was an extraordinary and very traumatic affair' it was when he smashed his Xsara into a roundabout in an asphalt downtown superspecial in Limassol in Cyprus. "It was an un-timed section, all I had to do was drive through the route for the stage and drive to the finish. I was absolutely distraught for two days afterwards, physically shattered by the experience. When Jari-Matti Latvala did the same sort of thing this year in Poland, I think I was about the only person who could really understand what it personally could mean." Dani's first opportunity to drive a World Rally Car was before the 2006 Monte Carlo Rally, when the team brought an Xsara to a sponsorship promotion in Cantabria. "My first real drive was a one-day test we then had in France, but that was short and it didn't tell me much. The morning was wet and then it started to snow. The speed was incredible. There was an even greater sensation of speed than with a Super 1600, especially the noise inside the car. "The sound was something quite different. You did not drive the car by listening to the exhaust, like in a Super 1600 car. The turbocharger meant that you had to change your driving style completely, but it was amazing how you got all the power you needed right through the rev range. "Everything is made easier to drive than in a Super 1600. It is very difficult to drive at the limit in a World Rally Car, but it is easier to go to the limit in a Super 1600. I did not drive enough in Group N to know really how fast it was possible to go. With a car like the Super 1600 you know how fast you can go. You do not know where is the limit in a World Rally Car. The speed is much higher, but you learn how powerful the brakes can be, therefore where your braking points should be. You approach the corners much faster. "When I first drove the Xsara WRC, I kept feeling that I could have gone faster through the corners, but I could not tell how much faster ..." Moving into World Rally Championship competition was not a smooth transition. "Just before I was due to test the S1600, before we went to Monte Carlo for my first rally with the C2, my previous co-driver, Carlos del Barrio, suddenly announced he was not going to work with me. I couldn't believe it; he couldn't just walk out on me like that!" The surprise was one thing, finding another co-driver was an even more pressing thought. It was Sainz who suggested that maybe Marti could help. "This was worrying for me; Marc had been rallying with Carlos for the past three years and I was sure he sensed that rallying with me meant competing at a different sort of level altogether. I do not know what he felt at the time, but I can say that our relationship has got better as time moved on. We are now in our fifth season together, and each year we seem to be getting better. After winning the Junior title we finished fifth, fourth and then third in the World Championship." After a season in the Xsara WRC Dani progressed on to a C4 WRC. "My first impression of the C4 was that this was a much bigger and heavier car than the Xsara. It felt a lot bigger, though gradually this impression disappeared." Things did not go smoothly in his first season with the C4, because Citroen Sport suffered a strange problem with their engines, and twice he retired from rallies because of a fault in the engine's cylinder block. It was a problem with a batch of engines, but happily for Citroen, Loeb did not suffer. "This was the first major time in my career when I had to retire from rallies for problems which were not of my own making, and it was an emotional test. In fact I found I could accept the problems because of the fact it hadn't been my fault." When Dani goes to Spain this year he has a string of no fewer than 13 second places on World Championship rallies behind him. He did not know how many it was, and he wassurprised it was so many -- to the point he had to check with a friend before he accepted it was true! "To begin with I was quite happy with the situation; I was happy simply to be involved at the top level of the sport. But then I began to wonder, and so did everyone I know who follows the sport, why was it? But it wasn't so much frustration, it was more bewilderment. How can it be? What stops me, maybe just once, from winning a World Championship rally? I really want to win a rally, and sooner rather than later." Experience is building up, and many drivers have scored their first World Championship victory much earlier in their careers. Rally Catalunya is Dani's 70th World rally start ... WRC INSIGHT >> 41