by Rob Wilkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH XAVIER MESTELAN-PINON: CLICK HERE

Xavier Mestelan-Pinon is the technical director at the Citroen Total World Rally Team and it is his job to try to design the best car possible by managing a team of over 100 people so that Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo can go for wins.

We caught up with him at the end of October and here he speaks exclusively to Rallycourse and Crash.net Radio about his role, the challenges it encompasses and more...

Crash.net:
Xavier, Citroen switched this year to using the C4 WRC. What has made it so good and how does it differ in relation to the Citroen Xsara WRC?

Xavier Mestelan-Pinon:
Everybody wants to know that! Today we work with the C4 and everybody changes their cars. I prefer to speak about the present. What can I say about that? Currently we are second in the world championship for drivers' and manufacturers'. I think the car is fast but the reliability is maybe not enough at the moment. However we have good performance if we compare it to the other manufacturers.

Crash.net:
What are the main strengths of the C4?

XP:
I don't know. Let's ask the drivers. It is very difficult to answer that question. You need a lot of things to make a good car - good engine, good balance, good gearbox, good shock absorbers, good traction, good reliability and so on. I don't know what the main strength of the C4 is - and even if I knew I couldn't to tell you that of course!

Crash.net:
How does it compare mechanically to the Xsara?

XM-P:
At the beginning the C4 had the same engine, the same gearbox and the same shock absorber [as the Xsara]. For next year we will use a new engine. Until December 2007 we will use engine 'EQ' and at the beginning of 2008 - and I don't know exactly when - we will use engine 'EW'.

Crash.net:
Was there much work to do in switching the fully-active C4 (which the car was originally) over to a car with mechanical front and rear diffs and only an active centre?

XM-P:
It was exactly the same job that we did on the Xsara - and because we use the same gearbox and the same rear axle it was very easy for us to switch between both technologies. When we changed the differentials the only problem was to find the right set-up.

Crash.net:
How does the C4 compare in your opinion to the cars of your rivals, the Ford Focus and the Subaru Impreza?

XM-P:
The best thing is to look at the results. This year all the manufacturers are very close. We have maybe made more mistakes this year than the other manufacturers' and currently we don't have first place in the drivers' championship or in the manufacturers' championship. We have had too many problems. But we are working on it for the future.

Crash.net:
What are the main advantages and disadvantages of the C4 in relation to the competition?

XM-P:
If I knew exactly what was our best advantage or our secret I couldn't tell you. You understand? I am sure that we don't have many advantages or disadvantages with the C4. Everybody works in the same direction and everybody has a good engine, good shock absorbers, a good gearbox and good balance. The main importance is the details.

Crash.net:
Why didn't Sebastien Loeb feel comfortable in the car to start with? How did the team change that?

XM-P:
Sebastien drove many, many kilometres and after it was easier for him. But of course we changed a little bit the position of Sebastien in the car and now his seat is higher than at the beginning. However I think the most important thing is that Sebastien did many tests before Monte Carlo so that he could learn his new car and the new revisions.

Crash.net:
Did Daniel Sordo have similar concerns?

XM-P:
Yes, exactly the same.

Crash.net:
How much of the C4 is developed in-house and how much is out-sourced and brought in?

XM-P:
100 per cent of the development is done in-house.

Crash.net:
Has it been a good year for tech in the WRC?

XM-P:
There has been no change. We don't have any changes this year. Maybe in two or three years we can speak about it. But currently this year and last year it is exactly the same rules.

Crash.net:
There have been some new challenges this year though hasn't there, for example, engines now have to do three events and so on?

XM-P:
It is a small change. It is now three years that we try to have better reliability with each part of the car. For example, as you just mentioned, the engine must now do three rallies, the gearbox one rally and we have five sets of shock absorbers for each event on gravel and tarmac. But it is not a big change because it happens very slowly.

Crash.net:
How tough has it been making the parts last that much longer?

XM-P:
It is a challenge - but not a big challenge. A big challenge, for example, is to change in one year the engine from a turbo to an atmospheric engine. That would be a big challenge. But if we have to strengthen the reliability of each part it is not a big challenge for us.

Crash.net:
Where do you think the next big advances are coming in terms of rally car technology?

XM-P:
It depends on the FIA. Currently we don't know exactly in which direction we will go. It is around Super 2000 but we don't have many details. I don't know exactly what will be the main challenge.

Crash.net:
What do you think of Super 2000 cars? How good are they?

XM-P:
It should be an interesting car for the customers. Currently it is a cheaper car. But if all the team work on this car for the world championship then the price will increase. I don't know if it is the right route for the future. The technical rules seem good - but is it a good thing to have the same car for the customers and the official team? I don't know.

Crash.net:
What do S2000 cars - and WRC technology - bring to road cars?

XM-P:
I think currently it is more the road car that brings technology to the S2000 and the WRC.

Crash.net:
For the future, how important is it for the WRC to go 'green' and embrace more environmentally friendly technology? What do you think of the use of bio-fuels and so on? Is that the way forward?

XM-P:
For Citroen it is very important to bring 'green' technology onto the rally car. That is the official answer of course.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH XAVIER MESTELAN-PINON: CLICK HERE