Citroen returned from its exploratory visit to the World Championship's most distant fixture last year with five points in the bag thanks to Sebastien Loeb's fourth place, a superb result for the Frenchman's maiden competitive outing to New Zealand - and it won't have escaped rugby union fans that five points, here in the homeland of the celebrated 'All Blacks', is exactly the same score as that awarded for a 'try'!

To convert this 'try' this time round and to build on the French team's totals in the 2004 Manufacturers' and Drivers' championships, Citroen has despatched two Xsara WRCs to Auckland for its usual crews Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti. Both will be 2004-specification machines featuring the latest developments recently homologated by the FIA on April 1st.

"As far as the chassis goes," explains technical manager Jean-Claude Vaucard, "we have made use of the new regulations which now allow the material used for the wings to be changed while at the same time dictating a minimum weight of 320 kg for the body shell, complete with roll-cage. We have chosen to replace the Xsara's previous steel wings with composite material panels and that has led to a review of the car's overall weight distribution."

On the engine front, the Xsara has also profited from the annual homologation upgrades permitted by the regulations. "The crankshaft, conrods, pistons and flywheel are all new," confirms Citroen's technical manager, "as are the exhaust manifold and turbo waste-gate."

All these new components have been tested over a period of months and were naturally run on Sainz and Loeb's cars during the pre-New Zealand set-up test session organised near Manresa, Spain, where both drivers used identical tyres to those that make up their quota for the southern hemisphere event. Their personal allocations of 60 tyres each were registered on March 17th and are already en route for Auckland.

Following successive modifications to the regulations in Sweden and Mexico, the Rally New Zealand organisers have decided to apply the so-called 'Mille Pistes' format which divides the crews' reconnaissance into two phases: a first run on the Wednesday and Thursday followed by a second pass on the morning of each leg, shortly before tackling them competitively. New Zealand is also one of the few rounds to feature three different service park locations and the combination of all these factors has certainly made life busy for those members of the Versailles Satory-based team responsible for logistics and for analysing the regulations.

"Coming on top of the car's annual homologation, this complex, long haul rally has put an enormous workload on everyone in the team," confirms team boss, Guy Frequelin. "I will be very happy if the end result makes it all worthwhile. I would like to see our Xsaras involved in the fight at the sharp end and, above all, I would like to see them both at the finish!"