Citroen C3 R5 is revealed
07 Jun 2018
Following last year's introduction of the C3 WRC, 2018 is set to see the competitive debut of the R5 version of Citroën's muscular city compact, this time aimed at the customer racing market.
To ensure it is competitive in the WRC-2 – the feeder category to the WRC – and in the various FIA regional championships (ERC and MERC), as well as in the wide array of national championships, Citroën Racing has undertaken a root and branch review of the design, producing a radically different car to its predecessor.
Led by Olivier Maroselli, an experienced engineer renown for having developed several accomplished rally cars, the team of twenty or so people involved in the project started from scratch, in order to be sure of making the best technical choices. This approach was also guided by the fact that the standard in the category is higher than ever before, with several high-profile manufacturers seriously involved. The main challenge concerns the regulations, which are much more restrictive than in the WRC as regards homologation, competitors only being allowed five upgrade tokens in the first two years (only two of which are allowed for safety or reliability reasons) and then five more in the next two years.
This is why is so important to get things right first time! In other words, produce a reliable and fast car from the outset. After the traditional design stage in the engineering office, in September 2017 – date on which the car's first road tests were held – the project team therefore began work testing the car in the wide range of conditions that make rallying such a great but also difficult sport.
To assess its handling with a wide variety of grip levels and therefore fine-tune the set-up, the tarmac version of the C3 R5, fitted with its large eighteen-inch tyres, was put through its paces on the demanding roads of Corsica, as well as in the east (Vosges) and south (Tarn) of mainland France.
The car also had its first outing in a competitive setting as one of the zero cars at the Rallye du Var in November of last year, driven by Yoann Bonato. A full-scale test session that proved highly successful, both in terms of its popularity with the fans and the times posted by the car.
Meanwhile, work continued on the version intended for use on gravel – the most common surface in the WRC – with sessions conducted on gravel roads in Fontjoncouse, near Narbonne, Cardona in Spain and Mazamet, to the north of Carcassonne, all renown for providing cars with a very serious examination. Six thousand kilometres of testing later, Citroën Racing is now able to present an accomplished product, the development of which will be fine-tuned on some very specific surfaces. Further test sessions are scheduled for later this year.
Designed for the most ambitious talented young rally drivers as well as gentlemen drivers, teams with international aspirations and those with more modestly-sized operations, this car is all about competitiveness, endurance, versatility and ease of maintenance. But don't take our word for it, judge for yourself...
Developed in-house, the engine represented an enormous challenge for Citroën's technical team. "We set ourselves some very ambitious targets," explained Olivier Maroselli, the project manager. "Targets that we have met by working in three major areas. First of all, reliability and heat management with all the internal parts of the engine, which proved to be very sophisticated. We also paid very special attention to the cylinder head, to increase permeability as much as possible on the intake and exhaust ducts. The last major area of development was the car's electronics, with a more advanced ECU than what we have had in the past. On the one hand, the purpose of this was to have a much more functional anti-lag system and therefore get much better response from the accelerator during in-gear acceleration. But the idea was also to be constantly as close to the maximum authorised booster pressure, without opening the pop-off valve, which always has a highly detrimental effect on power. All of this means that the engine is now undoubtedly one of the car's major strengths. All the drivers were in agreement that the car has bags of torque, but we also know that it is also well placed in terms of power, with a higher rating than its rivals."
The C3 R5 is fitted – like its famous big sister, the WRC – with a Sadev gearbox. However, the similarities end there, the model used for the C3 R5 having been specially designed for the specific requirements and constraints of the category. "It's a question of safety, really," commented Olivier Maroselli. "Although some of the internal components are familiar, and therefore tried and tested, we nonetheless chose to design our own architecture. Our packaging is different in terms of both the width and the height of the gearbox outlets. This is because they have a direct influence on the transmission angles, and therefore the maximum travel allowed. We therefore paid very special attention to this point."
CHASSIS AND SUSPENSION SYSTEMS
Like its big sister, the C3 WRC, the C3 R5 has two different front suspension geometries depending on whether it is being used on tarmac or gravel. The idea is, in each situation, to optimise both versions of Citroën's iconic new model, with the chassis and suspensions systems meeting the specific constraints of the surface in question. "As the number of interfaces authorised between the hub carrier, the strut, the suspension arm and the toe rod are very limited, this was no mean feat," explained Olivier Maroselli. "But we chose to incline the strut towards the rear on tarmac, for the purposes of kinematics, and towards the front on gravel, mainly to do with travel. This is another of the car's strengths, because we didn't have to compromise on the designs chosen at all. We were also determined to ensure all of these parts were at the minimum weight. This involved using Reiger shock absorbers. Not only are they very fine-looking products, which provide plenty of room for manoeuvre when it comes to defining the appropriate set-up, but their aluminium struts also helped us to keep the weight down."
EASE OF MAINTENANCE
Constantly attentive to the concerns of its customers, Citroën Racing were equally determined to ensure the best possible maintenance conditions for the C3 R5, whilst also paying special attention to the durability of the parts selected. "Yes, this was clearly one of the areas we worked on, without however compromising on performance," admitted Olivier Maroselli. "The gearbox and the front end, for example, can be removed very easily. We have also made a lot of progress on the bodywork, by investing in multi-material technology so that there are rubberized components in all the lower parts of the bumpers and in some areas on the wings. They are therefore more resistant to wear and distortion. Similarly, we covered a lot of miles in tests on really rough gravel surfaces such as at Fontjoncouse, and we noted a vast improvement in the ageing of the body and all of the subframe. Damage to consumable parts, like the protective skidplate, is at a really very good level and that is undoubtedly a plus for running costs."
STÉPHANE LEFEBVRE / GABIN MOREAU
A pure product of French promotional formulas, Stéphane made his rallying debut in 2010 at just eighteen years old, making a name for himself in 2012 when he finished as overall runner-up and won the junior category in the "Volant Peugeot 207".
His performance earned him a place in the European Rally Championship as part of the Peugeot Rally Academy in 2013, whilst he again finished second overall and first in the Junior class in the 208 Rally Cup.
2014 proved to be an incredibly successful year for Stéphane: he won both the Junior WRC and the WRC3 titles in a DS3 R3, and won the ERC Junior crown in a 208 R2. His potential was such that Citroën Racing decided to gamble on him and instead of contesting just six races in the WRC2 – as initially planned – the JWRC winner competed in all thirteen rounds of the World Championship in 2015, five of which in a DS3 WRC.
The highlights of his season came in Germany, where his finished tenth on his WRC debut, and at Wales Rally GB, where he grabbed eighth position. In 2016, the talented young Frenchman began working with co-driver Gabin Moreau, at the same time as joining the Abu Dhabi Total WRT in order to continue honing his skills. He made the perfect start to the season with fifth place in Monte-Carlo, before then producing some promising times in Portugal and Poland.
However, his progress was brought to an abrupt halt in Germany in mid-August by a violent crash, which left him on the sidelines until the end of October. Gabin, meanwhile, had to wait until the end of November before he could return to competitive action. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT renewed their faith in the pair for 2017 and the launch of the C3 WRC.
After a tough start to the year, they enjoyed a strong second half to the season, finishing fifth in Poland, sixth in Catalonia and setting some good times in Australia. At the same time, they also played an active role from the outset in the development programme of the C3 R5, Citroën's latest customer racing product, and took part in the majority of the test sessions. For 2018, armed with experience acquired in the world championship in four-wheel drive cars, Stéphane and Gabin have been tasked by Citroën Racing with showing off the C3 R5's qualities in the highly competitive WRC2 class.