To the untrained eye, this white Xsara looks like a kit car But this is a vehicle of a different ilk It sounds different: the kit cat's metallic roar has been replaced by a harsh throbbing noise with muffled detonations. It looks different, being smaller and narrower than a kit car, although the black-carbon rear spoiler is bigger. And when it negotiates hairpin bends, it drifts slightly at the rear before taking off again like a bullet - because it is fitted with four-wheel drive. This Xsara is a World Rally Car.
Why a WRC?
The Xsara Kit Car managed to beat the WRCs twice in a row. So why develop a WRC version of the Xsara? The first reason is that the International Federation has increased the minimum weight of kit cars by 40 kg. Second, although two-wheel drives are impressive performers on tarmac, they cannot cope with greasy or muddy surfaces, and so have no chance of winning dirt-track events. For this reason, Guy Fréquelin, head of Citroën Sport, set his team (leaders in long-distance rallies and kit cars) a third ambitious challenge: to design a WRC.
The vehicle's body shell has been modified. The overall width has been reduced to 1.770 mm, the maximum allowed for WRCs, while shafts, axles and other components transmit power to the rear wheels.
The WRC engine is based on that of the Xsara 1.8i 16V The aluminium engine block has been modified to make room for a Garrett turbocharger. The turbocharger has a 34 mm diameter restrictor to limit the air intake and by extension, the power. Citroën has a key advantage in this field, with its experience in long-distance rallies (high operating temperatures, fresh-air systems, post-combustion, etc.).
With respect to the transmission system, Guy Fréquelin explained: ?We had enough room to keep the gearbox in its current position. This saved weight because we didn?t have to fit the transmission components at 90º - something that would have been required by a longitudinal gearbox."
A guided tour of the WRC
The four-wheel drive system was designed by Citroën Sport and manufactured by UK specialist X-Trac. An original feature: a second Magneti Marelli M3 computer, identical to the one processing engine data, manages the elec-tronic differentials.
The Xsara WRC is fitted with four McPherson struts. For the shock absorbers, Citroën is continuing its successful partnership with Dynamic. The Citroën team has a special advantage in this respect: the extensive know-how gained in long-distance rallies on shock-absorption systems for heavy vehicles.
Says Guy Frequelin: ?The Xsara has some major advantages. It is not big, but it has enough room to house all the components of a WRC. It has no overhang, but the wheelbase guarantees stability. We still have a lot of work to do on the suspension, the transmission of drive to the electronic differentials, mass centring, etc." Being given a WRC to drive 24 hours after winning in Corsica (in 1999) was a great reward!" exclaimed Philippe Bugalski. ?It meant I was able to clock up 200 km before the public holiday on 13 May. The WRC is an ?easier? drive than the kit car. It doesn?t need the same aggressive, physical kind of driving, so it was easier to switch from the kit car to the WRC rather than the other way round. The most tiring feature is the heat produced by the turbo. In two days, we looked at a whole range of issues and made real progress. The car is easy to drive and I didn't feel at all restricted by its weight. There is still a lot of work to do and comparisons to make, but I reckon we're off to a good start."
At one stage, it looked as though the World Rally Championship would bow to pressure from French carmakers and reserve the competition for 21 FWD models. Authorisations were to include bodywork modifications (e.g inclusion of 650 mm diameter wheel arches), and non-restricted intake and exhaust systems. The specific parts were bundled into a kit, which had to be produced in 20 examples. This was how the vehicles earned the name "kit car".
Makers of four-wheel drive cars were quick to protest. In a bid to find a compromise. a group of people, including Guy Fréquelin, suggested authorising the construction of turbocharged 4WDs using 2WD models. The World Rally Cars, also avail-able in 20 homologated examples. were born.