WRC defending champion Sebastien Loeb has had a disappointing start to the season, and while his Citroën team-mate Francois Duval hasn't been fairing any better either, the French team's boss remains optimistic about the weekend's New Zealand Rally.

WRC defending champion Sebastien Loeb has had a disappointing start to the season but, while his Citroën team-mate Francois Duval hasn’t been faring any better, the French team’s boss remains optimistic about the weekend’s New Zealand Rally.

Although Loeb won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, technical problems in the last two races have only secured him fourth place on the driver’s points log. Three non-scoring results for the French team’s new driver, Francois Duval, have also left team boss Guy Frequelin frustrated.

"I have the impression that our problems are down to bad luck," Loeb said. "The part that cracked in Mexico is one we've used on numerous rallies, including rough gravel. As far as outright performance goes, the picture is fairly satisfactory. In Sweden I could match the leaders, and my time on the first stage in Mexico was on a par with that of Subaru’s Petter Solberg.”

Frequelin disagreed, adding that laying the blame on “bad luck” was only an easy way of shifting the blame.

He said: "You're bound to find yourself in a dangerous position when only one of your cars reaches the finish three times in a row. We've tried to calmly analyse our difficult start with a view to understanding what happened. Given the differing nature of the incidents that have affected us, it could be tempting to pin it all on bad luck, but I'm always wary of that approach. It can often be an easy way of absolving yourself."

Loeb has matched the pace of his main rivals, Solberg and Marcus Gronholm, throughout the season, but engine problems in Sweden and a suspension failure in Mexico have hampered his title fight. Duval crashed out of the Monte Carlo event, finished outside the points in Sweden and suffered radiator problems in Mexico.

About perceived reliability problems, Frequelin said: “Reliability is a state of mind and a product of the way you work. On both these fronts, the team has maintained its customary standards. We are currently looking at reinforcing our component validation process."

But Frequelin is confident about the Xsara’s prospects in New Zealand – a sentiment that his star driver has echoed.

“Envisaging victory is easy," Loeb said. "It will be a relief not to be first on the road. I dropped 44 seconds leading through the first loop last year (sweeping the loose gravel off the surface. It would be nice if we are in a position where we are challenging for top spot in New Zealand, which is one of the few events that Citroën has not won so far."

Original article from Car