PEUGEOT RETURNS TO MONTE CARLO
After securing consecutive Intercontinental Rally Challenge titles and 12 outright IRC wins in 2007 and 2008, Peugeot stands out as favourite for top honours again in 2009 with the 207 Super 2000. Its rivals have not been inactive, however, and the new season promises to be another thriller. The calendar kicks off with the Rallye Monte-Carlo, which features for the first time on the IRC programme, and ends with November's Rally of Scotland. No fewer than six front-running 207s are capable of winning this year's Monte Carlo and, while Peugeot has until now pinned its faith in its customer, subsidiary and privateer programmes, the firm will be officially represented on the winter classic by a factory-run 207 Super 2000 for the first time. The car will be in the hands of Stephane Sarrazin.
It was in September 2008 that Peugeot Sport revealed its plans for a rally programme aimed at supporting the 207's success as the European market's best-selling B-segment car. With backing from Peugeot France and the Automobiles Peugeot Dealers Association, it was decided to enter a 207 Super 2000 for Stephane Sarrazin on last year's Rallye d'Antibes as part of the squad's build-up to the 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo, given that both events use similar stages. Stephane quickly demonstrated that he had lost nothing of the ability he showed during his WRC days by finishing on the heels of winner Nicolas Vouilloz in Antibes.
Unsurprisingly, the eclectic Frenchman is extremely fired up at the prospect of starting the 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo: "We spent three days testing before the end-of-year festivities and I am very pleased with the job we were able to do," enthused Stephane during recce for this year IRC curtain-raiser. "The stages were either snowy or very wet, so that gave us an opportunity to run in a broad cross-section of conditions. It also enabled us to work through the different tyre options provided by BFGoodrich. It was the 207 Super 2000's first encounter with snow, so the Sochaux factory, which produces all Peugeot's road car dampers, supplied us with a suspension for snow and that functioned very well. I'm expecting the going to be quite varied, but I don't see that as a problem since I obtained some good results in similar conditions on both the 2005 and 2006 Montes."
The second Frenchman in the fleet of eight 207 Super 2000s that will line up for the start of the 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo is last year's IRC champion, Nicolas Vouilloz, who will be defending the colours of Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg: "Given the recent spell of wintry weather, I think we can look forward to a traditional Monte Carlo. I'm sure it will be a tough event, and tyre choices promise to be decisive. On a loop of three stages, for example, there is a chance that two will be dry, with the last one partially snowy. It will be important that all the Peugeot drivers work together with a view to winning this rally for the brand. BFGoodrich will also be a valuable ally thanks to its experience of this event through its past involvement in the WRC. I am personally thrilled at the idea of contesting this legendary rally. I did it in 2004 driving a 206 WRC, but I didn't get very far! I feel confident this time, though, because the 207 Super 2000 has stood out through its reliability in the past two years. It is a robust car, and that will be a key asset on the Monte Carlo which features some very long road sections. The event has attracted a very strong entry, too, both in driver terms with perhaps 10 potential winners and on the manufacturers' front. The performance of the cars is very similar."
Another Frenchman learnt just 10 days before the start that he, too, would be taking part in the Rallye Monte-Carlo at the wheel of a 207 Super 2000. Indeed, a panel of French journalists chose the recently- crowned Junior World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier from a shortlist of five drivers to fly the BFGoodrich Drivers Team flag on the event in a Kronos Racing-run 207: "That was fantastic news," he enthuses. "I wasn't expecting to be chosen, although it was a dream I had been nurturing! I would like to thank BFGoodrich for putting together this programme which is an exceptional opportunity for young drivers like myself, and also for putting their confidence in me. I will do my very best not to let them down."
Sebastien Ogier will be given two days of testing with Kronos Racing in order to familiarise himself with the 207 Super 2000 which is entirely new to him. At Kronos Racing, he will join Nicolas Vouilloz and Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg's other driver, Belgium's Freddy Loix, winner of three IRC rounds in 2008, as well as Peugeot UK's Chris Meeke who is also scheduled to contest every round of this year's IRC.
Finally, former World Champion Didier Auriol could well profit from his considerable experience of the Monte Carlo to spring a surprise. Even at the age of 50, Didier Auriol recently demonstrated that he still has the speed, and his Monte wins in 1990, 1992 and 1993 will give him an edge that might prove decisive on the event's 350km of special stages. His 207 Super 2000 will be run by the Italian outfit Grifone, while two other 207 Super 2000s have been entered by Italy's Tobia Cavallini and Slovenian driver Andrej Jereb.
"It is no secret that the Rallye Monte Carlo is one of the most complex rallies imaginable," says Peugeot Sport Director Olivier Quesnel, "especially regarding tyre choices which can be tough to call for loops of stages that feature contrasting conditions. The variety of the terrain means that the stages are likely to be very treacherous, too, so it is difficult to pick out a winner. That said, I have the utmost confidence in the ability of Peugeot Sport and Kronos Racing who both boast significant experience of the event and of the 207 Super 2000 which has shown itself to be quick and reliable since its launch, in all types of conditions. I hope the Monte Carlo will mark the start of another successful year in the IRC for our Belgian and British subsidiaries, as well as for our privateer customers who have invested in this series which is growing every year thanks to the efforts of Eurosport."
77th RALLYE MONTE-CARLO / PRACTICAL INFORMATION
1985: Peugeot's most recent win on the Rallye Monte-Carlo with Ari Vatanen (Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Evo1).
Eight Peugeot 207 Super 2000s entered for the 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo
- No.1: Nicolas VOUILLOZ (32) / Nicolas KLINGER: The reigning IRC champions' car is entered by Peugeot Belgium and run by Kronos Racing.
- No.4: Freddy LOIX (38) / Isidoor SMETS: The Peugeot Belgium-entered car of the Belgian crew which came second in the 2008 IRC is run by Kronos Racing.
- No.7: Stephane SARRAZIN (33) / Jacques Julien RENUCCI: The French all-rounder is entered by Peugeot Sport. Stephane Sarrazin's eclectic record includes seven Le Mans 24 Hours starts, one Formula 1 Grand Prix and 15 World Rally Championship starts.
- No.8: Didier AURIOL (50) / Denis GIRAUDET: The 1994 World Champion and three- time French Rally Champion (1986, 1987 and 1988) has won the Rallye Monte-Carlo on three occasions (1990, 1992 and 1993). His car is run this time round by the Italian-based outfit Grifone. Didier Auriol was a member of the works Peugeot line-up in the 2001 World Rally Championship driving a 206 WRC.
- No.9: Sebastien OGIER (25) / Julien INGRASSIA: Sebastien Ogier is the defending Junior World Rally Champion and was chosen by a panel of journalists to represent BFGoodrich in a Kronos Racing car. This will be his first attempt at the Rallye Monte- Carlo, but it is not the first time he has driven a Peugeot since he won the Peugeot- organised 'Volant 206' in 2007.
- No.12: Kris MEEKE (29) / Paul NAGLE: The British crew is entered by Peugeot UK in a car tended by Kronos Racing. Kris has already contested the Monte Carlo on several occasions and won the Junior-WRC classification on the event in 2005.
- No.16: Tobia CAVALLINI (35) / Flavio ZANELLA: This Italian pairing is entered by Racing Lions, the team which took Luca Rossetti and his 207 Super 2000 to Italian and European rally titles in 2008. Tobia has taken part in a number of single-make competitions since his rally debut in 1993.
- No.27: Andrej JEREB (35) / Miran KACIN: The Slovenians are running in the colours of Friul Motor. Andrej has already contested several rounds of the World Rally Championship, including the Acropolis, Sweden, New Zealand, Argentina and the Monte Carlo (2006).
Live television coverage on Eurosport Wednesday, January 21: @4pm-5pm (Eurosport)
Thursday, January 22: @10.30am-11.15am (Eurosport 2) @3.45pm-4.30pm (Eurosport)
Friday, January 23: @7.30pm-9.15pm (Eurosport 2) @11pm-1am Saturday (Eurosport)
PEUGEOT AND THE RALLYE MONTE-CARLO
From the very early days of the automobile industry, Peugeot's name was closely linked with many of the era's great sporting occasions. It was in circuit racing, however, that the brand earned its first major laurels, thanks notably to Indianapolis 500 wins in 1913, 1916 and 1919, Grand Prix de l'ACF victories in 1912 and 1913, and French Grand Prix success in 1912. It was much later that Peugeot started to turn its attention to long distance rallying in the form of customer programmes on events such as the Liège-Rome-Liège, the Mille Miglia, the Rallye du Maroc and the Tour of Australia, initially with the 203. The marque then went on to win the East African Safari four times with the 404 entered by its Kenyan importer.
Peugeot's official debut came with the entry of the 504 on African classics like the Safari, the Rallye de Côte d'Ivoire and the Rallye du Maroc, yet its motor sport activities continued to be confined to these marathon-type events which showcased the legendary reliability of its models. There was still no question of the marque entering European-style rallies.
It was only with the arrival of the 205 and the introduction of its sophisticated competition derivative, the 205 Turbo 16, that Peugeot decided to take on the challenge of rallying at its highest level, namely the World Rally Championship.
The 1985 Rallye Monte-Carlo: Peugeot's only Monte win to date. After profiting from the a limited programme in 1984 to fine-tune the fledgling 205 Turbo 16 (a period which nonetheless bagged three wins), the new car kicked off its first full WRC campaign in 1985 in the hands of Ari Vatanen whose programme began with the Rallye Monte-Carlo. After a cautious start, the Finn succeeded in homing in on early leader Walter Rohrl (Audi) before building up a lead of more than three minutes by the halt in Gap, while the rest of the field was way back. Vatanen's co-driver Terry Harryman then got his sums wrong at the Gap in-control, however, and checked in four minutes early. The ensuing eight-minute time penalty dropped the Peugeot to second overall, 4m 41s behind the Audi!
The following day saw Ari Vatanen set off in maximum attack mode, gradually clawing back time from his German rival who, under pressure, made a poor tyre call for the Col St Raphael stage. That error handed a last-minute win to the 205 Turbo 16 which even took Peugeot's staff by surprise!
To this day, that win remains Peugeot's sole success on the Rallye Monte-Carlo. Despite claiming three Manufacturers' titles and 24 wins, the 206 WRC never succeeded in winning in the Principality. Nor did the 307 WRC.