INTERCONTINENTAL RALLY CHALLENGE 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo
PEUGEOT OUT IN FORCE TO DEFEND ITS TITLE
With a field of no fewer than ten 207 Super 2000s on the 63-strong entry list for the 2010 Rallye Monte-Carlo, Peugeot is particularly well armed in its bid to repeat the one-two-three result it secured on last year's event. The ranks of the French firm are spearheaded by four cars in particular: the two 207 Super 2000s of last year's winner Sebastien Ogier and Stephane Sarrazin that will run in the colours of Peugeot France and the brand's national dealership association, plus the Peugeot UK-backed machine of the 2009 IRC champ Kris Meeke and Peugeot Portugal's entry for its national champion, Bruno Magalhaes.
The Rallye Monte-Carlo has always stood out as a unique event, and that comes across as soon as you hear the Peugeot contingent chatting about it. They all describe it as the most prestigious, the most magical, the most legendary and, above all, the toughest rally of them all.
"If the conditions are uniformly dry or damp, it's an asphalt event like any other, albeit with longer, more varied stages," observes Stephane Sarrazin. "It's when it snows, or when conditions become icy, with incessant changes in grip levels, that it really takes on its unique flavour."
It was this time last year that Stephane realised just how big a challenge it can be when a slow-speed error put him out of contention for victory. "I think I was competitive in the snow and on the clear asphalt, but it takes more than that to win the Monte Carlo. It's not simply about speed; not only do you need to be quick, but you also need to keep clear of the many pitfalls it can throw at you from start to finish. Just once, I failed to evaluate correctly the amount of grip I would have, and that was enough to put me out of the fight top spot."
Sarrazin's thoughts are echoed by the defending IRC Champion Kris Meeke who is driving the Peugeot UK-backed 207 S2000: "On the Monte Carlo, there is so much you've got to bear in mind. You need to stay concentrated all the time and even hold back at times, which isn't always that much fun. It's all about surviving. But when you reach the finish, in a good position, you feel a sense of satisfaction that you get nowhere else."
Sebastien Ogier couldn't agree more with Meeke's analysis, after the Gap-based driver secured the first win of his burgeoning career in Monaco in 2009. Despite winning just one stage in the course of the four-day event, he scored an emphatic win after emerging as the only front-runner to succeed in steering clear of the countless traps. "Winning the Monte Carlo calls for a cool head, patience and good tyre calls... plus a little luck" says Seb. "This year, I intend to apply the same strategy that worked so well for me last year. That involves accepting that you have to drop time in certain places if you are to gain time elsewhere."
Other drivers have set their sights less high, at least to start with. Peugeot Portugal's Bruno Magalhaes, for example, above all wants to reach the finish: "This event is completely new to me. I have no prior knowledge of the stages and, with the exception of a single day's testing, I have never driven on snow before. I intend to focus on the IRC in 2010, and the Rallye Monte Carlo is the first step in that learning process. I will start cautiously and try to pick up speed gradually..."
With more than 405km of competitive action on the menu, this year's Rallye Monte Carlo promises to be particularly complex. It is longer than any round of the WRC and the winter's particularly harsh weather promises to make conditions harder than ever.
Peugeot Sport has made details of specific settings available to all its customers to allow them to adapt their respective cars to spectrum of possible conditions.
"The Peugeot 207 S2000 is the ideal machine for winning," believes Ogier. "It is incredibly easy to drive and I am pretty sure that all the other drivers, like me, will opt for a set-up that delivers progressive, predictable handling. We will all be looking for a car that responds well and swiftly to what you ask it to do."
Sarrazin shares his fellow Frenchman's analysis: "I don't do much rallying nowadays, yet I feel as at home behind the wheel of my 207 S2000 as I do in the 908 HDi FAP. I am sure my rally instincts will return as I get to the first corner of the first stage..."
This year's Monte Carlo begins in style with two visits to the Ardèche Mountains on Wednesday January 20. This opening loop features two classic stages, namely Burzet and the awesome 45km run from Saint Pierreville to Antraigues.
"I don't think I've ever contested such a long stage," points out Kris Meeke. "You need to pace yourself and look after your tyres. The latter play a crucial role on the Monte. Tyre choices are a collective exercise which calls for an efficient organisation if you are to have access to up-to-date information about the conditions and the way they are likely to change."
The 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo runs from Tuesday January 19 until Saturday January 23, and starts not in Monaco, but in Valence. A short stage on the Tuesday evening in the Vercors mountains will determine Wednesday's start order, although it won't count towards the overall standings. Competitors will then spend two days in the Ardèche and Haute- Loire regions before eventually reaching Monaco via the Col de Perty test, another classic and the scene of much drama 12 months ago on Friday, January 22. The event ends after two night-time visits to the mountains that tower over the French Riviera, including two runs at the celebrated Col du Turini on the night of January 22-23.
-source: peugeot media