BFGoodrich's official WRC debut
5, 4, 3, 2, 1... At 8.33am on Friday January 20th 2006, BFGoodrich® Tires will officially take the start of a World Rally Championship qualifying round for the very first time. And it's no ordinary event the firm has chosen for this debut either, since the Monte Carlo is probably the most prestigious rally of them all. But for the BFGoodrich brand's senior management, the emotion of the moment will soon give way to the tension that always precedes the pitiless verdict of the stop watch. A large number of official and private teams representing such illustrious motor manufacturers as Citroën, Ford, Peugeot and Skoda have all joined forces with BFGoodrich to take them to the summit of world class rallying against what promises to be some very stiff opposition.
BFGoodrich's first steps in the WRC coincide with the return of privateer outfits as a leading force, as well as a new championship format featuring two categories (Manufacturers 1 and Manufacturers 2) and more basic technical regulations, including the outlawing of active differentials for seeded drivers, etc. Certain observers will point out that the reigning, two-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb will still be driving a Citroën Xsara WRC and that BFGoodrich tyres use technology that proved its worth in 2005. However, the reality of the situation is far more complex than it may seem...
Sébastien Loeb, for example, will be competing in a very different environment, with a new team (Kronos Total Citroën) and a different specification car to whose reactions he is perhaps a little less accustomed. He obviously won't be starting from a completely fresh sheet of paper, but it is a new situation to which he will need to adapt.
This remark also applies to the tyres. BFGoodrich will clearly be able to benefit from the Group's experience and expertise in the World Rally Championship, yet the brand still goes to its maiden outing with some innovations up its sleeve..."When Airbus comes out with a new plane, there is always a sense of taking a step into the unknown, despite its years of experience, despite the skill of its engineers and technicians and despite the existence of validated components, etc.," says BFGoodrich's Rallies Programme Manager
Aimé Chatard. "It's a similar situation for BFGoodrich. For example, we will have an evolution of our soft compound tyre [g-Force Profiler 0+] which our partnerdrivers validated during winter testing. It's a BFGoodrich tyre in its own right."
Considered by many to be the most difficult and most unpredictable encounter of the calendar, the Monte Carlo Rally is once again likely to live up to its reputation this time round. Last year, the weather at the end of January in the mountains that tower over the French Riviera was exceptionally mild and the stages were practically entirely dry, but snow fell in abundance over the region the day after the finish!
This year, the northernmost stages ('St. Sauveur sur Tinée-Beuil' and 'Guillaumes-Valberg') are situated in the Mercantour National Park and could well spring a few surprises for the drivers who will have to choose their tyres during service in Monaco -- some 80km distant -- more than three hours before they start the final stage of the loop. The legendary 'Col du Turini' test and the climb up to the 'Col St. Roch' could also prove delicate, not to mention the traditionally treacherous icy portions between St. Antonin and Toudon.
The challenge of Monte Carlo Rally for tyres
Competitors have to choose their tyres at service, on the harbour side at Monaco, up to three hours prior to stage starts, and for groups of two or sometimes three stages at a time. However, weather conditions can easily change between the passing of the ice note crews through the stages and that of the competitors; patches of ice noted at dawn could well melt in the course of the morning or, even more treacherous, ice can actually form on north-facing slopes at daybreak. To help them make their choice, competitors use the services of ice note crews who cover the stages before they start and note down any hazards they come across. BFGoodrich runners can also rely on BFGoodrich's own information crews who describe in detail the state of the surface of the entire stage before passing on their findings to the teams to help in tyre choice decision.
The Monte Carlo Rally is always about compromise. The crews need to reason in groups of stages and must take a long list of parameters into account, such as what percentage of the road is covered in ice, what proportion is dry or where the icy patches are situated? To cover all the possible combinations, BFGoodrich runners can choose between eleven different types of tyre.
This year's Monte Carlo promises to produce another thrilling scrap between Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën Xsara WRC/BFGoodrich) and Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen (Ford Focus WRC06/BFGoodrich). But the two double World Champions can also expect strong challenges from the likes of Petter Solberg (Subaru), as well as from a long list of other highly experienced drivers (Gardemeister, Panizzi, etc.).
QUOTA -- The system of a maximum tyre quota per driver for individual events was introduced for the WRC in 2005. In the case of the Monte Carlo Rally, crews registered for the Manufacturer 1 Championship may nominate a maximum of 80 asphalt tyres and 40 'snow' tyres. Lists had to be registered before January 16th (January 17th in the case of Manufacturer 2 entries). Only 50 of these tyres may actually be used during the event.
EVOLUTION -- During winter testing, BFGoodrich's drivers validated an evolution of the soft compound dry asphalt tyre (g-Force Profiler 0+). Because of the very late entry of certain teams (end of December), this evolution will not be available for teams entered in the M2 Championship.
HALF A CENTURY -- Studded tyres (using 'Vaillant' studs) were first seen on the Monte Carlo Rally on a Citroën DS19 in 1956. Fifty years later, the use of studs on the event has become a somewhat rare occurrence, a situation that led the FIA to outlaw narrow studded tyres in 2005.
NEWS FROM OUR PARTNERS
Kronos Total Citroën (M1) -- The Belgian team has been appointed by Citroën to run its rallies programme in 2006. Three Xsara WRCs have been entered for the Monte Carlo Rally. Kronos and Michelin emerged as the most successful private team of the 2005 season (two podium finishes).
Ford BP Rallyesport (M1) -- Ford and BFGoodrich, who collaborate in a variety of motor sport disciplines, are also partners in world class rallying. Following the team's winter test programme, Marcus Grönholm said he felt very confident with his new car, the Ford Focus WRC06.
OMV Peugeot Norway (M2) -- Two Peugeot 307s have been entered by French operation Bozian Racing, for a long time Peugeot Sport's satellite team in the WRC. Bozian Racing and the technicians from Clermont-Ferrand have many years' experience working together.
Red Bull Skoda Racing (M2) -- Rally drivers Raimund Baumschlager and Armin Schwarz will run this newlyformed team which features the young Austrian driver Andreas Aigner and asphalt expert Gilles Panizzi.