Rally Monte Carlo Preview The oldest event in the championship calendar is based much further south than ever before. It ventures no further north than the southern Alpine mountains high above Monaco and temperatures will therefore be higher.
Rally Monte Carlo Preview
The oldest event in the championship calendar is based much further south than ever before. It ventures no further north than the southern Alpine mountains high above Monaco and temperatures will therefore be higher. While treacherous ice can still be expected, there is less chance of snow and more prospect of cleaner roads.
Traditionally the season opener, Monte Carlo is always an exciting time of year with many new team and driver combinations as well as new cars. This time out we can expect to see 2005 versions of the Peugeot 307 and Mitsubishi Lancer WRCs, whilst no team is running with the same driver lineup as last year.
World Champions Citroen and Sebastien Loeb are joined by ex-Ford man Francois Duval, in to replace the retiring Carlos Sainz, whilst the other Ford driver of 2004, Markko Martin joins PSA stablemate Peugeot. In at Ford to replace them are an all new lineup of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta, whilst Subaru have dropped Mikko Hirvonen and replaced him with Stephane Sarrazin and Australian rising star Chris Atkinson. Mitsubishi have retained Gilles Panizzi but No.1 in the team is now ex-Peugeot man Harri Rovanpera. Skoda, returning to the WRC for a full 16 event programme, retain Armin Schwarz as no.1, the German set to be joined by a combination of no less than 5 other drivers throughout 2005.
Can Citroen make it a Monte Carlo hat-trick when what's probably the most famous rally in the world kicks-off this weekend? Sebastien Loeb, the newly crowned World Rally Champion, dominated the event in his Citroen Xsara WRC in 2002, lead Citroen to an amazing 1-2-3 win in 2003 and returned in 2004 to win the event again, so there is little doubt that Loeb will start this year's event as the favourite to win yet again.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "I have to accept the role of favourite. There's even a nice side to it. I'm getting used to the pressure that goes with it, but I remain in control. All good runs come to an end some time and I tell myself that this one will too. On the other hand, the complexity of the Monte Carlo is such that, more than anywhere else, winning is a team effort. And we have a strong team, made even stronger by its recent record on this event. So although I am totally aware that anything can happen, I feel confident. More confident than last year."
Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: "I spent two days testing in December near Roquesteron and the Col St. Jean and it didn't take long for me to feel comfortable with the car which is predictable and nicely balanced. It doesn't pose any problems in particular. After testing in Sweden, I spent two more days in the French Alps, again near Roquesteron and at the Col de Perty, and they just confirmed my first impressions. After something like 1,000 km in the car, I can say I feel very much at home in the Xsara."
The Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars in the Rallye Monte Carlo. Petter Solberg has contested the Monte Carlo event four times previously and is looking to improve on his best finish so far, sixth place, achieved in 2002. At the wheel of the second Subaru will be ex-formula one driver, Stephane Sarrazin. Together with Australia's Chris Atkinson, Stephane is embarking on his first season with Subaru - a team that has a long history of developing the careers of talented newcomers. Chris Atkinson will drive the stages of the Monte Carlo Rally when he completes the pre-event reconnaissance. His first competitive outing with the team will be in Sweden.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "It's great to be at the start of a new season. Up to now Monte Carlo has not been such a good event for me, but I can't wait to get back behind the wheel and be fighting for Championship points. I like the rally and, this year, hope to make it to the podium. In terms of the season, my aim is to get the Drivers' title back again - I'm going to try and do everything correctly and not make any mistakes.
Stephane Sazzazin/Patrick Pivato: "Driving the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 feels very good, I have a nice feeling in the car and am starting to know it better. During the pre-event test we made lots of changes, the car was very reactive and now I'm confident as I know where to go. It's a good start for the race, but I can't say I will finish on the podium in Monte Carlo, as it's too early for me. The most important thing is to stay on the road and get more experience, so we will see."
BP-Ford World Rally Team's new driver line-up of Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek will step into the 'form' car when the FIA World Rally Championship begins in Monte Carlo next week. The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car dominated the final two asphalt events of 2004 to win in Corsica and Spain, and the new-look Monte Carlo Rally (20 - 23 January) could offer cleaner asphalt than in previous years to suit the team perfectly.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "On rallies with difficult weather, I seem to get good results so I hope that will be the case here. We can be sure that at some point we'll have tyres that are not perfect for the conditions. Despite the conditions, I like the stages. Apart from Spain, these are my favourite asphalt stages and I'm looking forward to driving them in the Focus. I tested the car in Sweden last month and will test in France this weekend. It took me some time to settle into the Focus because it's different from what I've driven before. But it seems easy to drive and if we find a good set-up I think all will be fine. Realistically I want to finish in the top six, but I also have a hope it can be top three."
Roman Kresta/Jan Tomanek: "Every year this rally offers difficult conditions but I drive well here. One of the most important aspects of this event is to have a good ice note crew. The Focus is very fast on asphalt and so this is a good rally to begin my career with Ford. The most important thing is to finish and gain as much experience of the car as I can. After that, my second target is a top six place. If I can achieve both of those I will be delighted."
Peugeot goes to the Principality with a 'new look' 307 WRC for the car's second year, as well as a new driver line-up led by Marcus Gronholm, who counts two Drivers' crowns to his name at the wheel of the 206 WRC, and new recruit Markko Martin. Peugeot's objective for the Monaco-based round couldn't be clearer: to get its season off to a flying start in its bid to retrieve the world crown that has escaped it for the past two years.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I believe we have a number of trump cards in our hands to succeed this year. Our most recent test work with the 307 WRC was particularly encouraging. The first encounter of the season - the Monte Carlo - probably won't be the easiest of course. It's still very much a fickle event when the weather and stage conditions are mixed. It's never much fun driving over snow or ice on slicks, although I have gained a lot of experience and confidence in this sort of situation."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "On paper, the Monte Carlo Rally should suit me. I finished 2nd last year and I have become increasingly competitive on asphalt in the past two years. That said, the Monte is still the most unpredictable round of the championship and my task will be made especially difficult by the fact that the team, car and tyres will all be new to me. So I have to be realistic, even though my first tests were extremely positive. The Peugeot 307 WRC seems very quick on asphalt and I am just keen to get on with the championship."
The Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team begins its 16-round 2005 World Rally Championship programme at the Monte Carlo Rally (January 19-23). The driver line-up in the Fabia WRC for the World's most famous rally will consist of Armin Schwarz and one of the team's three new signings for 2005, former French Champion Alex Bengue, for his first WRC outing in the Fabia.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "I am feeling quite confident about our performance in Monte Carlo. We had two very good tests (one before Christmas and another just after New Year) on lots of different surface conditions. The new route probably means that the worst weather we can expect is rain but that would actually be quite good for me and so I hope that this is the case."
Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero: "My tests went very well and we have made many adjustments. We worked on general balance and specifically the engine, the brakes and the differentials so that I could be more confident with the car. My style is very different to Armin so it would not be possible just to use his set-up. The shakedown before the rally will be very important to finalise settings but I have a very good feeling with the team. I cannot speak about the final result in Monte Carlo as this is only the second time I have competed on the rally and it is necessary for me to know the competition. My aim is to achieve the best possible result and be able to give maximum of information to my new team."
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports FIA World Rally Championship campaign for 2005 kicks off this week when team newcomers Harri Rovanpera and Risto Pietilainen join Gilles and Herve Panizzi for the start of Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 20-23), the traditional season-opening event. Both crews will be piloting the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 in what is considered to be one of the most unpredictable and treacherous rallies of the 16-round series that will take the six registered manufacturers to all four corners of the globe.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "This is a difficult rally, for sure, but also for me it will be my first Tarmac event since Sanremo in 2002; a long time ago. Monte-Carlo is always hard, but this year I also have a new car and tires so there are many things to feel a little bit nervous about. I hope the weather is snowy, but each year the rally gets closer and closer to Monaco so we will have to see. It's difficult to say what is possible because there are so many different factors specific to this event; Monte is Monte, that's all I can say! The feeling with the team is very good though. It is small, but because of this I already know everyone, and after the Swedish test I had a very nice feeling about everything".
Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "We have made a lot of progress with the car since last year, but it is impossible to say how we can do in Monte-Carlo. It is such a different and difficult event that anything can happen. Also we are running for the first time with Pirelli tires, so this is something very new for us. We will see, but for sure there is also a lot of luck involved with this rally. We will be aiming for a good result with the Lancer WRC05 in the first event of the new season though".
Monte Carlo's famous Casino Square, home to celebrity gamblers and big bets, is where the stakes will be raised when the championship begins with a ceremonial start on Thursday evening. This is the most compact Monte Carlo Rally ever. The competitive action is based entirely in the mountains above Monaco and Nice, cars returning to the Principality for service in Monaco harbour, alongside the Grand Prix circuit. Just five different stage venues will be used over the three days with some stretches of road used on five occasions in both directions. However, the opening stage is brand new and will also be the most northerly of the event. The final day twice crosses the famous Col de Turini but in the opposite direction to last year, meaning the spectacular gorge section near Moulinet will be downhill. Drivers will tackle 18 stages in total, covering 353.07km in a total route of 1360.13km.