World's most famous rally starts season for Skoda Motorsport
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.
The Monte Carlo Rally organisers have created possibly the most compact route in the event's 72-year history. It also means that even more of the stages that made the event famous have been lost through the absence of a remote service park for the first time. Without stages such as Sisteron (where the section began in a valley and then climbed over the mountain to finish in another valley) the likelihood of competitors encountering the classic Monte Carlo mixture of dry and wet asphalt, ice and snow all in one single stage has been considerably reduced and this year's event could quite possibly be a completely dry rally.
Armin Schwarz said: "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 said: "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."
Head of the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team, Martin Muehlmeier, said: "Everyone in the team is looking forward to the new season although it will be tough with 16 events and six manufacturer teams. We have prepared well for Monte Carlo with over 1000kms of testing behind us. Armin knows the event very well and I will be very interested to see how our new driver, Alex, performs on what is actually quite a new rally for him."
For the first two rallies of 2005 there will be no major technical changes to the Skoda Fabia WRC. An interim homologation was made to the car just before last season's Rallye d'Italia-Sardinia and a further homologation is planned that will see further revisions to the car in time for Rally Mexico in March.
For 2005 all crews in official manufacturer-entered cars will have to use the HANS (Head And Neck Support) system. This is a device that rests on the shoulders and attaches to the helmet to reduce injuries to the neck. It is a familiar piece of equipment in Formula 1 and Indy Car racing but this is the first time that it has been used in rallying.
Monte Carlo Rally in detail:
The Monte Carlo Rally is based in the Principality of Monaco although all of the competitive sections actually take place in France. New for 2005, however, is a single service area around the swimming pool complex of the famous Grand Prix track. In previous years at least one leg of the event had a remote service park.
Following the traditional ceremonial start in front of the famous Casino on Thursday evening the rally begins properly on Friday with four stages (108.51kms in a day's route of 483.63kms) including two runs over the longest stage of the event, the 32.71kms section between Lantosque and Col de Braus. Saturday's second leg includes five stages totalling 128.48kms (leg total 562.04kms) while Sunday brings the event to a close with a further five stages including visits to the famous Col du Turini where rally fans gather in their thousands at the Col to cheer their heroes. Sunday's stages total 116.08kms in a leg total of 314.46kms. The event finishes in Casino Square at approximately 3.30pm.