The glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo provides the appropriate setting for the opening salvos of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship next week. The chic designer shops and expensive restaurants of Monaco offer a glittering backdrop to the Monte...
The glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo provides the appropriate setting for the opening salvos of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship next week. The chic designer shops and expensive restaurants of Monaco offer a glittering backdrop to the Monte Carlo Rally (18 - 21 January), but it is the bleak and inhospitable mountain roads high in the Alps that offer the first test of the season for the new-look Ford Martini World Rally team.
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and 2000 team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya have been joined by François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup for 2001 to provide the strongest driver line-up of any of the seven manufacturers competing in the 14-round championship. An improved car, renamed the Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, a new livery and a switch to Pirelli tyres adds to the fresh look.
While the rich and famous try their luck in Monte Carlo's famous casino, a huge testing programme encompassing Spain, France, Sweden and Britain, has ensured Ford has left little to chance for the most famous rally in the world - and certainly the most unpredictable. Although the asphalt special stages are not difficult, rapidly changing conditions can create tyre selection problems experienced on no other event in the series (see below).
Sainz is a Monte Carlo veteran. He has three victories (1991, 1995 and 1998) from 11 starts and understands the complexities of the rally as well as anyone. "New regulations restrict our choice of tyre patterns to just two, with two more for snow. The rules may have reduced the choice available but with compounds and cuts to consider there's still more than enough to think about," he said.
"Pirelli have traditionally been good in Monte Carlo and I see no reason why this year should be different. I'm confident Ford can be competitive straight away on the new rubber, although we'll need time to learn the product and Pirelli will need time to adapt their tyres to the Focus," added the 38-year-old Spaniard.
McRae, who has a home in Monte Carlo, is chasing his first win on the rally. "The stages are quite fast and bumpy in places and because of the speed it makes them quite tricky. The prospect of snow and ice adds to the problems so it can be a difficult rally. We're in the hands of the Gods as far as conditions are concerned and there'll be sections on which we have to drive with tyres that are far from ideal. In that sense the rally still remains a little bit of a lottery.
"The big thing for this year is the improvement in Cosworth Racing's engine. The rules mean teams can't really make massive improvements but even small gains can be crucial. Our new engine has more power at the top end while the response and torque has also improved so I'm pretty happy with that," he added.
Delecour and Grataloup will make their competitive debut in the Focus, boosted by two days' testing near Gap earlier this month. The 38-year-old French driver has a superb Monte Carlo record, winning for Ford in 1994 and finishing second in 1993, 1995 and 1996.
"I was very impressed with the Focus during testing. The performance of the car was excellent and now I can't wait for the start of the rally. It's a rally I enjoy and although this will be my first rally in the Focus, I really think a top three result is possible," said Delecour.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson enters the season in confident mood. "Last season's championship position and performances were the best by Ford for seven years. We must capitalise on that platform by continuing to move forward, with our sights set on a championship title at the end of the season. We're delighted with the performance of the new car in testing but rallying is so competitive now that we must keep improving to maintain our edge."
Challenge of the Monte Carlo Rally
The uncertainty of the weather in the Alps is the biggest difficulty facing drivers. Stages are usually run in pairs so competitors can tackle the first of the group in gloomy conditions on wet asphalt. However, the next, perhaps on the other side of a mountain, can be dry but treacherously icy at low level, before turning to full snow as it climbs - a situation encapsulated by the famous Sisteron stage, tackled twice during the second leg.
These conditions make tyre selection incredibly difficult. In such rapidly changing conditions, there is frequently no such thing as 'the perfect tyre choice', drivers and engineers from Pirelli striving to find a compromise option which costs least time on sections in which the rubber proves unsuitable.
The situation is complicated as tyre selection must often be made two hours before drivers tackle the second test in a group, during which time conditions can change quickly. In such circumstances information on road and weather conditions obtained by team ice note crews is invaluable. Allowed to drive the stages up to two hours before the start the ice crews relay by radio details of the latest conditions to the drivers to assist with tyre choice.
The most compact Monte Carlo Rally ever, with just 15 stages (seven of which are repeated) and each overnight halt back in the Principality, awaits the restricted 60-car entry. After a ceremonial start outside Monte Carlo's famous casino on Thursday evening, the next day's leg, the longest, heads to the mountains for six stages based around St Andre-les-Alpes. Leg 2 takes competitors back to the same area for five more stages, the majority slightly further north around Digne-les-Bains, including a double run over the feared Sisteron, at almost 37km the longest and toughest stage of the rally. The final day is based around Sospel, just north of Monte Carlo, during which drivers will twice tackle the famous Col de Turini section. Drivers face 392.18km of competition in a total route of 1745.48km.
<pre> MONTE CARLO RALLY ROUTE AND SCHEDULE
ROUND 1 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 18 - 21 JANUARY 2001
Stage km Total km Time Thursday 18 January: Leg 1 Monaco - Monaco Start Monaco 18.30 Finish Monaco 18.40 2.00
Friday 19 January: Leg 1 (cont.) Monaco - Monaco Start Monaco 07.00 SS1 Roquesteron 22.89 10.03 SS2 Saint Pierre-Entrevaux 30.34 10.46 SS3 Roquesteron 22.89 13.19 SS4 Saint Pierre-Entrevaux 30.34 14.02 SS5 Comps-Castellane 20.57 17.03 SS6 Cluman-Lambruisse 14.75 18.09 Finish Monaco 21.30 Total 141.78 656.98 Saturday 20 January: Leg 2 Monaco - Monaco Start Monaco 06.00 SS7 Turriers 24.12 09.53 SS8 Sisteron-Thoard 36.69 11.06 SS9 Clumanc-Lambruisse 14.75 13.34 SS10 Comps-Castellane 20.57 15.07 SS11 Sisteron-Thoard 36.69 18.00 Finish Monaco 22.40 Total 132.82 804.08
Sunday 21 January: Leg 3 Monaco - Monaco Start Monaco 08.00 SS12 Sospel-La Bollene 32.72 08.58 SS13 Loda-Coaraze 22.84 09.51 SS14 Sospel-La Bollene 32.72 12.18 SS15 Loda-Coaraze 22.84 13.11 Finish Monaco 15.15 Total 111.12 284.42
Rally total 392.18 1745.48