Ford's asphalt winner offers tempting start for new squad 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 ...
Ford's asphalt winner offers tempting start for new squad
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.
The oldest event in the championship calendar is based much further south than 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.
However, the changes do not mean the rally will be easy. While the glitzy and glamorous playground of the rich and famous, home to chic shops and fine hotels, provides the ideal backdrop for the first of the 16 rounds, bleak and inhospitable roads in the Alps is where the BP-Ford duo will fight their battles behind the wheel.
Essentially an asphalt event on technically straight-forward roads, the Monte Carlo Rally can be the most difficult of the season because of the unpredictable weather. Drivers can face bone dry roads, streaming wet asphalt and treacherous ice, with the chance of snow. They can often encounter all on the same special stage as the route climbs and descends mountain cols, switching from southern facing roads sheltered from the extreme weather to exposed northern ones. There is no perfect tyre choice for such mixed conditions and the secret for success is selecting compromise rubber which loses least time in the 'wrong' conditions.
Information from the team's ice note crews will be crucial. Allowed to drive the stages several hours before competitors, these crews, who are experienced rally drivers, relay details on road and weather conditions back to the team. BP-Ford tyre engineer George Black and engineers from tyre partner Michelin will interpret the data to offer the best advice on which rubber to choose.
However, the demanding nature of the event holds no fears for 29-year-old Gardemeister or 28-year-old Kresta.
"On rallies with difficult weather, I seem to get good results so I hope that will be the case here," said Gardemeister. "We can be sure that at some point we'll have tyres that are not perfect for the conditions. Our ice note crews drive the stages more than two hours before we have to make our tyre selection. Although their information will be accurate at the time, the weather can change so quickly that conditions are totally different. It's never nice to be on unsuitable tyres so it will be important to set my speed accordingly. To try to drive at 100 per cent when the tyres are not suited to the conditions can bring nasty surprises.
"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," added the Finn whose best result from his five Monte Carlo starts was fourth in 2000," he added.
This will be Kresta's fourth start on this event. "I prefer driving in mixed conditions," said the Czech. "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. We have a very professional crew and George Black is one of the best and most experienced tyre engineers in the championship so I feel confident that we will have the best information available.
"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," he added.
* BP will continue to be Ford's principal partner in WRC. The energy company and Ford have signed a new two-year agreement and newly-liveried cars will make their debut in Monte Carlo. Gardemeister will drive a Castrol-branded Focus RS while Kresta's car will carry BP Ultimate colours.
* Gardemeister and Kresta will both test in southern France before the recce. The Finn, who also carried out tyre testing at Ales circuit on Wednesday, will drive tomorrow (Saturday). Kresta will drive on Sunday and share testing duties on Monday with Antony Warmbold, who will drive a third BP-Ford entered Focus RS WRC on the rally.
* Both Gardemeister and Kresta made their first public appearances for Ford at this week's Autosport International Show in Birmingham. The drivers were joined by Ford TeamRS director Jost Capito as Ford showcased its motorsport programmes for 2005.
* Both BP-Ford drivers and co-drivers spent last week in M-Sport's workshops assisting with the build of their Monte Carlo entry cars. As rookie 'technicians', they were learning the intricacies of their Focus RS WRCs and acclimatising themselves with the mechanical layout of the vehicles.
* Ford of Europe has committed to remain in the FIA World Rally Championship for at least the next four years. Last November, the company confirmed it would work with partner M-Sport to develop an all-new Ford Focus RS WRC contender for introduction in 2006.
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.