Ford starts world title bid on Monte Carlo Rally Glamorous Monte Carlo offers the appropriate setting for the opening duels in the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship less than eight weeks after the dramatic climax to the 2001 campaign. The chic...
Ford starts world title bid on Monte Carlo Rally
Glamorous Monte Carlo offers the appropriate setting for the opening duels in the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship less than eight weeks after the dramatic climax to the 2001 campaign. The chic shops, fine hotels and glitzy scenery provide a perfect backdrop to the Monte Carlo Rally but it is the bleak and inhospitable mountain roads high in the Alps that supply the first test of the season for the Ford Rallye Sport squad.
Ford's rally activities will have a fresh look and a new style, the company adopting a new name - Ford Rallye Sport - for the team to reflect its current competition activity. Furthermore, this year's championship is set to reach unrivalled heights worldwide thanks to improved television coverage and keen promotion aimed at unlocking the excitement of the sport.
Ford Rallye Sport will debut a new evolution version of the Focus RS World Rally Car which claimed second place in last season's manufacturers' championship. Outwardly quite similar to the 2001 car, improvements to the engine and an all-new electronics system have produced a lighter, faster challenger. The Focus also boats a totally revised dashboard display system.
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist and team-mates Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya again provide the speed and experience at the head of the team. This year they will be supported by Markko Martin and Michael Park, the young Estonian driver tipped as a star of the future and a man whose signature was fought for by five teams.
The Monte Carlo Rally, the most famous in the world, is also the most unpredictable. Essentially an asphalt event over roads technically quite simple, rapidly changing weather conditions in the mountains create tyre selection problems unmatched on any other rally.
Drivers can face wet asphalt, treacherous ice and full snow all on the same special stage as the route climbs and descends mountain cols, switching from southern facing roads sheltered from extreme weather to exposed northern facing ones. There is no single tyre perfectly suited to such a variety of conditions. Ford's drivers and engineers from tyre partner Pirelli will strive to find compromise rubber which loses least time on sections with a complex mixture of snow, ice and asphalt.
Information provided by the team's ice note crews is crucial. Allowed to drive the stages two hours before the competitors, these crews, who are experienced rally drivers, relay information back to the team about the road and weather conditions to give drivers the best possible chance of making a good tyre choice.
"We rely 100% on the information from the ice note crew so its important to have experts doing the job," said 39-year-old Sainz, winner in Monte Carlo in 1991, 1995 and 1998. "My crew will often make a suggestion as to the best tyre but I prefer to have a full report from them and then make my own decision. It's one of the most difficult rallies in the championship because the conditions can be quite tricky. It's very important to have a good knowledge of the tyres available."
McRae, who looked set for victory in Monte Carlo last season until retirement on the final stage when leading, also appreciates the complexities of the event. "The stages themselves are not too difficult but the changing weather conditions make the rally a bit of a lottery. We've made improvements to the Focus in several areas but because it is an evolution of the 2001 version, we have the solid base of last year's Focus, which won three rallies, to build on rather than the unpredictable nature of a totally new car."
For Martin, everything will be new on his debut drive for the team. The 26-year-old retired before the first stage on last year's event and said: "I have no real memories of last year's rally, and those I do have, I prefer to forget. I'm looking forward to the event to see for myself exactly what the Monte Carlo Rally means. It's difficult because I don't know what to expect so I will feel better when I actually start a stage, see how it feels and try to learn.
"My ice note driver is Henrik Lundgaard, last season's FIA Teams Cup champion, so he will give me valuable advice. To reach the finish on my first rally with the Ford team would be success. My aim is always to help the team but in Monte Carlo, my lack of knowledge means I can't help that much and I'm looking for help from them," he said.
FIA Junior World Championship
Seven Ford Puma Super 1600 cars will tackle the newly named Junior World Championship, which begins in Monte Carlo, headed by young Belgian Francois Duval. The 21-year-old starts as one of the favourites for the title after impressing during last year's series. Other likely front-runners in Pumas include British Formula Rally champion Martin Rowe, Spain's Marc Blazquez and Sweden's Daniel Carlsson. The difficulties of the rally created by the ever-changing conditions create an even bigger challenge for the juniors who are allowed no more than four mechanics working on each car.
In The Spotlight
One of the highlights of the Monte Carlo Rally is the Col de Turini, a mountain top pass which acts as a magnet to fans. "It's absolutely packed there every year," explained Grist. "It's about 1700m high and there's generally quite a bit of snow about. Even if the roads are clear the spectators will always move snow from the snow banks at the sides of the road onto the stage to increase their fun. The atmosphere is amazing. On the short 75m straight at the top of the col itself there's horns blowing, people shouting and cheering and snowballs being thrown. It's a real party feeling."
After a ceremonial start outside Monte Carlo's famous Casino on Thursday evening, the rally heads high into the mountains the next day for the opening leg, the longest of the rally. Based around Digne-les-Bains and twice tackling the feared 36.73km Sisteron test, drivers face more than 700km in a 14-hour day. Both the final two legs are based at the swimming pool complex on Monaco's illustrious Grand Prix circuit, with the competition taking place in the mountains behind the Principality. The famous Col de Turini section will be tackled four times during the final two legs, twice in each direction. Competitors face 388.38km of stages in a total route of 1461.26km.