Monte Carlo: Hyundai season opener preview

Hyundai crews hope for snow in season opener, Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer are hoping for snow as they head to southern Europe for the first round of the 2003 FIA World Rally ...

Hyundai crews hope for snow in season opener,

Hyundai World Rally Team crews Freddy Loix/Sven Smeets and Armin Schwarz/Manfred Hiemer are hoping for snow as they head to southern Europe for the first round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte Carlo, based in the affluent tax-haven of Monaco, running from 24 - 26 January.

Well-known as one of the toughest events of the series, 'The Monte' is a unique rally being the only one to cover all possible weather conditions. A crew can leave the coastal service park in Monaco harbour in bright sunshine and blue skies, and be faced by snow or ice by the time they reach the mountainous stages of the Alps.

For this reason it is imperative that each crew has the best information regarding the state of those stages as near as possible to entering them in order to make the most important decision that needs to be made - that of which tyres to use. The gravel crews whose job it is to provide their competing crew with up to date information regarding the conditions in the stage become even more important in Monte Carlo, as it can almost be guaranteed that the conditions will be different from when the crew made the original pace notes during the reconnaissance.

Armin Schwarz explains the importance of their ice/gravel crew, "I will speak to the gravel crew co-driver before the time control into service so we have as much time as possible to make the right tyre choice for the next set of stages. If that's not possible then we have to speak to them on the phone. They will give us a description of the conditions taking all the stages before the next service into consideration. For example, we might be told that we should expect 40% snow and ice, 10% slush and 50% humid or dry conditions. He will also advise how much of those road conditions are in uphill and downhill sections as that makes a big difference. Going uphill with a 4-wheel-drive rally car is almost always fine but you can lose a lot of time on the downhill sections. And you have to accept that you might be making a tyre choice that is more risky but faster."

The team advise Hyundai's tyre partner Michelin of which tyre types it chooses to nominate a few weeks in advance of the rally. Unlike most rallies where only two types can be used, Monte Carlo permits the use of additional snow and ice tyres, also making it only the second event in the Championship, other than Sweden, to allow studded tyres, essential for grip on snow and ice.

Snow tyres are narrow with studs set into the tyre surface in order to have as much pressure as possible in contact with the ground to break through the loose surface to get to a harder base for better grip. Although a crew may only encounter a small amount of snow, that snow needs to be addressed properly.

Sven Smeets, co-driver to Freddy Loix, echoes Armin's comments regarding the importance of tyres. "Tyres can make or break this rally and a right tyre choice can mean the difference between winning or losing the rally. The weather can change considerably making tyre choice vital."

As the conditions can change drastically in Monte Carlo the level of competition is much more even, as Freddy Loix explains, "When you are competing on a single surface it allows a good tarmac car, such as the Peugeot, a chance to be better than everybody else and the same on a gravel rally. But in Monte Carlo where everybody has to deal with conditions that are constantly changing and challenging you and tyre choice becomes so important based on the information from your ice and weather crews, it makes it more of a drivers rally.

Loix continued, "You never really have the perfect tyre for the conditions and you have to make up your mind when choosing the tyre where you want to try and gain the most time. To be honest it's a real challenge and a prestigious rally that everybody wants to win. Personally I would prefer more snow and ice as it makes tyre choice that bit easier - tyre decisions are very tricky when there is only a little snow. But I'm am feeling good and I am confident I can get out there and get some good results."

Armin added in conclusion, "Like a lot of the World Championship rallies we have lost the extremes and the event has changed a lot in the last few years. We no longer have the mountainous stages which were faster, bumpier and colder with a better chance of snow and all the stages are nearer to Monte Carlo itself. But I like the rally and we have gone well there in the past so I am really hoping we should be able to have a good run there this year."

The Rally

Leg one of the rally takes crews 231km northwest of Monaco to Tallard from where crews tackle three repeated stages around Gap, including the 47.27km Plan de Vitrolles-Faye, the longest stage of the event. Legs two and three cover only two stages each, again repeated, in the mountains north of Monte Carlo before crews return to the Monaco finish ramp at 15:00hrs. Monte Carlo is GMT+1 hour.


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Series WRC
Drivers Freddy Loix , Armin Schwarz , Sven Smeets