A Renewed Challenge For Peugeot In addition to being the World Rally Championship's traditional curtain-raiser, the Monte Carlo Rally is also one of the calendar's most prestigious events, and one all the drivers and teams dream of winning.
A Renewed Challenge For Peugeot
In addition to being the World Rally Championship's traditional curtain-raiser, the Monte Carlo Rally is also one of the calendar's most prestigious events, and one all the drivers and teams dream of winning. Peugeot goes to the Principality with a 'new look' 307 WRC for the car's second year, as well as a new driver line-up led by Marcus Gronholm, who counts two Drivers' crowns to his name at the wheel of the 206 WRC, and new recruit Markko Martin. Peugeot's objective for the Monaco-based round couldn't be clearer: to get its season off to a flying start in its bid to retrieve the world crown that has escaped it for the past two years.
Before turning this important page of its current period in rallying, a spell marked by five world titles (three Manufacturers', two Drivers'), the entire Peugeot squad is determined to do everything in its power to add a further crown to that list. With a field of six factory teams, however, they know the challenge they face is an ambitious one and that the 2005 campaign promises to be an exciting, closely fought affair. It will also be a very busy year since sixteen rounds are scheduled between January and November, a record figure reached last season when visits to Japan and Mexico were added to the already demanding calendar.
The Monte Carlo Rally will be the first chance to see the 'new look' 307 WRC in action following the car's evolution as a result of regulation changes introduced for 2005. The principal visible difference concerns its wider arches made necessary by an increase in its track dimensions (see interview with Michel Nandan attached to this release). On the technical front, Peugeot's partnership with Pirelli is also new. The Italian firm has extensive experience of the WRC. The most recent tests proved very positive in both performance and reliability terms. Since its debut on the 2004 Monte Carlo Rally, the 307 WRC has won once (Rally Finland in the middle of last season) and has undergone extensive development work.
As far as drivers are concerned, the Velizy-based team will be able to count on the services of two world class, complementary all-rounders. Marcus Gronholm's loyalty with Peugeot has to date been rewarded by two world titles (2000, 2002) and sixteen WRC wins. A cornerstone of the French squad, Marcus is a potential winner whatever the type of surface, although he has yet to get his record off the mark on asphalt. "I believe we have a number of trump cards in our hands to succeed this year," says the Finn. "Our most recent test work with the 307 WRC was particularly encouraging. The first encounter of the season - the Monte Carlo - probably won't be the easiest of course. It's still very much a fickle event when the weather and stage conditions are mixed. It's never much fun driving over snow or ice on slicks, although I have gained a lot of experience and confidence in this sort of situation." Marcus Gronholm finished the 2004 Monte Carlo Rally in 4th position overall after leading early on thanks to two fastest stage times.
Markko Martin's record includes five WRC wins; two in 2003 (Acropolis, Finland) and three in 2004 (Mexico, Corsica and Spain). The Estonian youngster is quick over all types of terrain and should form a fine partnership with Marcus Gronholm. "On paper, the Monte Carlo Rally should suit me. I finished 2nd last year and I have become increasingly competitive on asphalt in the past two years. That said, the Monte is still the most unpredictable round of the championship and my task will be made especially difficult by the fact that the team, car and tyres will all be new to me. So I have to be realistic, even though my first tests were extremely positive. The Peugeot 307 WRC seems very quick on asphalt and I am just keen to get on with the championship."
3 questions to Corrado Provera (Peugeot Sport team principal)
What is your target for the coming season?
"This is the time for new year wishes, and ours is to win back the world title that has eluded us these past two years and to end our spell in rallying in style before moving on to other things in 2006."
The team has good knowledge of the 307 WRC now but there are other unknown factors you will have to take into consideration: tyres, drivers, technical evolutions--
"With Markko Martin coming in to reinforce our line-up alongside Marcus Gronholm, we have two of the best drivers of the moment, so we can but be optimistic as far as their potential goes. As far as the car is concerned, it will have wider track dimensions which will improve its handling and, above all, while the 307 WRC proved competitive - if too fragile - last year, we ended the 2004 season and completed our recent test programme without any problems on the reliability front, so that's very reassuring. Last but not least, it's clear that Pirelli tyres are competitive over a full season. It's up to us to get the best out of them as quickly as possible, and we seem to be well on the way to that--"
Is beating your Monte Carlo jinx another one of your dreams?
"Obviously. Because of all the unknowns just mentioned, to win what will be the car's debut outing in its 2005 specification won't be easy against such battle-hardened opposition, but we will certainly give it our very best effort. We have the means and the firm intention to do well--"