MÄKINEN, MITSUBISHI & MICHELIN: THE PRINCES OF MONACO... AGAIN! For the third successive year, the winning combination on this season's Monte Carlo Rally was Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi... running on Michelin tyres. Even though...
MÄKINEN, MITSUBISHI & MICHELIN: THE PRINCES OF MONACO... AGAIN!
For the third successive year, the winning combination on this season's Monte Carlo Rally was Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi... running on Michelin tyres. Even though many of the event's top stars failed to make it past the first day, the winter classic produced yet another clash of champions, with Ford's Colin McRae and Mäkinen split by a mere 3.5 seconds at the top of the leaderboard going into the final leg!
But when Colin McRae was halted with mechanical problems on today's first run through the celebrated Col de Turini stage, the Mitsubishi-Michelin driver was able to coast home to collect the trophy with a lead of more than one minute over Carlos Sainz (2nd, Ford).
There was something of a sense of dejà vu in Monaco today. For in addition to the third consecutive triumph of Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi-Michelin, the rally was prematurely deprived of a long list of favourites by the start of Leg 2. Indeed, as was the case in 2001 last year, neither of the three factory Peugeot-Michelins nor Subaru's Richard Burns succeeded in surviving the opening day (*).
Even so, the furious battle between past World Champions Tommi Mäkinen and Colin McRae, and even the Scot's teammate Carlos Sainz was more than enough to keep the spectators warm in the cold French Alps, especially on the event's second day when the lead changed hands twice in four stages!
To a classic Monte Carlo backdrop, with poor weather before the start leaving a crisp covering of snow over the higher mountain passes, tyre performance once again played a predominant role. And, with drivers having to select the ideal product for the traditional mix of wet and dry asphalt, slush, ice and snow, choice of rubber was as critical in the final decision as it was complex (see "Michelin's Rally" below).
But when Mäkinen seized the lead with three stages to go, the issue no longer looked to be in any doubt: "I am very happy to get my third Monte Carlo win," declared the Finn at the finish. "We had a great combination of tyre choices with Michelin, a very good car and nearly no mistakes from me. I'm looking forward to Sweden already; what a great start to the year!"
Such had been the pace of the scrap between Mäkinen and McRae that third-placed Sainz opted to ease off and aim for a podium finish well before the end of Leg 2. After McRae's retirement, it was a policy that ended up bagging him second spot ahead of Ford's new recruit François Delecour (3rd) who squeezed past the Skoda-Michelin of Armin Schwarz (4th) just two stages from the flag.
Schwarz's performance was undoubtedly one of the big surprises of this year's Monte Carlo, always one of his favourite events. The German's car proved 100% reliable and his speed earned him a number of top stage times, including two third bests on Day 2. The Czech firm's joy was compounded by the points-scoring finish of Belgium's Bruno Thiry (8th) that has already taken the team to more than half its total for the entire 2000 championship!
Finnish driver Toni Gardemeister , who was fastest over the rally's opening stage, secured fifth place with his privately-entered Peugeot-Michelin. He relegated Mitsubishi-Michelin's Freddy Loix to sixth thanks to a determined charge in the two closing stages. It is quite possible however that the Belgian's thoughts were more on safely reaching the finish to collect the three points that put the Japanese make seven points clear at the top of the provisional Manufacturers' table.
Hyundai-Michelin kicked off the rally by losing the car of Piero Liatti with a damaged oil pipe, but the second Accent WRC of Alister McRae proved very reliable on its way to seventh overall. A time-consuming spin saw the Scot lose some time on Leg 2, dropping him to 8th, but he came back strongly to finish seventh ahead of Thiry on the final day and collect two Manufacturers' points.
(*) Peugeot-Michelin's Didier Auriol and @!Gilles Panizzi were eliminated by accidents on SS3, barely an hour after World Champion Marcus Grönholm's 206 WRC was halted by the consequences of a water-pump failure. In the Subaru camp, Richard Burns and Markko Martin suffered terminal engine problems, while Petter Solberg rolled out on SS5.
HAT TRICK... This was Michelin's eighth Monte Carlo triumph in ten years and its third consecutive win in association with Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi.
TRUE TO TRADITION... Snowfall shortly before the start produced classic Monte Carlo conditions this year. Michelin's technicians were kept on their toes throughout to ensure they had accurate, up-to-date information from the stages, then analyse this data to assist drivers when it came to choosing the ideal tyre... sometimes for stages that took place up to 2½ hours after cars left service!
IMPORTANT TO OPTIMISE... A new regulation limiting the number of tyres teams can nominate has been introduced for asphalt rallies in 2001 (two types of racing tyre, plus two snow tyres for the Monte Carlo). It was therefore always going to be important to provide a range that covered the full spectrum of anticipated conditions. This notably meant having a high performance, yet polyvalent option to bridge the gap between maxi-snow and racing tyres (see "Michelin D10" below).
MICHELIN D10... For mixed conditions (clear asphalt + snow/ice), Michelin drivers were able to count on the proven Michelin D10, a wide snow pattern, but narrower than a full racing tyre to favour performance on snow and ice. This tyre helped Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi-Michelin) mount his attack on Day 2 (notably on grouped stages SS7 & 8) and keep the pressure on McRae at the start of Day 3 (SS12 & 13).
ATTRITION... Although Peugeot-Michelin's Didier Auriol led before his premature retirement, the high attrition rate of the opening day dramatically reduced the number of Michelin WRC runners, leaving only Mäkinen in a position to challenge for victory.
<pre> 2001 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS AFTER 1 ROUND
DRIVERS MC S P E RA CY GR EAK FIN NZ I F AUS GB Total Tommi Mäkinen (FIN) 10 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 10 Carlos Sainz (E) 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 François Delecour (F) 4 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 4 Armin Schwarz (D) 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 Toni Gardemeister (FIN) 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 Freddy Loix (B) 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
MANUFACTURERS MC S P E RA CY GR EAK FIN NZ I F AUS GB Total Mitsubishi-Michelin 13 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 13 Ford 6 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 6 Skoda-Michelin 5 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 Hyundai-Michelin 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2
</pre> Next round: Sweden (8-11/2/2001)