WRC

Monte Carlo: Round one preview

Just 46 days after ending the challenge of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship teams get under-way with the 2007 Rallye Monte Carlo (18 - 21 January). Driver and team line ups are similar yet different to last year. Subaru, Ford and Citroen ...

Just 46 days after ending the challenge of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship teams get under-way with the 2007 Rallye Monte Carlo (18 - 21 January).

Driver and team line ups are similar yet different to last year. Subaru, Ford and Citroen teams are unchanged and are competing with drivers used in 2006. Citroen however starts with the new C4 WRC and Subaru are driving on BFGoodrich for the first time. The OMV team are running a Citroen Xsara WRC for Manfred Stohl instead of the Peugeot 307. A private team, the Stobart M-Sport team, has the biggest driver line up of any top WRC team with three Focus WRC's entered. Peugoet are largley unrepresented, but promising French driver Jean-Marie Cuoq is entered in a 307 WRC. Confusing maybe is if you note on the entry list Toni Gardemeister and Khalid Al Qassimi (United Arab Emirates) are both entered in Mitsubishi Lancer WRC's - however, they will not be competing. A manufacturer 2 points team must use the manufacturers name in their team name and the Mitsubishi team could not secure the marques name for 2007.

It is the 75th running of Rallye Monte Carlo and to commemorate the anniversary the organisers have revised the route to include some classic special stages which have not been used for many years. For the first time the rally is based in Valence, near the river Rhône in south-east France, and most of the asphalt stages will take place on roads in the mountainous Ardeche and Vercors regions, which hosted some of the most famous Monte Carlo stages in the past.

The area contains some breathtaking scenery, but the mountainous terrain can also lead to rapid changes of weather. Although conditions in the area are currently quite mild -- the average temperature is about 9 degrees Celsius -- ice and snow is often a feature of Rallye Monte Carlo and can make the stages treacherous. Add the threat of high winds and dense fog, and it is little wonder that the event is one of the toughest on the WRC calendar.

The challenging route also includes two night stages on Thursday evening and a 46.02km test on Friday -- one of the longest ever used on Rallye Monte Carlo and potentially one of the places where the outcome of the rally could be decided.

On Sunday, the WRC circus will travel from Valence to the sumptuous surroundings of Monte Carlo to tackle a super special around the harbour section of the Grand Prix circuit in Monaco. The ceremonial finish of the event will be in the Place du Palais, Monaco, at 15.00 on Sunday. In all, there are 15 stages, and the rally totals 1185.22km (competitive 328.54km, liason 856.68km).

BP-Ford

Reigning world rally champion BP-Ford will launch the defence of its 2006 title on the legendary Rallye Monte Carlo (18 - 21 January) in France next week with a proven winning squad. The team which lifted the FIA World Rally Championship manufacturers' title will begin 2007 with the same core structure firmly in place. The driver line-up of Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, who spurred the team to its most successful season ever with eight victories en route to the title, remains unchanged. The Focus RS WRC will also begin the new campaign in the same specification that it ended the 2006 season. However, development of the car continues and upgrades are expected as the season unfolds. Jost Capito, director of Ford TeamRS, who has overall responsibility for Ford's WRC programme, believes the team can capitalise on last year's title triumph. "Over the years I believe the team has developed into one of the best squads in motorsport," he said. "The title meant a great deal to so many people and Ford was extremely proud of the team's success. But it also meant we achieved our target of being in a position to start 2007 capable of being fully competitive on all 16 rounds and ready to launch a concerted bid for both the drivers' and manufacturers' titles this year."

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "Testing has gone well over the winter and I'm looking forward to the start of the season," he said. "I hope we can repeat our success of 2006 by winning the manufacturers' title again but I also want to win the drivers' crown -- that's an important target for me this year."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "I hope I can push harder this season and challenge people like Marcus, Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb on more rallies. It won't be easy to be up there but if I can be close enough to fight with them I'll be happy. It would be so good for us to win the manufacturers' title again. There is so much motivation from everyone within the team to defend it," said the 26 year-old Finn.

Citroen Total

Monte Carlo with Citroen's return to the sport after a year's sabbatical with the launch of the new Citroen C4 WRC, bidding to regain the manufacturers' title it held in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and Citroen's Sebastien Loeb aiming to hold onto the drivers' title he has won for the last three years. Loeb is, with three wins and a second place in the last four events, the reigning king of the Monte Carlo rally, but he goes into the event in a new car and still recovering from the mountain bike accident that knocked him our of the final events of the 2006 season. So, the first question has to be, has he recovered?

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "I have yet to recover all my strength and I still have difficulty making certain movements. I'm still a little stiff," says Loeb. "But it's getting better all the time and I only feel pain when I make sudden movements. I was able to get in a lot of kilometres during testing and my injury didn't prevent me from being quick. Anyway, I intend to go into the rally as though nothing was wrong and see how it goes." And the second question must be is the new C4 WRC better than the Citroen Xsara WRC that has been the dominant force in rallying for the last four years? "I haven't got as much experience with this car as I have with the Xsara," explains Loeb. "Globally, the feeling is positive. The C4's balance is excellent and it responds well. To my mind, we have done enough testing and there is reason to be optimistic but, as I often say, testing is one thing. The true litmus test will be actually competing. I know I will discover new things about the C4 on the event!"

Dani Sordo/Marc: How will you approach the Monte Carlo? Is it a special event for you? "It is a legendary rally and I think it will be as difficult as ever. For me, the key will be the tyres. The conditions can change very quickly and can even vary from one kilometre to the next. That's not really the sort of situation I like the most. I'm hoping there won't be too much snow because I have no benchmarks on this type of surface. But I have every confidence in the BFGoodrich technicians and in the experience of both Sebastien and the team to make sure we get tyre choices right. All I know of the stages is what I've been told. If the weather proves changeable it promises to be a fairly complex few days."

Subaru

This weekend the Subaru World Rally Team begins its challenge for the 2007 World Rally Championship on one of the most demanding and unpredictable events of the season. The team starts the year with an unchanged driver line-up, with Petter Solberg/Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall at the wheel of the Subaru Impreza WRCs. One aspect of the team that has changed is the tyre supplier, because a new deal has been forged with BFGoodrich for 2007. Petter has contested Rallye Monte Carlo six times, with a best result of sixth place in 2002. Chris made his debut on the event in 2006 and impressed onlookers with a measured drive to sixth position.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "2006 was a difficult time for all of us, but I feel like we are able to get back on track now. It will be a tough challenge, because we do not exactly know where we are compared to our main rivals, but some things have been improved on the car that we will use in Monte Carlo, and that should make us a lot more competitive. Monte Carlo is always difficult for us, with the snow and ice on the roads, but we tested with BFGoodrich in December and I was very happy with the performance of the tyres. I think we could be much stronger on the asphalt events this season."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Last year in Monte Carlo some excellent tyre choices helped us to run well. Sixth at the end of the rally was a result that we never expected on our first visit to Monte Carlo because it is such a specialised event. This season our hope is to be on the podium a lot more, but if we can get some good points on the first three rallies it would be great. We want to be up there fighting with the leaders, not just being happy with fifth. We want to be pushing if we can and putting our rivals under a lot of pressure."

OMV Kronos Citroen

Currently the final preparations for the beginning of the FIA World Rally Championship 2007 in Monte Carlo (January 18 to 21) are under way for the OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team. But before Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor will drive over the start ramp in Valence, the OMV duo will complete a final test on Sunday in the vicinity of Lyon. For the first time test drives during the night are also scheduled. The 34-year-old Austrian and the team thereby want to find the perfect set-up for the Citroen Xsara WRC. OMV Kronos Citroen Team Manager Marc Van Dalen is convinced that a place on the podium is possible.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "One can't compare this year's car to the one from 2005. A lot of development has taken place since then. We will start off with last year's basic set-up for Sebastien Loeb and hope to come close to our perfect set-up." Night testing will also take place for the first time since on Thursday two night special stages will be completed at the Monte Carlo Rallye. "It is a good thing to get used to lighting conditions in the dark. I like night stages -- I am capable of calling off 98 percent of my speed at any time. No matter what the weather or road conditions are like. Therefore bad conditions are rather to my advantage", explains the OMV driver. For the Monte 2007, though, dry and calculable conditions are predicted. "In such a case one has to give 102 percent -- which means that you are over the limit but is the only way to go if you want to be among the top."

Stobart M-Sport

A new year, new team, new rally stages and a whole new experience for the three Stobart M-Sport Ford rally crews contesting the opening round of the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship. The 75th anniversary of the prestigious Rallye Monte Carlo will provide all 49 competitors with a very new and unique experience. Matthew Wilson and Michael Orr, Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, and Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, will all face the slippery conditions. It's also the first time all three drivers will have driven their Ford Focus WRC06 rally-cars on tarmac. On the driver's side, however, is the fact that they are actually competing with this car, as it clinched the 2006 Manufacturers' Championship just a few months ago.

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "The Monte Carlo rally is one of the toughest events of the season because of the varying conditions. I have competed on the rally two times before but this is the first time in a world rally car. I think I will need to be careful, it will be very easy to go slightly too hard and that's not what I want to do. It will be a big challenge for me and I really want to finish this event to get the season off to a good start."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I am very excited and looking forward to this year and it really is a sense of my career moving forward. I was happy with how this rally went for me last year, it was my first rally on asphalt and I set some really good times; but it was very disappointing to retire on the very last stage. I'm looking forward to the rally, but I really want to try and settle in and get used to the car. It's my first rally with the new car and the new team and I think if things go well together, it will be very good for the future"

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "Monte Carlo is one of those very difficult events, definitely one to be endured rather than be enjoyed. It's normally a bit of a lottery with tyre choice and usually a compromise at every service. I'm looking forward to getting Monte out of the way and try and start my season in Sweden, I can't really predict how things will go on this first rally but I'm glad to be back competing again after the end-of-season break. I've been relaxing over Christmas and preparing myself for this season and I can't wait to get back into the '06 spec car."

-credit: www.rallye-newsletter.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Toni Gardemeister , Jarmo Lehtinen , Miikka Anttila , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport