The 72nd Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 22-25), the opening round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship takes five manufacturer teams and a host of Junior World Rally Championship contenders to the tiny principality of Monaco for three days of ...
The 72nd Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 22-25), the opening round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship takes five manufacturer teams and a host of Junior World Rally Championship contenders to the tiny principality of Monaco for three days of competition in the French mountains.
The event will continue to run under the previous World Rally Championship regulations, namely a two-day recce and three-day rally, with a ceremonial start in Casino Square on Thursday evening. The route is almost identical to that run in 2003, with just a few changes made in the first and second legs.
Monte-Carlo is renowned as one of the most specialized events in the calendar where everything can prove to be a lottery; crews can come across anything from dry Tarmac, to wet roads, snow and ice, sometimes all in one stage, and tire choices and weather information play an absolutely critical role in the outcome.
Rule changes to the World Rally Championship mean that they are now, like everyone else, a two car team, but the statistics also reveal that those same rule changes that have eliminated some of the sport's top names. This means that the Citroën team, with Sébastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz, the most successful rally driver of all time, are the only people in the event to have previously won it!
Carlos: Like everyone, I want to do well. The five asphalt rallies we did in 2003 did not all end well, but I won three of them and momentarily led the other two. That's good for confidence. Globally, I feel stronger^Å That said, I am very aware that you can be caught out in a fraction of a second on an event like the Monte Carlo."
Sebastien: "Of the nine different stages, I have previous knowledge of three of them," says Loeb. "Three-and-a-half if you count 'Lantosque-Col de Braus" which is an extended version of 'Lantosque-Lucéram'. I also know 'Tourette' and 'Le Bleine'^Å but in the opposite direction, so that doesn't help much. 'Piégut', 'Laborel' and 'Rosans' are all new to me. That said, apart from Carlos and those who did the 2000 Monte, I think we are pretty much all in the same boat. One thing is certain: there's going to be some tough tyre calls which could prove decisive."
After three consecutive world titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, plus runner-up honours in 2003, Peugeot is looking forward to the coming season's new challenges which include bidding for a further crown, this time with the promising new 307 WRC.
Marcus: "However happy we may be with the way testing went over the winter, we are conscious that the 307 WRC is only at the beginning of its career and nothing can replace actual competition. That doesn't mean we will be in Monte Carlo just to make up the numbers though; Peugeot has its sights set on the world title at the end of the year and our drivers will be out to give it everything they've got. We'll see how it goes^Å"
Freddy: "Its steeply raked windscreen reminds me of the Toyota Celica I drove at the time of my World Championship debut, and I have fond recollections of that. Its proportions don't pose a problem for me and its progressive handling suits me down to the ground. I have very little experience with the 206 WRC, unlike the 307 WRC which I drove for something like 1,000 kilometres during testing this winter. In my opinion, the basic package of the new car is easier to drive and more naturally balanced."
Starting the season as the reigning World Champion, 29-year-old Petter Solberg will be seeking to defend his newly acquired WRC crown. Petter has contested the rally three times before, and is looking to improve on his best finish so far, sixth place, that he achieved in 2002.
Petter: "Well, I start the year as World Champion, but in terms of driving it makes no difference to me at all. Some people have asked if I can afford to take it easy now, but I know there are areas that I can improve on and there's still a lot of hard work to do. Monte Carlo has not been the best rally for me in the past and I've yet to prove myself in the first few events of the season."
Driving the second Subaru entry will be Finnish driver, Mikko Hirvonen. The latest example of Subaru's commitment to developing young drivers, the 23-year-old will contest his first event for the team in Monte Carlo, and make the 18th WRC start of his career. The Finn's aim is to complete the event and gain further experience in an Impreza WRC.
Mikko: "Monte Carlo is always going to be a tricky rally to start the season, and add to that a new car and a new team and I think there's going to be a lot for me to learn over the coming weekend! "
Ford BP Rallye Sport enters the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Monte Carlo next week boasting the youngest driver line-up of any team contesting the series.
Markko: "Because of the weather this isn't a good rally to make predictions, so I won't! But I would like to kick-start the year with a good points finish and that is something both ourselves and the Focus RS are capable of. I find this the most difficult rally in the championship. The mountain roads are often quite tricky, even in good conditions, and in bad weather they can be lethal. It's easy to make a small mistake and in poor weather, mistakes can be magnified."
Duval: "There are some new special stages this year which means all the drivers have to make new pace notes. That's good for me because it reduces the advantage held by drivers like Carlos Sainz who have started this rally so many times. A top five finish would be good for me. It's important for me to finish as many rallies as possible this year to improve my experience. We have shown that the Focus RS is a good car on asphalt and I think a top five result would be a perfect start to the year,"
The 72nd Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 22-25) marks the debut competitive outing of the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 and the return of Mitsubishi Motors to the FIA World Rally Championship. With a restructured team, headed up by Sven Quandt, an exciting driver line-up that mixes experience and youth, and an all-new world rally car to contest the 16-round series, Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports is inspired by the challenges ahead while remaining realistic that it will take time to return to its former glory days.
The all-French crew of Gilles Panizzi and Hervé Panizzi spearhead Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports' assault.
Gilles: "I am very happy about the car, the engineering, the mechanics and the spirit in the team, but this car was only born in November and two months to prepare for a new season is not so much", commented Gilles. "We need more, more time; maybe one season before we become completely competitive. But I am very confident in the team, I like the car, the balance is good and we all work well together, but two months for the Monte-Carlo^Å we are not ready yet; we have to be patient and we need time to improve.
Gianluigi Galli and Guido D'Amore will be piloting the second registered Lancer WRC04, Galli having contested the event on four previous occasions. The Italian has twice driven in two-liter machinery and his two outings in Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution have resulted in a third position in Group N in 2000 and a retirement in 2002.
Gianluigi: "I have done very little testing in the new car, but we managed a lot more kilometers in the 2002 specification car, which gave me a chance to try out different tire specifications", said Galli. "The car is very young and there is a lot of work to do, but I am happy to see the team is so motivated.
Monte Carlo is also the first round of the Junior World Rally Championship. There are more than 20 entrants in a series that will now become more important with the fewer top level drivers. Suzuki, Fiat, Renault, Ford, MG, Peugeot and Citroen fielding cars in Monte Carlo