Monte Carlo: Season opener preview

70th Rally of Monte Carlo Round 1 of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship 17 - 20 January 2002 Just weeks after Richard Burns and Peugeot secured the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship titles, the defence of their respective crowns begins...

70th Rally of Monte Carlo
Round 1 of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship
17 - 20 January 2002

Just weeks after Richard Burns and Peugeot secured the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship titles, the defence of their respective crowns begins tomorrow morning on the opening round of the 2002 series, the Rallye Monte Carlo. Burns and Peugeot have joined forces for 2002, kick-starting one of the biggest shake-ups of the rally transfer market in recent years. Four-times world champion Tommi Mäkinen moves from Mitsubishi to replace Burns at Subaru, while Francois Delecour and Alister McRae have joined Ralliart to form the team's first brand-new driver line-up in seven years. All seven manufacturer teams will be present on the notoriously fickle mountain passes north of Monaco.

The changes aren't confined to the teams, either. Changes to the starting order rules mean that while the drivers will start tomorrow's first stages in last year's championship classification order, the top 15 at the end of each leg will be reversed for the following morning. And the manufacturers' series has been made more straight forward - instead of having just two nominated entries, manufacturers will be able to score points with the two highest-placed cars from their official entries.

Technical: Peugeot's 206 WRCs are essentially the same specification as those which contested Sanremo and Corsica towards the end of last season. All three cars are brand new for this event and they will run three computer-controlled 'active' differentials. Gilles Panizzi's car is also fitted with a hydraulic anti-roll bar.

Sporting: Peugeot has entered three official cars - for reigning world champion Richard Burns, 2000 title-holder Marcus Grönholm and asphalt expert Gilles Panizzi. The team's fourth regular driver, Harri Rovanperä, will drive a 206 WRC run by private team Bozian.

Quotes: Richard Burns said: "It's going to be a tough rally here. The dry weather will probably help me a bit, because it's at least consistent and the conditions are similar to whenever I did my pre-event test. But I think everyone will benefit from drier roads anyway. I've got a pretty good feeling with the car now, but I'll be happy to get a few points to start the season."

Marcus Grönholm said: "It's very difficult to say what will happen in Monte Carlo. There's no obvious favourite here. I only did one day's full testing for this event but the car felt quite good."

Gilles Panizzi said: "I feel quite confident. We did quite a good test for this rally and even though it's Monte Carlo, it looks like the conditions will be pretty dry. We know the 206 WRC is a good car for asphalt, but this rally hasn't been kind to Peugeot in the past few years so I just hope we get a clean run."

Technical: Ford is the only team to introduce its 2002-specification car in Monte Carlo. The Focus RS WRC02 features a host of revisions over its predecessor, concentrating on the engine. The motor features a revised cylinder head as well as lighter flywheel and crankshaft, and different cooling. The Focus's power steering pump has been moved as well to make it less vulnerable to impact damage on rougher roads. Other changes to the car include a different dashboard layout (with all switches relocated lower in the console) and a repositioned handbrake.

Sporting: Ford has entered three Focus RS WRC02s - for Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz, and for new signing Markko Märtin. The team will field all three drivers on all 14 rounds of this year's FIA World Rally Championship.

Quotes: Colin McRae said: "Monte Carlo's the sort of rally where it's hard to predict any sort of performance or a result. The car's felt encouraging in testing, but that doesn't mean anything until we see the times from the first few stages and even then, so much depends on the conditions here that it's difficult to draw conclusions. I'm just hoping for reliability and a good finish."

Carlos Sainz said: "I'm looking forward to the new season. Testing has been quite good and we have quite a few changes with the car - but we need to wait and see in some consistent conditions before we can see how we are against the rest."

Markko Martin said: "I've had some testing for this event and the car feels quite positive, but even if I'd had ten days' running I'd still have the same aim - I just want to reach the finish here."

Technical: Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart engineers have concentrated on improving the set-up of the Lancer Evolution WRC this year, since its debut towards the end of the 2001 season allowed little time for development. Revised suspension geometry and a lower ride height have improved handling, and the team has also trimmed 50kg from the car's weight. That now allows Ralliart to play with ballast to improve the handling further.

Sporting: Mitsubishi has a totally new driver line-up for 2002. Francois Delecour moves from Ford (Mitsubishi is his third team in three years), while Alister McRae has switched from a Hyundai Accent to the Lancer. McRae has changed his back-up crew, too - father Jimmy will now prepare gravel notes for his younger rallying son instead of Ford driver Colin.

Quotes: Francois Delecour said: "It's difficult to predict anything about the Monte Carlo Rally, because it's just such a hard event. But during the test in the winter I had a good feeling for the car. I'm not going to say that I am going to win - but I think we have a chance to fight for the victory."

Alister McRae said: "My first impressions of the car are very good. The set-ups we've found in both the snow and the asphalt feel strong. This is still really a learning year for me - when you look at rallies like here, where I've only competed once before, and the Safari, where I've never competed at all, then I need more experience."

Technical: Subaru's Imprezas will run in essentially the same mechanical specification as 2001. The team has concentrated instead on modifying software set-up in the differentials, as well as suspension and damper settings, to 'catch up' with engine and tyre progress over the past few years.

Sporting: The team has entered two Impreza WRC2001s for Monte Carlo, to be driven by new signing Tommi Mäkinen and young Norwegian Petter Solberg. Subaru Team Director David Lapworth confirmed at the team's press launch yesterday afternoon that three Imprezas will be seen on selected rallies this year, but only when necessary. The team has renewed its sponsorship deal with British American Tobacco's 555 brand.

Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "The Impreza is a completely different car to drive than the Lancer. The biggest thing I've noticed so far is the braking - I had to adjust my driving style because I can brake much later into the corners with the Impreza. As for Monte Carlo, I've already won this rally three years in a row, which is quite a good record. But I'd still like to make it four!"

Petter Solberg said: "I feel optimistic for Monte Carlo and the season ahead. We've tested quite a lot for this rally and tried some new stuff with suspension and differentials. I think we've made a big step forward on tarmac. Tommi has done some interesting things to the car already that have made quite a good effect."

Technical: All three Octavia WRCs will use a Lehmann-tuned engine that was tried for the first time by Armin Schwarz on last year's Rally of Great Britain. Skoda has confirmed that it intends to launch a new evolution of the Octavia WRC in April.

Sporting: Skoda has entered three Octavia WRCs on this event - for new regular drivers Kenneth Eriksson and Toni Gardemeister, and young Czech driver Roman Kresta. Eriksson has changed his co-driver for the 2002 season - he's now navigated by Tina Thorner.

Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "It's a great challenge for me. I'm in a new car with a new co-driver after many years with Staffan (Parmander). The Octavia's been running well in my early tests, so I'm positive. Anything can happen on the Monte."

Toni Gardemeister said: "Monte Carlo seems to like me - I've had some good results here in the past. So I'm hoping for a points finish here - the Octavia is an easy car to drive and the handling is very predictable."

Technical: The Hyundai team has made a few significant changes to the Accent WRC2 over the winter - in particular, the cars now run on Proflex dampers and a revised suspension system. That aside, Hyundai's rally partner Motor Sport Developments has adapted the car's differential settings to new drivers Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz, while continuing to work on the WRC3 model that will make its debut after the first quarter of the season.

Sporting: Hyundai has completely changed its driver line-up for 2002. Former European champion Armin Schwarz has joined the team after three years at Skoda, while young Belgian Freddy Loix swaps from a Mitsubishi Lancer to the Accent WRC2. Both drivers will tackle the Rallye Monte Carlo. Four-times world champion Juha Kankkunen will contest much of this year's FIA World Rally Championship for Hyundai and Polish driver Tomasz Kuchar will also be present on the asphalt rounds, starting with the Catalunya Rally.

Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "After my first few tests with the Accent I can say that it has a lot of potential. Of course there is work to be done, and we have been able to put our finger straight to the problems that need to be fixed. Some of those will be fixed now and some will have to wait until the WRC3. I expect the Rallye Monte Carlo to be as tricky as ever - last year I nearly finished on the podium here with the Skoda, so if conditions change then anything is possible."

Technical: The Xsara WRCs are only slightly modified from the specification that won the Tour de Corse last autumn. The Citroen mechanics were forced to change an engine at this morning's shakedown, however, when the motor in Sebastien Loeb's Xsara blew in the Sospel service area.

Sporting: Citroen has entered three Xsara WRCs on the first of the team's seven outings in the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship. Swede Thomas Radstrom (on his first Rallye Monte Carlo) and Frenchmen Sebastien Loeb and Philippe Bugalski will drive the cars. Radstrom is now navigated by Denis Giraudet, although the pair have competed together before.

Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "I really want the conditions to stay dry for me here. If that is the case then I am quite hopeful that we can have a good drive here. Testing has been quite positive. I don't know if we can repeat the performance that we showed in Sanremo last year - Monte Carlo's a very hard rally and you need lots of experience here - but I will try, of course."

Beyond the manufacturer World Rally Car entries, a number of privateer crews will have hopes of scoring points or better. Former Monte Carlo winner Didier Auriol brings a Toyota Corolla WRC, while last year's Tour de Corse winner Jesus Puras will use a Subaru Impreza.

The Rallye Monte Carlo is the opening round of the 2002 FIA Junior World Rally Championship, and the category has attracted a stunning entry. In total, 28 drivers will start the event and eight different manufacturers will be 'represented' - Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Peugeot, Suzuki, Volkswagen, Opel and MG. Last year's runner-up, Italian Andrea Dallavilla (Citroen Saxo), will probably start as slight favourite, although he can expect stiff opposition from any one of a dozen rivals. Likely challengers include Francois Duval (Ford Puma), Giandomenico Basso (Fiat Puma) and Niall McShea (Opel Corsa).


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team