The Subaru World Rally Team had a successful end to the first rally of the season. Stephane Sarrazin finished the rally in fifth position, scoring valuable manufacturer points on the Subaru Impreza WRC2006's debut. Stephane finished three stages...
The Subaru World Rally Team had a successful end to the first rally of the season. Stephane Sarrazin finished the rally in fifth position, scoring valuable manufacturer points on the Subaru Impreza WRC2006's debut. Stephane finished three stages in the top three and was just one second from claiming a first stage win on SS17. Chris Atkinson claimed sixth place after a remarkable Monte Carlo rally debut. The Australian matched the pace of more experienced asphalt drivers throughout the Leg and consistently improved his times on the second passes through stages.
SS13: 0755 Col de Braus - La Cabanette (12.60km)
Fastest Time: Loeb (Kronos) 12:16.2
SS14: 0823 Col St Roch - Lantosque (14.45km)
Fastest Time: Gardemeister (Peugeot) 11:20.0
After a 10 minute service in Monaco, crews made their way to the shortest stage of the rally from the Col de Braus to La Cabanette. After heavy snow, conditions were extremely slippery throughout and most crews elected for a studded tyre, including Subaru drivers Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson. Henning Solberg, however, opted for a winter tyre without studs. Gilles Panizzi touched the side of a rock on the first corner, breaking the front left wheel while Andreas Aigner in a privateer Skoda Fabia spun twice. Loeb scored his eighth stage win of the event to close the gap to third-placed Stohl to just under 16secs, with Gronholm second quickest and Gardemeister third.
After the snowy conditions on the Col de Braus, crews tackled the downhill pass to the town of Lantosque. Despite an air temperature of -2C and a tarmac temperature of -3C, there was no snow on the road. Finn Toni Gardemeister broke Loeb's stage win dominance with his first win of the event and extended his advantage over Manfred Stohl in third place to over 20secs. The Austrian Peugeot privateer reported he was driving cautiously to secure a finish on the event. Chris Atkinson, making his Monte Carlo debut, scored his best stage result of the event when he finished third, just eight seconds slower than Gardemeister and three seconds slower than current World Champion Loeb. After his problems in the previous stage Panizzi fought back to take overall seventh position from Ford works diver Mikko Hirvonen.
SS15: 0856 La Bollene Vesubie - Sospel (31.25km)
Fastest Time: Loeb (Kronos) 24:07.0
SS16: 1144 Col de Braus - La Cabanette (12.60km)
Fastest Time: Loeb (Kronos) 11:38.5
The last speed test before service was the second of three runs through the La Bollene stage, with its formidable Col de Turini section. Unlike Leg two's pass where the Col was overlaid with snow and slush, the road on Leg three was covered with hard-packed ice as temperatures dropped overnight. There was drama even before the start of the test as Matthew Wilson went off the road after the flying finish of SS14 and damaged the bodywork of his Ford Focus. Panizzi dropped down the overall classification to 10th after spinning and hitting a rock at Moulinet that tore the left-rear wheel from the car. He completed the stage on three wheels, but the delay cost the Skoda driver three minutes through the stage and he later incurred a penalty when he checked in two minutes late to the service time control. Loeb's second stage win of the day moved him to third position ahead of Stohl, who again drove cautiously through the stage. Chris Atkinson's confidence had grown after learning the stage yesterday evening and he posted the fourth fastest time, just behind team-mate Sarrazin.
Conditions on the second pass through the short 12km stage were cold, snowy and icy and many crews stayed with studded tyres, with the notable exceptions of Manfred Stohl and Henning Solberg who had chosen slicks. Loeb edged closer to second-placed Gardemeister as he took his third stage win of the day. The Frenchman moved to within 13secs of Gardemeister with the fastest stage time, almost 30secs quicker than his earlier morning record. Hirvonen, Pons and Atkinson rounded off the top six, but Manfred Stohl dropped over 40secs to Loeb due to his tyre choice and could only finish 14th fastest.
SS17: 1212 Col St Roch - Lantosque (14.45km)
Fastest Time: Stohl (Peugeot) 10:56.4
SS18: 1245 La Bollene Vesubie - Sospel (31.25km)
Fastest Time: Stohl (Peugeot) 23:02.8
Manfred Stohl's choice of slick tyres paid dividends on the penultimate stage of the 2006 Rallye Monte Carlo when he scored his first stage win of the event. Subaru's French driver Sarrazin, running on intermediate tyres without studs, was just under a second slower than Stohl. Citroen privateer Loeb was fourth fastest behind Henning Solberg, but crucially the Frenchman was six seconds quicker than Gardemeister as the duo continued their battle for second place. Marcus Gronholm had a cautious drive through the stage and finished just half a second faster than Australian Atkinson, who had opted for a winter tyre with studs in preparation for the icy conditions over the Col de Turini.
The battle for second position went right down the final stage, with Loeb and Gardemeister just six seconds apart at the start of the most challenging stage of the rally. On studded tyres he admitted were less than ideal for the conditions, World Champion Loeb nevertheless snatched second with the second fastest stage time, demoting Gardemeister to the third and final step of the podium. Henning Solberg, running on slick tyres, slid wide on a patch of ice one kilometre from the start and crashed his Peugeot. He was unable to rejoin the road and retired from the rally. Marcus Gronholm took no risks through the stage to take his first-ever win on asphalt and the debut victory for the new Ford Focus RS WRC06. Stohl was again fastest through the stage to claim fourth overall position, just ahead of the Subaru duo of Sarrazin and Atkinson.
SWRT PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR, DAVID LAPWORTH:"I'm very pleased for Stephane and pleased with his result. Particularly impressive has been his pace in the slippery conditions. With his racing background it's almost expected that he goes well on asphalt stages but on this rally the conditions have been extremely difficult and some of his most impressive times have been on slick tyres in snow. I'm sure this experience will give him confidence going into Corsica and Spain. Chris has had a fantastic weekend too. To finish in the top six on his first Monte Carlo is a major achievement and he's done it at a very respectable pace. The hardest thing for a driver with Chris's talent is to drive with sufficient caution to not be caught out by the treacherous conditions. He's driven a very mature rally. He starts every other rally this year with prior experience and if he can combine this level of control with the speed that he showed last year it won't be long before he's fighting for rally wins."
STEPHANE SARRAZIN: "I'm very pleased that we've finished in the points on the first round of the championship and with a new car. It's good for me and for the team. Mechanically we've had no problems at all, but we were caught out by the weather on Friday and that cost us a lot of time. But it's a part of the game, this time we lost but next time we might win. It's been a very difficult rally, the grip is variable and driving in snow on slick tyres isn't easy, but I showed I can fight with the top drivers in these conditions and that's good for my confidence. In performance terms the car is a big step forward already and before Corsica and Catalunya I will test a lot so I should be very familiar with it by then."
CHRIS ATKINSON: "We're ecstatic really. When you look at it, coming to our first Monte Carlo, to finish in the top six and to have such a good result all weekend is fantastic. Glenn and I drove exactly according to our pre event plan, we learned a lot and we'll head to Sweden in a very positive frame of mind. Sweden was our first event with the team last year and we showed some good speed. The conditions suit me a bit better than the ones here and I'm looking forward to going back."
NEWS FROM PIRELLI
MARIO ISOLA, PIRELLI COMPETIZIONI RALLY MANAGER:"We are satisfied with the performance of our Pirelli P Zero's last evolution in a such difficult rally. The extremely different and variability of the climate conditions put our tyres in a very tough situation. Nevertheless, the feedback from the drivers is really positive on all kind of road surfaces and also with the typical, massive weather conditions of Monte Carlo Rally. The new P Zero WX, especially developed for Monte Carlo's icy and frozen asphalt, offered Sarrazin and Atkinson the right support to get good results in several difficult special stages and both drivers were satisfied by the new soft asphalt compound RX9 and the new soft intermediate RE9, that improved the Imprezas' performance in braking and gave better grip overall."
THE NEXT EVENT
In just over one week the FIA World Rally Championship will travel north to Scandinavia for the only snow event on the calendar; the Swedish Rally. Despite the snow and ice, crews will be going just as fast as ever thanks to special slim, studded tyres that grip the hard-packed base beneath the top snow covering. Snow banks, exposed gravel and ice patches can however catch drivers out so it's only the bravest who have won in Sweden.