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 ...
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.
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).
The Subaru World Rally Team will start the 2007 season with a revised version of last year's Impreza WRC2006. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, while Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall will be in car number eight. 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.
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: "Monte Carlo is unlike any other rally on the WRC calendar and there are lots of variables to consider. The conditions in Valence at the moment indicate that it could be damp or even dry, and not the snow and ice we usually associate with this event, although that could change by the time the rally starts.
"Having both Petter and Chris in the team for another year is a huge bonus. Petter is the number one driver who we will try to win the championship with, while the aim with Chris is to continue his ongoing development. We expect him to deliver a high level of consistency throughout the year. It's a very important year for him, because this is his third year with the team and there's probably a little bit more pressure on him to deliver results and move forward in his experience."
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director: "It's great to be starting afresh and we've got plenty to be excited about this season. After a tough 2006, everyone within the team is very determined to make this year a success. We've got several objectives: operationally we've got to get used to working with our new tyre supplier, BFGoodrich, and get familiar with the effect the tyres have on the performance of the car. Going slightly further forward, we want to see a successful introduction of the 2007 Impreza World Rally Car in Mexico. Looking at the season as a whole, what is important to us is getting a consistently high level of performance, regular podiums, a few wins and challenging for the drivers championship.
"The long-term future is also looking good. Subaru has a very long-term commitment to rallying, Petter is starting a new three-year contract with us this year and Chris is in his third season with the team. Over the last three or four months, consistency rather than change has been the message. The last significant recruitment to the team was Christophe Chapelain who came in to lead the design team back in September. He is now well established and very busy, with the 2007 World Rally Car and then the 2008 car to focus on."
Petter Solberg: "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: "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."
Between the rallies
For the Subaru World Rally Team drivers, the festive break was filled with a mixture of testing and media commitments, time with family and friends and preparations for this season. Prior to Christmas, Petter and Chris both took part in an asphalt tyre test near Lyon, France. Another highlight for Petter included dinner with the King of Norway in Oslo! Chris competed in the Bettega Memorial Rallysprint in Bologna, Italy, went on a short tour of Japan to meet Subaru's workforce, traveled to Italy and went snowboarding. Petter, Chris, Phil and Glenn were all due to arrive in Valence yesterday (Sunday) to commence their preparations.
New partner update
The start of the 2007 WRC season marks the beginning of several important new commercial partnerships for the Subaru World Rally Team.
In a new arrangement for this year, watch manufacturer Sekonda joins the team as exclusive supplier of Subaru World Rally Team branded timepieces, which are available from the team's on-line store http://store.swrt.com. Sekonda has been the best-selling watch brand in the UK for the past 18 years and currently sells 1.6 million watches per year.
Shoe manufacturer Hi-Tec was founded in England in 1974, and now sells over 500 different styles of footwear in 80 countries world-wide. Starting from Rallye Monte Carlo, Hi-Tec will provide the team with a wide range of its footwear, ideally suited to the varied conditions of the WRC. >From snow boots and travel shoes to trainers and safety products from its 'Magnum' range, Hi-Tec will be with the team every step of the way in 2007.
The team also welcomes the British companies Oxford Bearings and Thermal Engineering as official suppliers for the new season. Oxford Bearings has an excellent track record supplying companies in the motorsport, medical and technology sectors and will supply the team with a wide range of mechanical consumables, while heat specialists Thermal Engineering will provide a range of custom made thermal blankets and heat shields for use in the team's Impreza World Rally Cars.