The Subaru World Rally Team will travel to the glamorous principality of Monaco this week for the opening round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte Carlo. Commencing on Friday 21 January, the prestigious three-day event is the...
The Subaru World Rally Team will travel to the glamorous principality of Monaco this week for the opening round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte Carlo. Commencing on Friday 21 January, the prestigious three-day event is the oldest in the Championship and will feature the debut of a new Subaru driver line up of Petter Solberg and Stéphane Sarrazin.
Contested on twisty mountain roads, the Monte Carlo Rally can be as much of a lottery as the roulette played every evening in the principality's famous casino. Essentially an asphalt rally, unpredictable weather conditions make it one of the most challenging of the season. Stages can start in thick snow and end in bright sunshine, while it's not uncommon for a driver to encounter wet asphalt, ice patches and full snow conditions in just a few kilometres.
The fast-changing climate makes predicting the levels of grip on the narrow roads extremely difficult. In such variable conditions, tyre choice is nearly always a compromise with drivers forced to base their decisions on a pattern that's suited to the majority of the stage. The key to success is an ability to be fast when conditions and tyres are well matched, yet to maintain a competitive pace when the choice is less than ideal.
Following a ceremonial start in Monaco on Thursday night, the rally gets underway on Friday morning at 0700hrs when crews travel 73km to the start of SS1. Including fifteen stages and a competitive distance of 314.46km, the event will conclude at 1430hrs on Sunday 23 January. All three Legs will start and finish in Monte Carlo and the service park will be based on the harbourside.
The Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars in the Rallye Monte Carlo:
Petter Solberg has contested the Monte Carlo event four times previously and is looking to improve on his best finish so far, sixth place, achieved in 2002.
At the wheel of the second Subaru will be ex-formula one driver, Stéphane Sarrazin. Together with Australia's Chris Atkinson, Stéphane is embarking on his first season with Subaru - a team that has a long history of developing the careers of talented newcomers. The 29-year-old earned his works drive after an electrifying WRC debut in 2004 and an incredible performance in the French National Rally Championship. On his first event for the team, Stéphane will be aiming to gain experience at the wheel of his Subaru Impreza WRC2004.
Chris Atkinson will drive the stages of the Monte Carlo Rally when he completes the pre-event reconnaissance. His first competitive outing with the team will be in Sweden.
"It's great to be at the start of a new season. Up to now Monte Carlo has not been such a good event for me, but I can't wait to get back behind the wheel and be fighting for Championship points. I like the rally and, this year, hope to make it to the podium. In terms of the season, my aim is to get the Drivers' title back again - I'm going to try and do everything correctly and not make any mistakes. I know you can't win solo in this sport, it's a team game and I'll be working with everyone, the mechanics, management, everyone to make sure we get back on top. We're all standing together in this and going for the same goal. I'm looking forward to working with Stéphane. He's already shown he's got good speed on gravel and he's got a lot of asphalt experience, so I think I can learn a lot from him."
"Driving the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 feels very good, I have a nice feeling in the car and am starting to know it better. During the pre-event test we made lots of changes, the car was very reactive and now I'm confident as I know where to go. It's a good start for the race, but I can't say I will finish on the podium in Monte Carlo, as it's too early for me. The most important thing is to stay on the road and get more experience, so we will see. The team is very open, which is fantastic, I've just arrived and already have a good feeling with everyone. It's a very, very good start for me I think."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
"The challenge of Monte Carlo is the extreme of conditions. It can be 15°C and dry for much of the event, meaning drivers can run on a slick tyre and develop the same levels of acceleration and g-force as they would in Corsica or Spain. However, in Monte Carlo stages are often more than 10 per cent ice, meaning a driver may suddenly face slippery conditions while running on unsuitable tyres. The car therefore has to be set up in a way to cope with such extremes. It's a compromise between soft and progressive for the slippery conditions, and precise and agile for the dry asphalt, which tends to dominate the event. What makes it even more difficult at this time of year is that it's hard to predict the mountain weather, so you don't have much time to change the car's set up.
Following changes to the technical rules, this will also be the first time we've contested the rally without the option of a full snow tyre. The most extreme tyre we're now allowed to use is a wide, low profile 18" winter tyre with studs, which is designed for mixed conditions. So, if the rally were to have full snow it would be an interesting challenge!
Our overall objective this season is to make Petter World Champion and it's therefore important to start the season on a solid platform. We'll be following a slightly conservative approach for the first two rallies, both technically and in terms of driver strategy. Monte Carlo and Sweden are specialised and the focus is on tyres and tactics, so we feel there's little to be gained by introducing a new car at this time. These are events where you capitalise on experience. From Mexico onwards, it's the car that counts and that's when the Subaru Impreza WRC2005 comes along. We start being less conservative and more focused on wins. That said, we think Petter in the Impreza WRC2004 car is more than capable of achieving podium results on the first two events.
Looking to Stéphane, he's a new French driver on what is basically a French event, so he's likely to be in the spotlight. It's an extremely difficult event for new WRC driver and inevitably there will be parts of the route affected by the ice and snow of which he's got limited experience. That said, there will be places where his performance on dry tarmac will stand him in good stead and we've been very impressed with his approach to everything he's done in the last year. He's very level headed and handles pressure exceptionally well, but it's unreasonable to set objectives for him in terms of final result at this stage. Clearly his focus has to be gaining experience."
Between the Rallies
Christmas day at the Solbergs included Pernilla's parents, a combined Norwegian and Swedish Christmas dinner, time opening presents and snow-mobiling! Petter's favourite present was a complete kitchen cookery set, including a set of knives. He said that his first cookery attempt didn't go so well, but he's trying hard to improve. New Year's Eve meant more family fun and festivities, although the family decided to donate the money normally spent on a firework display to an organisation helping victims of the Asian earthquake.
Phil Mills had a full house in Wales for Christmas and New Year with partner Helen, both sets of parents, daughter Sioned, who was three on 28 December, and young son Iwan. Phil said that he got 'masses' of presents, his favourite being a book about antique rifles.
Stéphane Sarrazin spent Christmas at home with his family before moving to a chalet in Val Thorens for New Year with his girlfriend and friends. The group went cross-country skiing on New Year's Eve, before going out to a party that evening. Stéphane took a while to decide which his favourite present was, but eventually opted for his new watch.
Finally, Chris Atkinson spent Christmas in sunny Australia with his mum, dad, brother and his brother's girlfriend. Enjoying temperatures of more than 30°C, the Atkinson clan shunned the traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and roast potatoes for plates of seafood. And Chris's best present? His seat with Subaru of course! The young driver celebrated the Australian New Year with co-driver Glenn MacNeall on a plane bound for Norway, while European New Year passed them both peacefully by as they were asleep with jet leg!
Subaru World Rally Team selects Sparco for 2005
Italian motorsport equipment manufacturer Sparco will supply the Subaru World Rally Team with safety products and other automotive accessories for its assault on the 2005 World Rally Championship. Under the terms of a new partnership deal, Sparco will be the team's sole supplier of driver overalls, mechanics clothing, helmets, seats, seatbelts, head and neck support systems and a variety of other products from its world leading range of motorsport accessories.
Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Sarrazin will be dressed from head to foot in Sparco's X-light range of protective clothing, while their Impreza world rally cars will be fitted with Sparco steering wheels and the latest carbon fibre seats, which weigh less then five kilogrammes and are specially designed to accommodate the now compulsory HANS (R) head and neck support system.
"I think the HANS (R) system is a very significant step forward in driver safety," said 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg. "I'm convinced that rally drivers will benefit as much from the system as racing drivers have already. We've made quite a lot of modifications to make it suitable for off-road use and it's comfortable now - after a while you even forget you're wearing it."
"With over 25 years of manufacturing experience and a reputation for technical innovation this is a partnership that fits very well with Subaru," said team principal David Lapworth. "Both organisations have been working hard since the end of the 2004 season to get things in place for Monte Carlo, and we're pleased with the way Sparco's products have integrated into the various sections of our team. Of particular note is the way that Sparco has worked with us to introduce the HANS (R) system. The project required a considerable amount of work from both parties and together we've developed a very good solution."