Monte Carlo: Subaru season opener preview

The Event The 2003 FIA World Rally Championship begins next week with the start of one of the most famous events in the WRC calendar, Rallye Monte Carlo. Competitors will cross the ceremonial start ramp in Place du Casino on Thursday 23 January,...

The Event
The 2003 FIA World Rally Championship begins next week with the start of one of the most famous events in the WRC calendar, Rallye Monte Carlo. Competitors will cross the ceremonial start ramp in Place du Casino on Thursday 23 January, before moving to the French Alps for three days of action. This prestigious event promises everything from glitz and glamour to extreme drama and high-octane rallying.

Run on the treacherous and twisty roads of the French Alps, this historic event, now in its 71st year, is renowned as one of the most demanding in the calendar. Comprising 415.02 competitive kilometres, contested over three legs and 14 stages, drivers will have to contend with hazards such as packed ice, tight turns and terrifying drops. Leg one, which makes up almost 50 per cent of the event's entire competitive distance, will be run around the French town of Gap, while Legs two and three are based on stages close to the Monte Carlo Principality.

Renowned for its unpredictable weather conditions, driver skill and correct tyre choices are critical factors on this classic asphalt event which can see competitors encounter everything from dry tarmac to black ice, snow blizzards to bright sunshine - sometimes all in the same stage. Rapid climate changes in the Alps make predicting the correct level of grip very difficult and teams will be seeking to gather as much information as possible from their gravel and weather crews to help them determine the best tyre to use before each group of stages.

Following Thursday's ceremonial start in Monaco, the event will begin in earnest on Friday 24 January when crews will travel more than 200km north west of Monte Carlo to Tallard for the event's first six stages. The entrants will run twice through three stages, including the longest of the event, the 47.27km Plan de Vitrolles test, before returning to Monte Carlo. Days two and three will see crews contest a further four stages on each day, all run to the north of Monaco. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp on Sunday 26 January at 1500hrs.

The 555 Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars on the Monte Carlo Rally, which will be piloted by Tommi Mäkinen (co-driver Kaj Lindstrom) and Petter Solberg (co-driver Phil Mills). Both cars will be eligible to score manufacturer's points.

Having won this rally four times in succession, four-time World Champion Tommi Mäkinen will be a force to be reckoned with. Confident following recent testing with the new Impreza WRC2003 and seeking to claim his fifth driver's title this year, Tommi is well motivated to score his fifth consecutive Monte Carlo win.

Petter Solberg will drive the other Subaru works entry. Last year in Monte Carlo, the Norwegian claimed five of the fastest stage times and finished sixth to secure points in both the Driver's and Manufacturer's Championship, despite having only competed in the event once before. Following his maiden WRC win at the end of last season and now with much more experience at the wheel of his Impreza WRC, Petter and his army of fans are looking for the best possible start to the new season.

Driver Quotes

Petter Solberg: "Over the winter I have been training a lot to get ready for the season. All of the teams and cars are so good now that you really have to push hard to win. We have to be strong in every area to ensure that we are the ones at the top and I think fitness will be a key factor in winning this year. I want this to be my year in the Championship, I am very confident after the end of last season and so will try hard to continue my form. In Monte Carlo I think it is very important to score points to get a solid start to the season so I will be trying to get on the podium for sure. I have tested the new car that we will be using and all I can say is that I am very, very happy!"

Tommi Mäkinen: "Monte Carlo is an unpredictable event and a lot depends on the weather. I understand that there has been snow on some of the stages that go quite far north, which could make things more difficult. I have done some testing in the Impreza WRC2003, which was very positive - I feel very good. We have quite a lot of experience in the Subaru now and much more knowledge of the Pirelli tyres so the event should be easier for us this year. I have been keeping fit over the winter break to ensure I am in peak physical condition to be competitive in the season ahead. We have had some very good winter weather in Finland so I have been exercising and skiing. I have won in Monte Carlo four times before and have a very good feeling about everything at the moment - hopefully we can win here for the fifth time."

The Car / The Challenge
555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth:

"Monte Carlo is the drivers' rally of the Championship. There's so much to catch them out that it's imperative they are able to judge the level of risk involved. It's true to say that you can't win the Monte Carlo Rally without taking risks, but you won't win it if you take too many either. The rally includes classic French stages, but the weather conditions are such a leveller that the specialist nature of the stages can be lost, making them ideal for Scandinavian drivers who have confidence in the changing conditions. Both Tommi and Petter are natural drivers, and therefore come into their own on this event.

"Tyre choice is a critical success factor on the Monte Carlo Rally. The extreme weather conditions - dry asphalt and black ice - means there's often very little grip on the roads. As a result the tyres become massively important, in some ways more so than the performance of the car. Fortunately, the Pirelli tyres have traditionally been very good in Monte Carlo and work well in the cold and damp conditions.

"You can certainly be lucky in Monte Carlo, but it's hard to imagine being lucky four times in a row. Tommi Mäkinen is very good at calculating how fast to go in the conditions and has shown that he has the skill and confidence to win. Looking to Petter, in last year's event he demonstrated that he could match Tommi's times and, but for one small mistake, could have been fighting at the front with Tommi and Sebastian (Loeb)."

Between the Rallies
The 555 SWRT drivers have made a number of public appearances for Subaru over the winter break. Tommi travelled to Tokyo at the beginning of December to take part in some promotional activities at the fifth Impreza Sports Meeting, while Petter followed a week later to attend the Sixstar Sports Meeting as a special guest of Subaru. Despite a full PR schedule he managed to squeeze in some sightseeing in Osaka while he was there.

Petter also managed to fit in a trip to Bologna in Italy to take part in the Bettega Memorial Rally Sprint (14-15 December), a trip to America to launch the new Subaru Impreza at the Detroit Motorshow (6-7 January) and an outing to the Norwegian Motorsport Awards where he won the Driver of the Year Award.

The team, meanwhile, has been busy testing and preparing for the launch of the new Subaru Impreza WRC2003. In December Tommi and Petter each carried out three days of testing in the new car in preparation for its Monte Carlo debut. Tommi undertook the first three days of driving (13-15 December) co-driven by 555 SWRT test driver Pasi Hagstrom, and the duo notched up 492 kilometres on three different stages in the French Alps. Petter and regular co-driver Phil Mills then took over testing for the final three days (16-18 December) and completed 469 kilometres in variable weather conditions on three separate test roads.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Petter Solberg