2003 Season opens in Monte Carlo

CHARACTER OF EVENT: The traditional winter time asphalt event based in the Alpes Maritimes, the longest running event in the FIA World Rally Championship. The weather continues to be the most determining factor about the Monte Carlo Rally, not only ...

2003 Season opens in Monte Carlo
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The traditional winter time asphalt event based in the Alpes Maritimes, the longest running event in the FIA World Rally Championship. The weather continues to be the most determining factor about the Monte Carlo Rally, not only the variety of conditions which might be faced, but also the uncertainty of predicting the conditions. Because of the wide range of possible conditions, the FIA allows teams to nominate four instead of two alternative tyre patterns for use on the event.

Thirty years ago it all started: the 1973 Rallye Monte Carlo was the first ever FIA World Rally Championship event. An omen?: French cars took the first three places on that occasion! This is the first of seven world rallies in 2003 to be held in Mediterranean countries.

None of the stages are exactly the same as 2002, though stages 11/13 use the same road and only differ in exact length. The rally returns to stages in the region of Gap. Tallard (the airfield south of Gap) will be used as the Service Park on the Friday. On Saturday and Sunday the Service Parks will be at Monte Carlo. There will be the usual ceremonial start on Thursday evening in Monte Carlo, but this year the cars can be transported to Tallard ready for the restart on Friday morning. There will therefore be no Service Park before the first stage on Friday morning. Once again, entries are limited to 60 cars and Group N cars have not been accepted. The famous Sisteron stage is missing this year.

Main novelty for the 2003 season: points will be scored down to the eighth, not sixth, eligible finisher. The now traditional photo shoot of the championship drivers and co-drivers is to take place outside the rally Headquarters (Sporting d'Hiver) after the FIA press conference on Thursday at 15h45.


MARLBORO PEUGEOT SPORT (2002 FIA World Rally Champions)
2003 regular drivers Marcus Gronholm, car no. 1 and Richard Burns, car no. 2. Also nominated Gilles Panizzi, car no. 3 First rally for the FIA World Champion cars with red colour scheme. FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm lost a day of testing in France because of an enflamed arm tendon, an old injury aggravated by winter time snowmobile driving. It is reported that Robert Reid is fully recovered from his injury in testing before Australia. Three new cars for this event.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY (2nd team in 2002)
2003 regular drivers Markko Martin, car no. 4 and Francois Duval, car no. 5. Also nominated Mikko Hirvonen, car no. 6) First rally for Markko Martin as team number one, first works drive for 22 year old Hirvonen, who has only entered three FIA World Rallies to date. Extended last minute testing necessary because of late switch from Pirelli to Michelin tyre supply. Duval won the JWRC category at Monte Carlo last year. New colours scheme, essentially white with blue RS motifs, as used on Delecour's car in 2001.

555 SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM (3rd team in 2002)
2003 regular drivers Petter Solberg, car no. 7 and Tommi Makinen, car no. 8) First sight of the still-secret 2003 version Subaru Impreza World Rally Car, the first marque to run their 2003 version WRCar, will be at 1900 on Wednesday in Monte Carlo. The cars will then be seen in action at Shakedown the next morning.

HYUNDAI WORLD RALLY TEAM (4th team in 2002)
2003 regular drivers Armin Schwarz, car no. 10 and Freddy Loix, car no. 11) New sponsors will be announced at the rally. No dedicated testing has been made for this event: drivers will be carrying out pre-event confirmation test in Britain and accumulated benefit of asphalt testing in 2002. Redesign work has been carried out on the exhaust after Schwarz's fire on Network Q Rally of Great Britain.

SKODA MOTORSPORT (5th team in 2002)
2003 regular drivers Didier Auriol, car no. 14 and Toni Gardemeister, car no. 15) Didier Auriol has been very busy testing since he joined the team! Team director Pavel Janeba: "We have been reducing the weight of the cars and improving the weight distribution, working on the suspension to improve the adjustability of the settings and on the engine to improve its power curve. Our policy for 2003 is to develop the company's reliability image through world championship motorsport, and in turn hope this will bring us points on a regular basis." Colour scheme unchanged from last year.

CITROEN TOTAL (not eligible for points in 2002)
2003 regular drivers Colin McRae, car no. 17 and Sebastien Loeb, car no. 18. Also nominated Carlos Sainz, car no. 19) New colours and two new drivers! Citroen cars will carry blue, white and red colours following a recent commercial agreement with Telefonica. The team will announce this at a press conference on Wednesday at Cap d'Ail.

Four in all, two Peugeots from Bozian (Cedric Robert and Roman Kresta), a Focus for Antony Warmbold (son of Achim, who won two world rallies in 1973) and a Subaru for Eamonn Boland, his first major event outside Ireland. This will be the first rally in a Peugeot for former Skoda works driver Roman Kresta.

The JWRC will have seven, not six qualifying rounds and has a maximum age limit for the first time. New drivers to the series include Salvador Canellas, son of the works SEAT driver who finished fourth on the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally with a Suzuki. The cars for the Suzuki drivers will be new for this event with the benefit of some engine development. The Lebanese driver Abdo Feghali is the younger brother of Roger who finished third Super 1600 driver in last year's Monte Carlo, and is one of four Ford Puma drivers. Four drivers have moved from the Production Car world series to the JWRC: Marcos Ligato from Argentina, Beppo Harrach from Austria, Pavel Valousek from Czech Republic and Dimitar Iliev from Bulgaria. Two entries have already withdrawn from the series: Kristian Sohlberg (who has a programme of WRC rallies in a Mitsubishi World Rally Car) and Dariusz Chudobinski from Poland (a skiing injury). A total of 26 JWRC cars are expected to start the event from 17 different countries and run by 17 different Rally teams. There will be a photo shoot with all the cars and crews present on Wednesday at 15h30 followed by a presentation at Stars 'N' Bars, next to their dedicated service area.

Ten non-championship entries have been received: pay attention to the works Renault of Simon Jean-Joseph who beat all the JWRC cars on the Network Q Rally and was easily the fastest S1600 in Acropolis last year.

The running order for Friday is to be decided on the championship Classification Order from the 2002 FIA World Drivers Rally Championship. At the same time as the Monte Carlo Rally will be run the Arctic Rally, the second round of the FIA European Rally Championship. Star guest driver will be former Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen. He will be driving one of two Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRCars run by the official Ralliart team personnel, the other car is driven by Kristian Sohlberg. Neste Rally Finland has been proclaimed as the Rally of the Year for 2002, following a vote from the world championship teams and based on widely differing criteria of organisation. Finland had also previously won the award in 1998. The week after the Rallye Monte Carlo itself will be run the Historic Monte Carlo (1-5 February with over 300 entries. Star entry is Jean-Claude Andruet with his lady co-driver 'Biche' in a Renault Alpine A110 of the type in which they won the 1973 Rallye Monte Carlo - and carrying again the competition 18 which brought them success 30 years ago.

Traditionally the uncertain weather conditions are the most daunting circumstances of the event, and this affects the tyre companies more than ever! Aime Chatard, Rally Manager at Michelin, explains: "There are various aspects to this problem. Firstly we need good advanced data about how effective will be the tyres, not only in the conditions for which they are intended but also the other extreme - how good they are in completely unsuitable conditions, because we will always have to face a wide variety of conditions with the same set of tyres. Secondly you need to make good predictions about the weather conditions. Most of the rally is grouped into two stages between service. This means that the work of predicting conditions on the second of two stages (which will usually be run over two hours after leaving service) is very complicated. This year has not been good for gaining information about our tyres and many of our tyres will have to be those we developed last year. We suspect much of this winter's testing work will not be helpful until we come back to Monte Carlo in 2004!" Paul Hembrey, rally tyre chief at Pirelli, added: "Monte Carlo is unique in having a variety of surfaces on the same stage. It is in fact a mixed surfaced rally. It is a rally where you must always make compromises with your choices of tyre."



Final 2002 standings

Rally of Great Britain standings after SS7 - Junior