Monte Carlo: Peugeot season opener preview

Peugeot up for the fresh challenges of 2004 with the 307 WRC After three consecutive world titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, plus runner-up honours in 2003, Peugeot is looking forward to the coming season's new challenges which include bidding for a ...

Monte Carlo: Peugeot season opener preview

Peugeot up for the fresh challenges of 2004 with the 307 WRC

After three consecutive world titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002, plus runner-up honours in 2003, Peugeot is looking forward to the coming season's new challenges which include bidding for a further crown, this time with the promising new 307 WRC. Marcus Grönholm, two-times World Champion with Peugeot, and the French squad's latest recruit Freddy Loix will be entered for every round of the championship, while on certain occasions they will benefit from the support of other drivers. The 2004 calendar features a number of innovations, including the introduction of two new events, yet the series remains true to tradition in that it kicks off with the celebrated Monte Carlo Rally which promises yet again to be a fiercely fought affair.

WRC regulars are today accustomed to the annual return to business marked by January's visit to Monaco having barely had time to catch their breath since the end of last year's hostilities. For hardly had the curtain come down on the 2003 championship in Great Britain on November 9th than all the teams were busy preparing for 2004 and, in particularly, the complex Monte Carlo Rally.

The winter classic stands out from all the other rounds of the championship by the potentially huge variety of surface types it covers, from dry asphalt to sheet ice, fresh snow or rain. It is this fickle terrain that has been chosen for the competition debut of the new 307 WRC and Peugeot Sport goes into the season's opener with its sights set as high as ever but with more humility than usual given the circumstances, even though it has worked hard in preparation for the event. Homologated on January 1st 2004, the team's new challenger took to the road for the first time a little more than a year ago and has since completed a comprehensive development programme on both gravel and asphalt.

The 2004 calendar features two new events - the first in Mexico, the other in Japan - which takes the total number of rounds for the year to sixteen. This in turn means that WRC teams will have precious little free time, especially given the anticipated high level of competition, with four different manufacturers all announcing title aspirations.

The 2003 season saw Marcus Grönholm add a further three wins to his career total (Sweden, New Zealand, Argentina) yet he also suffered a number of setbacks, so he will be keen to get the new year off to a flying start. The Monte Carlo Rally is one of those events that all drivers dream of one day winning, but it doesn't figure on the Finn's personal record of fifteen outright wins and two world crowns (2000, 2002), all with Peugeot. Nor is the Monte is not one of the rounds with which Marcus is the most familiar; his first visit as recent as 2000, with the 206 WRC. Since then he has finished 5th in 2002 and 13th in 2003.

Although Freddy Loix drove a Peugeot 206 WRC in last November's Rally GB, this year's World Championship will be his first full campaign in the French firm's colours. A string of top performances at world level, notably in 1996 (2nd in Portugal, 4th in Sanremo and Spain), rapidly earned the Belgian the nickname 'Fast Freddy', and he has already finished the Monte Carlo Rally in 6th position on two occasions (2000 and 2001).

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