The 1997 Monte Carlo Rally was a unique event for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was Subaru’s part-time driver, Pierro Liatti who won the event outright, giving the Impreza World Rally Car its maiden victory first time out. It was also the first event that featured the appearance of World Rally Cars which had taken over from the old Group A cars.

There was debate about whether the new WRCars were as quick as their Group A counterparts, and the first event went no way to proving or disproving the theory. Liatti’s win gave the strong Italian crowd something to cheer about as their countryman brought home the victor’s spoils by almost a minute over Carlos Sainz who was driving a Ford Escort WRC.

Secondly, Ford appeared at the Monte at the very last moment with two brand new Escort World Rally Cars that nobody expected would be ready in time for the event. It was only a matter of two weeks beforehand, November 18, 1996 in fact, that Ford’s official M-Sport rally team was formed. For the new team, considering that there was a Christmas holiday break to contend with as well, it was a miracle that M-Sport were able to get two cars, one for Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya and the other for Armin Schwarz/Denis Giraudet, to the start in time.

Thirdly, the route saw for the first time a super-special stage in the principality of Monaco, the first time that a competitive stage had been held there since the 1960s. It was won by Freddy Loix (Toyota Celica) from Sainz and Colin McRae. The four manufacturer’s teams – Ford, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Toyota – all scored fastest stage times, each holding the lead for a day.

Apart from misfiring problems on Sainz’ car Day 3,  both Escorts ran faultlessly. Team boss, Malcolm Wilson, was excited about the cars’ performance so early in its development. “We had to build cars of a type that nobody knew anything about before and had to produce parts that had never been made before,” he said. Yet despite the newness of the car, its first WRC victory came just months later in Greece.

Strangely (and this was something that the patriotic French population would have been left smarting over) not one French driver finished in the top ten placings.

It seems hard to believe that this year’s Monte celebrates 10 years since the debut of World Rally Cars. Whoever proposed the new regulations must have got something right, World Rally Cars being much more successful and less controversial than the Group B and Group A cars that proceeded them.

1997 Monte Carlo Rally:
1. Piero Liatti/Fabrizia Pons,  Subaru Impreza WRC, 4h26m58s
2. Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya, Ford Escort WRC, 4.27.53
3. Tommi Makinen/Seppo Harjanne, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, 4.29.29
4. Armin Schwarz/Denis Giraudet, Ford Escort WRC, 4.32.03
5. Uwe Nittel/Tina Thorner , Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, 4.42.42

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