WRC to heat up Monte Carlo chill
- 16th January 2007, 2:23pm
In the heat-ravaged, drought-ridden and fire-scorched Australian continent, rally action has been the last thing on most competitors minds for many weeks, but fans with an international inkling will be well aware of the WRC fight which is about to get underway in Monaco.
Snow and ice will be on the menu as crews tackle what are probably the season’s most unpredictable stages. Tyre choice will be absolutely crucial – more so than in any other event – however the usual lottery will be lessened somewhat with all factory teams using the same brand of tyres (BF Goodrich) after Subaru gave up their Pirelli deal at the end of last season.
There are many points of interest surrounding the first event of the 2007 season, and most of them centre around the reigning World Champion, Sebastien Loeb. Not only will Loeb return to the sport for the first time since breaking his arm last year, but he’ll have a brand new car to come to grips with.
Citroen’s new C4 has shown plenty of promise in testing, but nothing’s like an actual rally stage to show the true extent of a car’s potential, and the C4 will undoubtedly have a baptism of fire.
That said, Loeb will start the event as somewhat of an underdog with Ford’s lead driver, Marcus Gronholm, on a real high after winning three of the final four events of last year’s championship. The Ford Focus is now the pick of the cars, with few reliability issues, and heading into its second full season you would expect that it would have the edge over the Citroen C4, at least in the early part of the season.
Gronholm’s team-mates, Mikko Hirvonen, won his maiden WRC round in Australia last year and enters the 2007 season fully believing that he can win rallies this season, and there’s every reason to believe he will.
Citroen number two, Dani Sordo, will be fast on some events but isn’t expected to challenge for the title.
Subaru’s hopes look to have taken a rise after switching from Pirelli tyres to the rival BF Goodrich brand. The Pirellis have traditionally been slower than their rivals on tarmac, and Petter Solberg and Australian Chris Atkinson should fare much better in 2007.
Last year’s Subaru was a complete disaster for the team, and although the new car won’t appear until March, the Impreza did show improvements towards the end of last season.
Atkinson finished sixth in Monte Carlo last season and his aim is to finish in a better placing in 2007. Hopefully the car will allow him to at least challenge to do that.
The other challenges for victory in Monte Carlo will come from Manfred Stohl in the Kronos-prepared Citroen Xsara and the Ford Focus-mounted Henning Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala. Running under the Stobart-Ford banner, both are capable of stunning stage times, while Stohl’s consistency over many seasons sees him as a real title darkhorse.
Former works drivers Xevi Pons and Toni Gardemeister will drive 2005-spec Mitsubishi Lancer World Rally Cars, but aren’t expected to challenge for victory. However such is the unpredictability of Monte Carlo that a podium place for either driver is not out of the question.
Czech driver Jan Kopecky should also feature well in his Skoda Fabia WRCar.
The Monte Carlo Rally includes two night stages on Thursday evening and a 46.02km test on Friday – one of the longest ever used on the event and potentially one of the places where the outcome of the rally could be decided.
On Sunday, the WRC circus will travel from Valence to the sumptuous surroundings of Monte Carlo to tackle a super special around the harbour section of the Grand Prix circuit in Monaco.
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