Monte Carlo Rally: preview

Tommi Makinen will be bidding to re-write the history books as he targets his fifth successive World Rally Championship

Monte Carlo Rally: preview

Just two days remain until the start of this year's WRC opener in Monte Carlo, where competitors will attempt to tackle the grueling terrain across the French Alps in conditions which can offer anything from ice and snow to dry asphalt.

Makinen has high hopes of repeating his 1999 Monte Carlo victory in this year's event which runs from January 20 to 22.

'Of course Monte Carlo is always a very difficult rally and you never know what can happen, but we have done a lot of testing, in France and in Lapland, and I think we have some good solutions,' said the Finn.

'The car is very nice to drive and I am looking forward to it.'

Belgian's Freddy Loix will be hoping to step out of the shadow of his successful Mitsubishi team-mate.

Loix has spent pre-season preparing for the rally, covering hundreds of miles in his Carisma GT.

'The testing has been very good,' said Loix.

'On ice and snow the car was already going quite well for my style, but now we have done a big step on tarmac as well.

'I will start from a much better base than last year, but with Monte Carlo the most important thing is you have some luck.'

Meanwhile British hero Colin McRae will be aiming to repeat the form which took him to the 1995 world championship.

The Ford driver links-up with former champion Carlos Sainz in what promises to be one of the championship's most formidable line-ups for 2000.

'As with any new car it's difficult to form an accurate opinion of its capabilities until you drive it for the first time on a rally and have the opportunity to compare it with other manufacturers,' said McRae.

'But our test in France earlier this month, on roads similar to those used in the rally, was encouraging. We had a few niggling troubles but the new transmission worked well and the revised engine has plenty of potential.'

For the 31-year-old Scot, the rally can almost be described as his home event as he now lives in Monaco, but it is not one of his favourites.

'Everything is very unpredictable. The special stages themselves are not difficult but the constantly changing conditions, where the roads can be snowy and icy on one side of a mountain and bone dry on the other make it very hard,' he added.

Team-mate Carlos Sainz believes tyre choice will be the key to success in the Monte.

'This is the toughest round as far as tyres are concerned because of the variety and combination of surfaces plus the fact that you must often choose a single type of tyre for consecutive tests in different conditions,' Sainz.

'Get your choice wrong once and it can make the difference between winning and losing.

'The more difficult the conditions, the more your choice becomes a compromise.'

Skoda Motorsport starts its second season of competition.

Since joining rallying's elite 12 months ago, Skoda Motorsport has made impressive progress through the highly competitive field.

The team's debut campaign with the Octavia WRC culminated in a fine fourth place on last November's Rally of Great Britain - the best result ever recorded by Skoda in a full-scoring round of the WRC.

The experienced German driver Armin Schwarz will continue to spearhead Skoda's attack in the number 11 Octavia WRC.

'The team made significant progress during 1999 and we must continue moving forward in 2000,' says the experienced 36-year-old Schwarz.

'Our winter testing programme has gone well and I'm very optimistic that we can produce some good results during this season.

'It's our aim to see both Octavias regularly running in the top ten and then we will be well placed to score points when the opportunities arise.

'The Monte Carlo Rally is always a gamble on tyres but it's one of my favourite events; it would be a big boost for morale if we could start this new season with another strong result.'

SEAT Sport starts the 2000 Monte Carlo Rally confident that its new star driver, Didier Auriol, will make a good debut for the Spanish team.

The Frenchman will drive the SEAT Cordoba WRC E2 in competition for the first time in Monte Carlo.

The 1994 World Champion is France's most successful rally driver of all time and the Monte is where 41-year old Auriol has often excelled.

In 10 previous attempts at the traditional opening round of the World Rally Championship, Auriol has won three times (1990, '92 and '93) and finished on the podium on two other occasions (2nd on his first attempt in 1989 and 3rd last year).

'It is important in Monte Carlo for us to try and be as fast as possible,' said Sainz, 'but we won't know until we see the stage times exactly how competitive we are.

'I hope the weather is very bad, as this will give us the best chance to score a good result, and I would like to reach the finish in a good position.'

By contrast, Auriol's SEAT Sport team-mate, 24-year old Toni Gardemeister, contested the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time last year, winning the 2-Litre trophy in a SEAT Ibiza Kit Car.

One of rallying's best young talents now returns to Monaco for the first time in a four-wheel drive Cordoba WRC E2 and hopes changeable weather will help him score another good result.

He said, 'I haven't got a great deal of rally experience in Monte Carlo, but it is a very difficult event and often the final result is a surprise.

'The weather always plays a big part, and I think the more changeable the conditions are the better chance we have of scoring a good result.

'Changing conditions will help to reduce the advantage the drivers who know the stages so well have, as they won't be sure exactly what's around every corner either. This is what I wished for on New Year's Eve.'

The Rally of Monte Carlo begins this Thursday (January 20).

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