Article by Evan Rothman.
The World Rally Championship for 2013 sees it rightfully start in Monte Carlo. Undoubtedly the most prestigious event in the world of rallying, this rally is a test of man, machine and weather prediction… Running as the opening round of the WRC from its inception in 1973 to 2008, the organizers Automobile Club de Monaco left the folds of the WRC to join the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2009 to 2011, with it returning to the World Rally Championship last year. Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena, in his home event, raced to a resounding victory in their Citroën DS3 WRC machines. For this year’s edition, Volkswagen Motorsport joins the fray, four factory M-Sport Fords in Qatar livery and a gaggle of privateers with the necessary bravery and experience required for speed in this event will take on Loeb to break his hold of the WRC in his final season of competition. The WRC Rallye Monte Carlo in 2013 will be a thrilling and a truly unpredictable event.
In 1911, the first edition of the Rallye Monte Carlo took place: it epitomized the meaning of the word “rally” in that competitors raced from all four corners of Europe to meet in Monte Carlo to celebrate the end of a transcontinental thrashing in their vehicles.
From those somewhat humble – but inspiring – roots, the “Monte” is a sprint against a stopwatch, the weather and the dozens of win-hungry rivals in purpose-built and state-of-the-art multi-million Euro machines. The man favoured to claim victory this weekend is nine-times WRC Champion Loeb. It is one of four appearances he has scheduled for 2013, and will most certainly be going all out to stamp his authority on this event once more. He and his rivals had better steer clear of the stone barriers and throw caution to the wind with icy sections up the Cols: the event organizers have selected to not allow Rally 2 restarts if any crews should retire along the route… This makes this rally all the more exciting, daring and unpredictable; a world rally in its true essence.
Running from 16 to 20 January, (Wednesday to Sunday) this week, the 81st edition’s event route comprises of 1,820.45km in 18 stages with 468.42km of special stages over four days of competition. The weather in the lead-up to this week has seen snowfall, rain and below zero Celsius temperatures. In the rally’s recce, competitors danced through the snow-lined and treacherously slippery tracks and are expecting much the same come the start.
Organizers have kept the Days One and Two (Wednesday 16 January and Thursday 17 January) largely unchanged from 2012’s rally with two loops repeated around the French city of Valence where the permanent service park is located.
On Friday 18 January, Day Three, there is a significant change to the route. An all-new stage, Saint Nazaire le Desert to Le Motte Chalancon (SS12), and the return of the famous Sisteron test, are once more included for fans. The 36.70km long Sisteron – Thoard (SS13) stage will be the final of the day’s three special stages before the overnight halt in Monaco ahead of the final five stages of the event Day Four.
Only the 60 highest-place crews in the overall classification will be enabled to compete on the three runs over the famous Col de Turini (Le Moulinet-La Bollene), including two under the cover of darkness, and two passes through Lantosque-Luceram, one by day and one by night. The final Lantosque-Luceram will form the event-closing Power Stage.
For long-time fans of the sport, you’ll recall the 2007 “Monte” for its silly spectators that ruined what would have been a fantastic showdown: Petter Solberg (then in his Subaru Impreza WRC) and double WRC Champion Marcus Gronholm (Ford Focus RS WRC) skidded out of control after spectators lined a section of road with snow to cause Solberg to crash into the road barrier and into retirement, with Gronholm experiencing the same skidding but his Ford managed to survive the impact and continue in the rally albeit further down the standings. In one of the first few high-speed corners in 2010 Andreas Mikkelsen, who was in his first event for Skoda UK, clipped a road barrier on the first stage to bring his debut to a controversial end. Even the master Loeb has had a few close shaves on this event, getting his Citroën Xsara WRC (and in later years his C4 WRC) breathtakingly sideways very memorably over narrow bridges. Around every corner lies danger: snow, icy, running water, silly spectator obstacles or rain. And, even all in a single stage was experienced in the 2009 running of the “Monte” when it was a round of the IRC… This is rallying!
Despite the scares, despite the icy road surfaces and pressure, the fastest man in the sport’s history will be the one to outpace. HANDBRAKES & HAIRPINS will not venture a podium prediction, but does not think that seeing one of the Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRCs on the podium with Loeb alongside is out of the realm of most fans’ reckonings too.
Loeb has claimed victory here six times and been on the podium another two times. Will Citroën’s former golden son, Sebastien Ogier, be able to topple the Frenchman in this rally in his new car? You can be sure that his recent downplaying of the Polo R WRC is a bid for Ogier to divert some pressure from his young shoulders to enable him to focus on his job role: victory.
Ever since the days of the Mini Cooper S machines competing in the 1960s of Rauno Aaltonen, the Lancia Stratos HF of Sandro Munari in the 1970s, the mean Audi Quattro beast of Walter Rohrl, the sideways and fire-breathing Ford Sierra Cosworth of Francois Delecour in the 1980s, Carlos Sainz in the Toyota Celica in the 1990s, and Colin McRae in the Subaru Impreza at the end of the century, to the all-dominating Citroën DS3 WRC of Sebastien Loeb in 2012. This event is steeped in history; it is an honour to compete, with traditions stemming from the first events still highly revered and obeyed in 2013. With the changeable weather conditions, the rally fans descending on Valence from every corner of the globe, a new manufacturer and team with intent on toppling the French firm, this weekend’s “Monte” is will be one of the most highly anticipated…