21 Jan 08
Get ready - the title fight starts here! Following Sunday's WRC launch in Monaco, the teams and drivers are making final preparations for the traditional WRC season opener, Rallye Monte Carlo, which gets underway on Thursday.
The Monte is a rally like no other. For a start it's the oldest one in the championship - this year marks its 76th anniversary - and it's probably the most famous rally of them all. From a competitor's point of view the rally is unique - both in terms of the challenging road conditions and its format, which are unlike any other in the series. Despite the name, for most of the time the rally is based in the city of Valence, in the Ardeche region of France, 450km North West of Monte Carlo. And instead of the usual three days of competition, the Monte has four.
For the second consecutive year, the rally will start from Valence with two night stages on Thursday evening. The route takes in 12 more stages in the area on Friday and Saturday, before moving down to Monaco for four classic stages in the Alpes Maritimes (including the legendary Col du Turini) and a fantastic Superspecial stage using part of Monaco's Grand Prix circuit.
The rally is essentially an asphalt event on technically straight-forward roads. What makes it so difficult is the unpredictable mountain weather. Drivers can face dry roads, streaming wet asphalt and treacherous ice, with the threat of snow on higher ground. They can often encounter all on the same stage as the route climbs and descends inhospitable mountain cols, switching from southern facing roads sheltered from extreme weather to exposed northern ones.The rally can be won or lost on a good or bad tyre choice. Each group of speed tests can contain stages which offer vastly different conditions and must be tackled on rubber chosen more than three hours before the action begins. There is no perfect choice for such weather, especially with new regulations restricting the options available. Frequently the secret for success is selecting compromise tyres which lose least time in the 'wrong' conditions.
Monte Carlo will be the first WRC rally for Pirelli's new, soft compound, asphalt tyre. Teams have tested with the new rubber, but Thursday night will be the first time it will be used in anger. Of course, Monte being Monte, the situation is not quite as simple as the 'one control tyre for all' theory. The varied weather conditions, and likelihood of snow in the mountains, mean that on this event teams also have the option of Pirelli's WX winter tyre - in studded and non-studded forms. But the new tyres are bound to make things interesting, and with anti-deflation mousse now banned, the speed at which crews can change a wheel could be more important than ever before.
The rally starts on Thursday at 1730hrs. Join us here at wrc.com for live results and all the news from the roads around Valence.
In the meantime, follow the links on this page to read preview notes from top WRC teams and drivers.