The roads in the foothills of the Italian Alps, near Lake Como, were white when competitors practised them on Wednesday, and more wintry weather is due ahead of the second leg.
Friday’s forecast indicates snow falling above 600 metres, which could affect large parts of Saturday’s stages. The day’s high point is in the 22.17km Costa Valle Imagna stage, which climbs to 1340 metres above sea level, while the opening Selvino test tops 1100 metres.
Up to 40cm of snow has been predicted but as temperatures rise during the day, it remains unclear how much will melt.
On Saturday itself, snow is predicted to give way to rain during the morning, but the risk of snow in the highest sections remains. It is likely to melt quickly in the afternoon, but a combination of that and persistent rain means there is a high risk of standing water.
Organisers have given each leading driver an emergency allocation of eight Michelin non-studded snow tyres. This adds to the existing allowance of soft and hard compound dry weather rubber and a wet option.
Snow would disadvantage the early starters who would plough a cleaner and faster line for those behind. With Friday’s finishing positions reversed to create Saturday’s running order, drivers harbouring victory and title hopes cannot afford to drop time in the opening leg.
“I think the biggest differences are going to happen on Saturday, that’s already pretty clear, but if there is fresh snow, to make the differences you have to be starting at the back,” explained Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Sébastien Ogier.
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“On Friday, there will be a huge amount of precipitation. Whether it’s snow or rain is not completely clear, but there might be some snow on top of the mountains.
“From the last forecast we have for Saturday, it’s supposed to get a bit warmer so there might be water, but we don’t know how much snow will still be there or whether it will be slushy. At the moment it’s impossible to predict and our gravel crew will have a difficult job.”
The snow threat piles the pressure on a competitor’s weather [gravel] crew. They drive the stages before they start to check conditions and advise pace note updates and tyre choice.
Their information on Saturday could make all the difference to the outcome of this year’s WRC title fight….
Full coverage from ACI Rally Monza is available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.