Skoda Motorsport begin their challenge in the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship at Rally Monte Carlo running from Thursday – Sunday, 23 – 26 March. Three-time Monte Carlo winner Didier Auriol cannot wait to get behind the wheel on his first competitive outing with the Škoda Octavia WRC.
The 1994 World Champion has spent the winter getting to grips with the Škoda Octavia WRC and preparing for the new season. But nothing can compare to the thrill of competition, as the Frenchman explains: "I’m really looking forward to competing, and it is even more exciting with a new car and new people," Auriol said. "Monte Carlo is one of the most unpredictable events of the season, but it is also a rally that I love. You must drive with your brain as much as your right foot!"
The principality of Monaco is famed for its Casino, which is a metaphor for the Monte Carlo Rally itself. Run over narrow mountain roads, conditions vary massively. Drivers can experience snow, ice, rain and sunshine all in the same stage. So all teams can do is hope that luck is on their side. But unlike the Casino’s gamblers, drivers can go a long way towards creating their own luck. "You have to develop a feeling for Monte Carlo," explains Auriol. "You try to judge where there is a good level of grip and push accordingly. You also need to listen carefully to the pace notes, and use the information from the gravel crew and the weather crew properly."
One driver who knows the pace of Monte Carlo well is Škoda WRC driver, Toni Gardemeister. The young Finn is contesting the event for the sixth time and is getting better and better. Toni’s best result was fifth on the 2001 Monte. "I like Monte Carlo a lot but it is a real challenge," he said. "You never know what to expect, which doesn’t make life easy. But I think we are able to react quite well to the changing conditions. Monte Carlo suits our car quite well because it is not all about outright power. It’s the way you use that power and drive the car that counts."
Škoda Motorsport has a promising record in Monte Carlo. Two years ago, an Octavia was battling for a podium place on the final day, eventually finishing fourth. Last year, the cars also showed an encouraging turn of speed.
Škoda Motorsport’s technical team, headed up by chief engineer Dietmar Metrich, has been working tirelessly over the winter to ensure that the pair of Octavias arrives in Monte Carlo in the best possible shape. Improvements to the suspension, differentials, and engine characteristics are the latest steps in the ongoing development of the Octavia WRC. The weight distribution has been optimized, with the overall weight lowered. The centre of gravity has come down, and the team is confident that the Octavia WRC is better than ever as it starts the 2003 season.
Team principal Pavel Janeba commented: "We feel well-prepared for the season ahead, and I'm equally confident that Didier and Toni will do the best job possible. They are both exceptionally talented."
The Monte Carlo Rally – probably the most famous on the entire calendar – gets underway with a ceremonial start on Thursday evening (24 January). This takes place outside the famous Casino. From there, the cars head high into the surrounding mountains for three days of frenetic action. Day one covers six stages, including the mammoth 47 kilometre Plan de Vitrolles stage. Service is in the Alpine town of St Andre les Alpes, some three hours drive away from Parc Ferme in Monaco.
Service for days two and three is on the glitzy harbour side at Monaco. The third day contains two runs over the famous Col de Turini, before the winning car appears on the finish ramp at 1500 on Sunday (26 January).
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