The 2005 Junior World Rally Championship gets underway with the Monte Carlo Rally, the oldest and most prestigious event in the calendar, from 20-23 January.
Fresh from winning the Championship in 2004, Suzuki driver P-G Andersson is looking forward to the first event to defend his title. But the Monte Carlo is well-known for its unpredictability and P-G will face tough opposition especially from his team mate, Britain’s Guy Wilks.
Both Suzuki drivers will start the season in the proven-and-trusted Ignis Super 1600 before switching to the brand new Swift during the second half of the year.
The Monte Carlo Rally is based high up in the mountains above the famous principality, and consists of twisty asphalt roads that are normally covered in ice and snow.
A change to the usual route means that the rally runs further south this year, and there is consequently a smaller chance of extreme weather. This year's Monte Carlo Rally is the most compact in the event's history. Just four stages make up the first day's action, with five stages on leg two and six on the final day which includes the legendary Col de Turini.
None of the drivers has driven the Ignis since the Catalunya Rally three months ago, so they will undertake one short test near Monte Carlo next Monday [17 January] in order to reacquaint themselves with their championship-winning car. The Ignis starts the season in 2004 asphalt specification, with one or two small additional developments.
P-G Andersson said: "We will only do about 50 kilometres in our pre-event test but that is enough. It's like riding a bike: you never forget!"
Guy Wilks commented: "Christmas and New Year have been very difficult as they have got in the way of what I really want to do, which is to go rallying!
"I think we have to approach Monte Carlo with a very open mind, as we have absolutely no idea of the conditions. There could be snow or dry asphalt or even fog, which is just as difficult as ice.
"For the most part I anticipate we will end up using slicks rather than studs, but we just have to wait and see. Personally, I feel fitter and stronger than ever and I can't wait to get started!"
Monster Sport Europe team manager Risto Laine commented: "I think we will be better prepared for Monte Carlo than we were last year when it was a last-minute rush to get the cars ready in time. I also think that we will see a very different Monte Carlo Rally compared to the past.
"The more southerly route means that there might not be any snow at all over the three days. Alternatively, it could still be very icy - you just never know. Monte Carlo remains unpredictable - but I've always said that you make your own luck! With the drivers and car we have at our disposal, our target has got to be victory. It's realistic to feel confident, but we can never underestimate our rivals."
In addition to the cars to be driven by Wilks and Andersson Suzuki Sport Europe will run a pair of Ignis Super 1600 cars for Kosti Katajamaki and Urmo Aava - who also drove an Ignis last year. Czech team JM Engineering will also run two new Ignis entries for Italian Alan Scorcioni and Czech Pavel Valousek. Finally, there will be another Ignis run by Czech team Jipocar for Martin Prokop.
The Monte Carlo Rally gets underway with the ceremonial start from the Place du Casino in Monaco at 17:30 [UK time] on Thursday evening [20 January]. The action proper begins at 07:00 CET on Friday morning, when crews set off to tackle the first of 15 challenging special stages. The finish is in Monaco at 13:30 [UK time] on Sunday, 23 January.
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