BRENTWOOD, England – Ford may no longer officially be involved in the World Rally Championship but the Blue Oval will have a strong presence on the opening round of the championship – Rallye Monte Carlo.
Six Fiesta RS WRCs are taking part in the famous event which revs into action on Wednesday and finishes with a ceremony in Monaco on Sunday.
Making their competitive debuts this week are the Qatar M-Sport and Qatar World Rally Teams. Ford Fiesta RS WRC drivers Mads Østberg, Evgeny Novikov, Thierry Neuville and Juho Hänninen will all be hoping to kick of their 2013 campaigns with a podium finish.
Steeped in motorsport history, Rallye Monte-Carlo is regarded by many as the jewel in the WRC’s crown. But the glitz and glamour of the principality hide a demanding asphalt route through some of the region’s most treacherous mountain roads. Tackling 465 competitive kilometres over four days, crews can encounter snow, ice and dry asphalt – occasionally on the same stage – making shrewd tyre selection the best compromise and often the key to success.
If this were not challenge enough, crews will have to be extra vigilant as Rally 2 regulations – which allow drivers to restart after a non-finish the following day on other events – will not apply.
The tricky conditions could well play into the hands of Østberg and Novikov. This will be Østberg’s first venture to Monte-Carlo and only the second outing for the young Russian. But with the prospect of snow covering some of the higher mountain tests and ice making the going exceedingly difficult, the conditions could well lessen the advantage of those with more experience of these notoriously difficult stages.
Novikov also secured an excellent fifth place finish on his debut last year and with the Qatar M-Sport duo having the benefit of some legendary names as part of their ice-note crews – Morten Østberg and Ola Floene for the Norwegian and Denis Giraudet and François Delecour for Novikov – the pairing will be well equipped.
Making their competitive debuts in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Neuville and Hänninen will also be looking for a strong result. This will be Neuville’s third time at Rallye Monte-Carlo and Belgium’s latest protégé will be looking to score his first points from the event for Qatar and M-Sport. Despite this being his debut in a world rally car, Hänninen has an impressive record in Monte-Carlo – finishing second to Mikko Hirvonen’s Ford Fiesta S2000 in 2010 – and will be looking to make an early impact on the world stage.