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69th Rally of Monte Carlo 17 - 21 January 2001
Round 1 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship

Official FIA Press Release

Final - Tommi Makinen, Mitsubishi Lancer wins!
Sunday, 21st January 2001

Tommi Mäkinen began his attempt to regain the FIA World Rally Championship in style by winning the opening round, the Rallye Monte Carlo, which finished in Monaco this afternoon. The Finn was handed an easier run over today's four remaining stages (including two passes over the famous Col de Turini) when overnight leader Colin McRae retired after the opening test. Carlos Sainz and Francois Delecour gave Ford some consolation by bringing their Focus RS WRCs home in second and third respectively, while Armin Schwarz scored a morale-boosting fourth-place finish for Skoda, equalling the marque's best ever world championship result.

Tommi Mäkinen was poised to attack Colin McRae's narrow lead this morning but once he came across the Scot's Ford on the opening stage, he backed off and cruised to his third Rallye Monte Carlo victory in succession. „I nearly hit Colin,š said the four-times FIA World champion. „It was hard to stop at the hairpin and I had to reverse and then go around him. Col de Turini was the most difficult I'd ever seen it. The spectators had put snow on the road because there were some places where my ice notes said the road was just damp, and it turned out to be sheet ice or snow. It was bad luck for Colin this morning, but a win here gives us 10 important points. The revised suspension on the Mitsubishi makes it a lot easier to drive. There are a lot of bumpy sections here in Monte Carlo but I've been able to push on all of them. I think that'll carry over onto gravel as well, so I've got a lot of confidence for the rallies ahead.
His team-mate Freddy Loix spent the final day recovering from the road penalties he incurred yesterday. The Belgian set outright fastest time (his first since Cyprus last year) on the first run over the Col de Turini, thanks to an inspired tyre choice. „I don't have so much confidence on half-stud tyres or wet racers, able to push a bit harder on the snowy sections. But they weren't so good for the second stage, and it was a real handful on the dry asphalt bits towards the finish.š He couldn't quite overhaul Toni Gardemeister's Peugeot but he still finished sixth, bagging three manufacturers' points for Mitsubishi.

Colin McRae started today's four stages with a lead of just three and a half seconds over Tommi Mäkinen but before the mid-point of the first test, the Col de Turini, his hopes of victory were dashed when his Focus RS WRC's fly-by-wire throttle stopped working. He reset the car's electronics and the unit kicked back into life, but as he crested the Col itself, it stopped again. McRae and navigator Nicky Grist worked furiously to fit a mechanical link but the fly-by-wire motor itself had seized and hasty repairs meant that the throttle jammed open occasionally during the rest of the stage. Ford engineers tried to radio advice to McRae to allow him to fix the problem before the next stage but the Scot ran out of time. McRae said: „It was a safety issue. We'd already lost so much time and if the throttle had jammed open in the next stage, who knows what could have happened? It's a new system but it's hard to say whether or not it should be used. You have to try these things.
McRae's two team-mates each moved up a place, even though new second placed man Carlos Sainz spun on the Col de Turini. „It was silly, said the Spaniard. „I just slid round at a hairpin and it was difficult to find reverse. Conditions were very tricky. He recovered to finish a comfortable second, albeit more than a minute behind Mäkinen.
The remaining Focus of Francois Delecour started today's stages less than five seconds behind Armin Schwarz, and although the Frenchman inched ahead on the Col de Turini, he lost the place immediately in SS13. However, a fastest time on the second run over Turini was enough to catapult Delecour back into third, and he held the final podium place to the finish. „I had total motivation for the second time on Col de Turini, he said. „I gave it complete attack and it worked. I'm delighted, and I know I can learn more about the car.

Armin Schwarz was determined to stave off Ford's Francois Delecour this morning, and the battle turned into a scrap for the final podium place once McRae retired. Schwarz ceded third on the Col de Turini, but fought back on the next test to inch ahead again. However, after Delecour regained the position in SS14, Schwarz elected to settle for fourth overall and third-place manufacturer points for Skoda. „ Once I saw the Turini was drier on the second run I knew Francois would be hard to stop, said the German. „But I'm not disappointed. The car has been excellent here and this is a great start to the year for the whole team. We've come away with a lot of points, and that'll be great for the confidence back at base.
His team-mate Bruno Thiry suffered two broken wheel rims on the Col de Turini and was held up by the aftermath of an accident which befell Olivier Burri, but he still finished in eighth overall. His result lifted Skoda's manufacturer points haul from the opening round to five.

Alister McRae was contesting the Rallye Monte Carlo for the first time, but the Scot looked set to score at least a couple of points before he hit trouble on today's opening stage. „I got caught out on a patch of ice, said the 1995 British champion. „The left-rear wheel hit a wall, and it broke the centre out of the wheel completely. We'd more than half of the stage still to run so I had to stop and change the wheel, but the jack bent as we were working so we lost more time. In the end, he lost more than three minutes and dropped to seventh, just one place away from a drivers' championship point. „ It's disappointing, said McRae. „Perhaps my first Monte was going a bit too well and now it's taught me a lesson. The team's done a good job, though, and we can take some encouragement from how well things had been going beforehand. It's been a very good experience.

Philippe Bugalski continued his experience-gaining process in a Saxo kit car today, and the French champion eventually brought the two wheel drive, 1600cc car home in 14th overall. Citroen's young hope, Sebastian Loeb, spent most of the event recovering after he incurred road penalties for delays in service on the first day. He set a string of fast times and finished just under two minutes adrift of his more experienced team-mate.

Other teams
Toni Gardemeister's first run with an HF Grifone-run Peugeot 206 started with a fastest time on the opening stage of the season, and ended with fifth overall. The young Finn spun on the first run over the Col de Turini but he did enough to stay ahead of Mitsubishi's Freddy Loix. Gardemeister will use a 206 again on the next FIA World Rally Championship round, the Swedish Rally. The other leading World Rally Car privateer, Olivier Burri, crashed out on today's opening stage.

In Group N, Olivier Gillet survived damaged rear suspension to claim the category spoils ahead of reigning World Group N Champion Manfred Stohl, who was dissatisfied with his tyre choices throughout the event. Gustavo Trelles was third in the class, while Italian Gianluigi Galli's hopes of a decent finish ended with centre differential failure.

1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:38:04.3
2 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 4:39:05.1
3 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 4:40:09.6
4 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 4:40:30.3
5 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 4:43:56.4
6 Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT 4:44:30.2
7 A.McRae Hyundai Accent WRC 4:47:08.3
8 Thiry Skoda Octavia WRC 4:51:59.3
9 Gillet Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:54:28.2
10 Stohl Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:55:54.6

1 Gillet Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:54:28.2
2 Stohl Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:55:54.6
3 Trelles Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4:56:41.5

1 Bugalski Citroen Saxo Kit Car 5:03:28.4
2 Loeb Citroen Saxo Kit Car 5:05:14.2

CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (provisional standing after 1 of 14 rounds):
FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers:
Mäkinen (FIN) 10
Sainz (E) 6
Delecour (F) 4
Schwarz (D) 3
Gardemeister (FIN) 2
Loix (B) 1

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers:
Mitsubishi 13
Ford 6
Skoda 5
Hyundai 2

FIA World Cup for Drivers of Production Cars:
Gillet (CH) 10
Stohl (A) 6
Trelles (ROU) 4
Pozzo (RA) 3
Ligato (RA) 2
Truphemus (F) 1

FIA Teams Cup (this event did not count): no results
FIA Super 1600 Championship for Drivers (this event did not count): no results

SS12 McRae, Ford Focus RS WRC Throttle failure
SS12 Galli, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Mechanical
SS12 Burria, Toyota Corolla WRC Mechanical
SS7 Burns, Subaru Impreza WRC Did not restart
SS5 Solberg, Subaru Impreza WRC Accident/Roll
SS4 Auriol, Peugeot 206 WRC Lost wheel
SS3 Panizzi, Peugeot 206 WRC Accident
SS1 Gronholm, Peugeot 206 WRC Water Pump
SS1 Martin, Subaru Impreza WRC Electrical
SS1 Liatti, Hyunai Accent WRC Engine/oil

SS12 - Loix, SS13 - Makinen, SS14 - Delecour, SS15 - Sainz

SS15, Loda - Luceram 16.55 km
1 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 14:09,5
2 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 14:15,1
3 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 14:15,5
4 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 14:16,2
5 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 14:18,0

SS14, Sospel - La Bollene Vesubie 32.72 km
1 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 26:24,6
2 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 26:28,4
3 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 26:40,0
4 Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT 26:40,4
5 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 26:42,2

SS13, Loda - Luceram 16.55 km
1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 14:57,6
2 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 14:58,4
3 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 15:01,2
4 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 15:04,4
5 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 15:05,7

SS12, Sospel - La Bollene Vesubie 32.72 km
1 Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT 28:19,0
2 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 28:22,4
3 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 28:25,5
4 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 28:31,9
5 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 28:39,1

End of Leg 2
Saturday, 20th January 2001

Clear skies greeted the crews on the second morning of the Rallye Monte Carlo, the opening round of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship. But the roads themselves were in far less predictable condition, with bone-dry asphalt interspersed by sheet ice and compacted snow in several places. Despite Subaru's overnight decision to withdraw the final works Impreza late last night and the retirements yesterday of all three Peugeots, a close fight for the lead between Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen attracted huge crowds to the mountain roads near Digne. Spectator congestion proved a problem by mid-afternoon, when worries over the fans forced the cancellation of the tenth stage.

Tommi Makinen started today's action in second overall but the Finn had promised a charge and he duly delivered. He set fastest times on both of the opening pair of tests, cutting his deficit to leader Colin McRae from more than half a minute to just two and a half seconds. He then moved ahead in SS9 when his rival was slowed by spectators. „It's been going well,š said Makinen. „I actually thought our tyres were a bit too soft for the Sisteron stage but the time was good anyway. Perhaps we made up enough time on the uphill section to carry us through. I'm enjoying the fight with Colin, but there's still a long way to go.šColin McRae fought back on the final stage and finished the day with a 3 second lead. Team-mate Freddy Loix was less comfortable with his choice of tyres, particularly on the more slippery stretches of road. „I'd no confidence with the wider tyre on the ice at all, said the Belgian. „The first stage today was really difficult for me. Things improved for Sisteron, but I was still nowhere near Tommi's pace.š He later picked up more than a minute's road penalties at service, when a broken bolt on his Lancer's wishbone delayed his departure.

Overnight leader Colin McRae saw his advantage over Tommi Makinen quickly disappear this morning, as the Scot felt he was too cautious over the icy stretches of the opening two stages. „I think we were on the right tyres,š he said. „I was a bit surprised when I saw how much time Tommi took from me, especially in Sisteron. I couldn't have matched his time. McRae was frustrated further in today's third stage when the sheer number of spectators standing close to the road slowed him down. Team boss Malcolm Wilson said: „Colin's perfectly happy for us to examine evidence from the in-car camera and decide how to react based on that.McRae won the final stage over Tommi Makinen to take the overnight lead. Team-mate Carlos Sainz was unhappy with his tyre choice in the first two stages, and dropped time to the leading pair. „We needed a more open pattern of tyre, said Sainz. „The ones we picked were more like racing tyres and on the ice, I had no feeling at all.š The third Focus RS WRC of Francois Delecour has been embroiled in a fight with Armin Schwarz's Skoda for fourth place, and the Frenchman inched ahead on the second stage of the morning. „It hasn't been easy at all, said Delecour. „The semi-automatic gearbox has stopped working, so I've had to force every gearchange. That's cost us a few seconds. He and navigator Daniel Grataloup also suffered a scare between today's third and fourth tests, when their fly-by-wire throttle failed. But they resorted to the mechanical connection and continued.

The clearer conditions didn't please Armin Schwarz, who started the day in fourth overall. The German believed that his Skoda was losing out in sheer power, particularly on the uphill sections. „When there's snow and ice you can't make full use of your torque or power anyway, said Schwarz. „In those conditions - when we're on the right tyres - it's possible to be competitive. But today's roads are dry in a lot of places and in that situation, we lose out. I'm hoping for the weather to get worse! He ceded fourth position to François Delecour in SS8 but reclaimed it on SS11. The second Skoda of Bruno Thiry started today's action just outside the top ten, but the Belgian's hopes of improving his position were frustrated early on by differential problems. „I think we lost all pressure in the front and centre differentials for Sisteron,š he said. „And the conditions there meant that you really needed the diffs to be working perfectly. It's frustrating because I know the car's good enough to do better times.š Thiry finished the day in 10th.

After Piero Liatti's retirement yesterday, Hyundai's hopes are now focused on Alister McRae, despite the fact that the 1995 British champion is contesting the Rallye Monte Carlo for the first time. He enjoyed a steady start to today's stages, although he found himself getting impatient on the icy stretches. „Rally drivers' brains aren't designed to go slowly,š he said. „It's confusing! You could walk up some of the roads more quickly than we've been driving them and at the time, you can't help but think that you're losing loads of time to your rivals. But patience is really the only policy - I guess that's what I'm learning about Monte.

The final works Impreza of double FIA World Championship runner-up Richard Burns failed to make the restart this morning, after it suffered engine problems on the road section back to Monte Carlo last night. Team officials studied computer data as the car sat in Parc Ferme, and elected to withdraw it from the event. „As we came into Monte Carlo, the car dropped onto three cylinders, said Burns. „We realised we wouldn't get out of Monte Carlo again, so we decided to save the engine. I've no idea what caused it. Subaru team principal David Lapworth said: „It's a tough decision to withdraw Richard but we've agreed that this is the best course of action. It'll enable us to determine the cause of the problem and ensure it doesn't happen again. We've looked to see if there's any comparison with the failure of Markko's car earlier today, but it seems clear that the two are unrelated.

Jesus Puras's hopes of gaining further experience of the Monte Carlo stages ended yesterday evening, when his Saxo kit car succumbed to gearbox failure. But his team-mate Philippe Bugalski continues to post competitive times in the 1600cc, two-wheel drive machine. Only a broken exhaust hampered his progress this morning, but the reigning French champion still held a top 20 placing.

Other teams
Toni Gardemeister continues to hold a top ten placing in his privately run Peugeot 206 WRC, despite finding the changeable road conditions extremely difficult this morning. „Unlike the manufacturer entries, we don't have an ice-note crew, said Gardemeister, „and there have been several big moments when I've found ice. I also had a spin in Sisteron which cost me 15 seconds. He still did enough to move clear of Toyota Corolla driver Olivier Burri, then past Loix when the Belgian incurred road penalties. Burri, meanwhile, still occupied a top ten position.

In the Group N category for more standard machinery, Manfred Stohl started the day with a comfortable class lead but Olivier Gillet's Mitsubishi was quicker in today's first stage. On the second, Stohl's Lancer suffered turbo problems and he dropped more than four minutes to his rivals, allowing Gillet into the class lead

1 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 3:13:42,4
2 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3:13:45,9
3 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 3:14:48,1
4 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 3:15:55,0
5 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 3:15:59,6
6 A.McRae Hyundai Accent WRC 3:17:59,5
7 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 3:19:04,2
8 Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT 3:19:25,5
9 Burri Toyota Corolla WRC 3:21:09,2
10 Thiry Skoda Octavia WRC 3:25:13,1

1 Gillet Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3:25:17,6
2 Galli Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3:26:19,9
3 Stohl Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3:27:45,9

1 Bugalski Citroen Saxo Kit Car 3:31:45,6

SS7 Burns, Subaru Impreza WRC Did not restart
SS5 Solberg, Subaru Impreza WRC Accident/Roll
SS4 Auriol, Peugeot 206 WRC Lost wheel
SS3 Panizzi, Peugeot 206 WRC Accident
SS1 Gronholm, Peugeot 206 WRC Water Pump
SS1 Martin, Subaru Impreza WRC Electrical
SS1 Liatti, Hyunai Accent WRC Engine/oil

SS7 - Makinen, SS8 - Makinen, SS9 - Delecour, SS10 - cancelled, SS11 - McRae

SS11, Sisteron - Thoard 36.69 km
1 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 26:22,1
2 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 26:28,7
3 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 26:30,6
4 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 26:41,3
5 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 26:52,4

SS10, Comps - Castellane 20.53 km
Cancelled due to an excess of spectators

SS9, Clumanc - Lambruisse 14.75 km
1 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 10:25,1
2 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10:25,2
3 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 10:27,8
4 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 10:31,4
5 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 10:32,7

SS8, Sisteron - Thoard 36.69 km
1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 26:02,3
2 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 26:14,0
3 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 26:22,4
4 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 26:26,3
5 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 26:26,9

SS7, Bif. D 1 / C 1 - Turriers 24.12 km
1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 17:31,1
2 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 17:39,1
3 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 17:43,6
4 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 17:52,5
5 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 17:59,4

End of Leg 1
Friday, 19 January 2001
Conditions on the opening day of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship could hardly have been more unpredictable for the sport's top drivers, as the Rallye Monte Carlo threw its traditional blend of ice, snow and wet asphalt at the crews. Reigning FIA World Champion Peugeot lost all three of its factory entries (including drivers champion Marcus Gronholm after just two stages). And many of the regular contenders had to fight back from uncharacteristically low positions after they found themselves ploughing deep snow for the later competitors.

FIA World champion Marcus Gronholm was forced out of the opening round of this year's series when water pump failure caused his 206 WRC's engine to overheat on the second stage. Marcus said: „With about 15km left to run, the water temperature leapt up to 140 degrees and all of the lights on the dashboard started flashing. I stopped to check but couldn't find anything, so I carried on. We made it to service, but there's nothing we can do. I'm disappointed, of course, but all I can do is look to the next round in Sweden. His new team-mate Didier Auriol inched into an early lead, despite problems with the semi-automatic shift on his car's gearbox. But near the end of the third stage, he clouted the rear of his car and lost a wheel. Although he reached the start of the next test, event officials refused to allow him to continue on three wheels. To compound the team's misery, the third 206 of Gilles Panizzi crashed heavily in the third stage rolling 40 metres down a ravine. Both crew members were taken to hospital for precautionary checks. Peugeot Sport team principal Corrado Provera said: „It looks like the Monte Carlo Rally is cursed for us. Despite the fact that the car looks competitive, we've ended our challenge even earlier than last year.

The second Impreza nominated for manufacturers' series points, Markko Martin, failed to reach the first stage this morning after electrical problems on the road section between Monte Carlo and St Andre les Alpes. It was a particularly galling retirement for the young Estonian, whose only previous outing for the Subaru team (in Australia last year) lasted just a single stage. „I didn't think I could have worse luck than I did there,š said Martin, „but now I have! I just hope I get a clean run in Sweden next month.š Last year's FIA World Championship runner-up Richard Burns felt he was too conservative on the clearer stretches of road this morning. „I was trying to keep the studs in my tyres on the wet asphalt, he said, „but I took it too steadily. There was also something clanking at the rear of the car (a damper problem) and it's been trying to swap ends at corners, which isn't very comfortable.š He languished outside the top ten after the first two stages, but recovered well during the afternoon. The third Subaru, driven by Petter Solberg, benefited from the cleaned roads to fight for the lead. But a puncture apiece in SS3 and SS4 dropped him behind McRae. „I'm a bit surprised anyway because the times don't feel that fast, said the Norwegian. „You'll see a very steady drive from me here. But looking at how things are going, maybe that's the way to get a good result. Unfortunately, 8km into stage 5, the Norwegian hit a snow bank, rolled, and was forced to retire with a broken steering.

All three Ford Focus RS WRCs have held top-ten placings today, and Colin McRae took full advantage of the Peugeots' demise to grab the lead on an event he openly dislikes. „It's been going pretty well, said the 1995 World champion. „On the second run through the opening two stages, they were much cleaner and there was actually a good line between all the slush. All I'm doing is driving carefully - it's not about backing off or going at half-speed - it's about concentrating on not making a mistake. His team-mate Carlos Sainz felt that the opening two stages differed markedly from the information on his ice notes, but the Spaniard recovered well on the second pass through the tests to move into a point-scoring position. The third Focus of François Delecour set fastest time on the third stage, but then the Frenchman spun and had to drive 15km on a puncture in SS4. „ It was quite difficult,š he said. „For some reason the mousse system didn't work so the tyre actually deflated.

Four-times world champion Tommi Makinen has been pleasantly surprised by his tyre choices today, and his Lancer has been a near-constant presence in the top six throughout. „The first two stages were extremely difficult,š he said, „because there was a lot of snow and you know all the time that you're helping the later runners. But I think the second pass over those tests showed more genuine speeds and we've moved up to third there. So I'm optimistic.š Mitsubishi's Belgian driver Freddy Loix was dissatisfied with his tyre choice in SS3 and SS4, and also felt that his Lancer was a handful in the tighter sections. „ You can't really play with the car when there's so much slush, he said. „ You can tweak the handbrake but then you end up sliding even more and in a lot of places, there simply isn't room to get away with that.

Armin Schwarz felt at home in the changeable conditions this morning, and the German was quickly on the pace as he lifted his Octavia WRC into a points-scoring position after the opening pair of stages. „It's very hard to trust the road,š said Schwarz, „but that's pure Monte Carlo and I like it. The car's a handful on narrow tyres when the snow clears and you're left with wet asphalt. But for the third and fourth stages, the 1996 European champion's weather information arrived late and he was forced to adopt a 'play safe' policy on tyre choice. He dropped out of the top six as a result. His team-mate Bruno Thiry suffered a turbo problem 10km into the second stage and the Belgian had to drive for nearly 20km at little more than 60kph. „It was awful, said Thiry. „I felt like I was driving on a holiday. To make matters worse, he received 20s road penalties for leaving service late after the team changed the turbocharger. Shock absorber problems hampered his progress further in both SS3 and SS4, and a fuel pump failure in the latter forced him to stop and make running repairs.

Hyundai's hopes were being pinned on its renowned asphalt driver Piero Liatti this morning, but although the Italian - a former Monte Carlo winner - set fourth fastest time on the opening stage, he was forced out before the next test when his Accent WRC's engine lost oil pressure. The other Accent of Alister McRae picked up 50s of road penalties this morning as the Hyundai team struggled to change the car's suspension in first service, but the Scot's progress on the stages was more encouraging. He set top six times to overcome his penalty and stay in touch with the leaders, despite making too conservative a tyre choice for the third and fourth stages. „It's a shame about the penalties, said McRae, „because the car feels good on the stages. It's the first time I've driven this car, on these tyres, in these conditions, but it's generally working well.

With its four-wheel drive Xsara World Rally Car not scheduled to appear until Catalunya, Citroen's two drivers - Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras - are using two-wheel drive, 1600c Saxo kit cars in Monte Carlo. Both are hoping to gain further experience of the roads and fine-tune pacenotes rather than fight for overall success, but Bugalski has still posted top-20 times in his example to lead some of the factory World Rally Cars. Puras, however, suffered a puncture in a narrow part of the second stage, and the Spaniard found it difficult to locate a suitable place to stop and change the wheel. He lost nearly six minutes as a result, although he was able to continue.

Other teams
Beyond the factory World Rally Car entries, former works SEAT driver Toni Gardemeister settled in quickly to his new mount, a privately run Peugeot 206 WRC. The young Finn was fastest overall on the opening stage but on the second, he clipped a rock and punctured his right front tyre. After trying to continue for nearly five kilometres, he stopped and changed the wheel. He dropped into eleventh place as a result.

Swiss privateer Olivier Burri made good use of the cleaner roads to haul his Toyota Corolla into a top three placing, although he started to slide back down the leaderboard once the top crews got a second run over the opening pair of stages. Italian hope Piero Longhi crashed his Toyota out of the rally on the second stage.

In Group N, Hermann Gassner set an outright fastest time on the second stage, taking maximum advantage of a good tyre choice and roads swept clear of snow. But both Manfred Stohl and Gustavo Trelles are catching the German after they made poor tyre choices for the opening tests.

1 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 1:52:46,1
2 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:53:16,7
3 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 1:53:20,0
4 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 1:54:15,7
5 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 1:54:35,4
6 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 1:54:35,6
7 Loix Mitsubishi Carisma GT 1:55:14,8
8 A.McRae Hyundai Accent WRC 1:55:26,1
9 Burri Toyota Corolla WRC 1:55:32,8
10 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 1:55:52,5

1 Stohl Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1:58:12,0
2 Pozzo Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 2:00:14,2
3 Trelles Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 2:00:58,7

1 Bugalski Citroen Saxo Kit Car 2:00:12,4
2 Loeb Citroen Saxo 2:02:04,9

SS5 Solberg, Subaru Impreza WRC Accident/Roll
SS4 Auriol, Peugeot 206 WRC Lost wheel
SS3 Panizzi, Peugeot 206 WRC Accident
SS1 Gronholm, Peugeot 206 WRC Water Pump
SS1 Martin, Subaru Impreza WRC Electrical
SS1 Liatti, Hyundai Accent WRC Engine/oil

SS1 - Gardemeister, SS2 - Gassner, SS3 - Delecour, SS4 - McRae, SS5 - Makinen, SS6 - Sainz

SS6 Clumanc - Lambruisse 14.75 km
1 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 10:32.5
2 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 10:35.2
3 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 10:37.9
4 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 10:40.0
5 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 10:45.4

SS5 Comps Castellane 20.53 km
1 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 13:45,4
2 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 13:51,5
3 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 13:51,9
4 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 13:58,7
5 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 14:03,0

SS4 Saint Pierre - Entrevaux 30.34 km
1 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 22:10,4
2 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 22:17,9
3 Makinen Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 22:23,7
4 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 22:23,8
5 Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC 22:33,1

SS3 Bif. D 5 / D 10 - Roquesteron 22.89 km
1 Delecour Ford Focus RS WRC 18:32,7
2 Auriol Peugeot 206 WRC 18:41,9
3 McRae Ford Focus RS WRC 18:42,6
4 Sainz Ford Focus RS WRC 18:43,5
5 Burns Subaru Impreza WRC 18:57,4

SS2 Saint Pierre - Entrevaux 30.34 km
1 Gassner Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 25:38,5
2 Solberg Subaru Impreza WRC 25:46,1
3 Burri Toyota Corolla WRC 25:49,7
4 Auriol Peugeot 206 WRC 25:53,5
5 A.McRae Hyundai Accent WRC 25:53,5
**Gassner is driving a Group N Mitsubishi

SS1 Bif. D 5 / D 10 - Roquesteron 22.89 km
1 Gardemeister Peugeot 206 WRC 20:48,9
2 Auriol Peugeot 206 WRC 20:55,8
3 Burri Toyota Corolla WRC 21:03,5
4 Liatti Hyundai Accent WRC 21:05,2
5 Schwarz Skoda Octavia WRC 21:06,1

After a 'closed season' of less than two months, the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship begins this evening with the ceremonial start of the Rallye Monte Carlo. The event, which celebrates its 90th birthday this year, will start in earnest tomorrow morning on the icy mountain roads of southern France. Seven manufacturer teams have committed to the 14-round championship, and six of them are poised to fight for victory on the opening rally, traditionally one of the most unpredictable on the calendar.

Double world champion Peugeot has made only mild revisions to the successful 206 WRC, and altered its driver line-up with the signing of 1994 title-winner Didier Auriol. He joins reigning champion Marcus Gronholm, Gilles Panizzi and Harri Rovanpera, although the latter will not appear for the team until the next round in Sweden. Gronholm is confident that he will be an even stronger contender as he aims for a second crown, but the Finn admits that starting the year with a victory in Monte Carlo could prove difficult. „I should be better throughout the season because at least I know the rallies better, he said, „but I only managed five stages in Monte Carlo last year so my experience here is nearly zero. My aim is to settle back into competition and try to get some points. Local hopes are being pinned on Auriol and Panizzi - particularly the former, who is already a three-times winner of the rally. As was often the case last year, Peugeot's drivers have opted for different transmission set-ups. Gronholm's 206 will be fitted with three computer-controlled, 'active' differentials, while Auriol and Panizzi will use non-active examples at the front and rear of their cars.

The latest version of the Focus WRC incorporates a number of small revisions over its predecessor. Most notably, Ford's engineers have introduced a fly-by-wire throttle, as well as a new ceramic turbocharger and more sophisticated transmission that features traction control for the first time. The car's rear wing has also been reprofiled to reduce aerodynamic drag at high speeds. Ford's existing driver line-up of Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz has been bolstered further by the addition of Francois Delecour, who joined from Peugeot just before Christmas. The new signing is confident of a strong showing in Monte Carlo, an event that he won for his new employer back in 1994. „I've already been impressed with the car, he said, „and I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to fight for the win. Ford switches from Michelin tyres to Pirelli for 2001, although Sainz doesn't believe that the move will make too much difference. „I'm glad to work with Pirelli again, he said, „but Michelin was also strong. For the last few years, both tyre companies have been fighting hard for the championship, so it's quite close now anyway. For his part, McRae is resolved to put his 2000 disappointment behind him and fight for a second world title. „What happened last year has only made me more determined, he said. „I think we proved in the second half of the season that we've got a competitive and reliable car - now we just have to build on that.

Team Principal David Lapworth admits that Subaru is 'taking a risk' in both its choice of drivers and technical strategy in 2001. „The new car should be a major step forward, said Lapworth. „We wanted to stick our necks out, take some risks and hopefully set new standards for performance. Although the latest Impreza draws heavily on last year's model, the team's engineers have experimented with engine airflow and packaging. Double World Rally Championship runner-up Richard Burns is optimistic that the team has prepared for Monte Carlo's notoriously fickle weather conditions. „We've gone through just about every permutation of tyres that we can think of, he said. „I'd expect all of last year's title contenders to be involved again, as well as Didier Auriol (who moves to Peugeot). He'd a lean year in 2000 but I think he'll bounce back. Both of Subaru's 'young chargers', 26-year old Petter Solberg and 25-year old Markko Martin, will tackle Monte Carlo, with the Estonian nominated for manufacturers' points alongside Burns. Recent signing Toshihiro Arai is not scheduled to make his first appearance for the team until Portugal.

The Ralliart team takes its first real step towards the World Rally Car version of the Lancer in Monte Carlo, with a heavily-revised version of last year's car. It will feature improvements in key areas (in particular, its rear suspension and the flywheel) that will be incorporated in the new Lancer WRC that will make its debut in Sanremo later this year. The team's operations are now under the control of experienced co-ordinator George Donaldson, who joined Ralliart from Toyota Team Europe late last season. Four-times world champion Tommi Makinen has been encouraged by the progress made in recent testing. „The revised rear suspension makes a big difference, he said. „It's more than just increased travel - the geometry is improved too. Last year was difficult - it always is when you try to achieve something and fail - so I'm determined to win our titles back. That starts here, and my record in Monte Carlo is quite strong. I think we've got a good chance, particularly if the conditions stay slippery. Belgian driver Freddy Loix starts his third season with Mitsubishi determined to erase the memory of two difficult years. „I've had more testing and it's gone well, said Loix. „If conditions stay snowy and icy then the most important thing will be not to make mistakes. Just staying on the road will probably be good enough to guarantee a reasonable result.

Armin Schwarz stays with the Czech marque in 2001, as the firm celebrates its 100th year in motorsport. His Octavia WRC features mild modifications since the end of last season, most notably revised ducting in the engine bay to improve airflow to the turbo. Schwarz believes that it could take another year before Skoda is ready to fight for wins, but he believes that progress made in the meantime will keep the Octavia in contention for points finishes. „ Monte's a good place to start, said Schwarz. „It's completely unpredictable and a good, clean run can be enough to score a fourth or a fifth place. The car's getting better all the time and if we stay out of trouble, a good result is possible. Schwarz has a new team-mate for 2001 - Bruno Thiry - although the Belgian drove for Skoda once before, on the Rally Great Britain in 1999. He finished fifth in Monte Carlo last year, and pre-event testing has left him hopeful of a repeat performance this season. „The Octavia's a big car but it handles quite well, said Thiry. „If the conditions are as unpredictable as ever, then one good tyre choice could be enough to score a good finish.

The Korean manufacturer fields new signing Piero Liatti alongside Alister McRae, with veteran Kenneth Eriksson due to appear on the next round in Sweden. Liatti's pre-event preparations were hit by an accident during the shakedown test yesterday. The Italian was experimenting with tyre choice but he slid off on his opening run and damaged his Accent WRC sufficiently to end hopes of further mileage. „I only drove for 200 metres, said Liatti. „I suppose my testing really starts tomorrow morning, so it'll be difficult. Team Principal David Whitehead reports that although the Accent's chassis was bent in the accident, the damage was all in front of the car's suspension and it has been completely repaired. Alister McRae suffered no such dramas, and the Scot is optimistic that changes to the Accent's engine will reap rewards. „I think we'll have closed the gap to the top teams since the end of last season, he said.

The new Xsara T4 World Rally Car is not scheduled to appear in the FIA World Championship until Catalunya in March, but Citroen is adopting a long-term strategy and has entered two of its drivers, Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras, for this weekend's event to help them gain experience. Both will use 1600cc Saxo kit cars that will not allow them to fight for overall honours, but the pair's aim will be to make and check pacenotes for the stages at competitive speed. Puras said: „I'm glad Citroen is giving us the chance to compete and recce for rallies outside of the Xsara T4 programme this year. At least we'll be able to have a look at the roads and conditions, and be better prepared for when we come back with the four-wheel drive car. Citroen's other driver, Thomas Radstrom, is not present in Monte Carlo but he will make use of the flexibility of his contract to drive for Mitsubishi in Sweden next month.

Other teams
Beyond the factory World Rally Car entries, former works SEAT driver Toni Gardemeister switches to an HF Grifone-run Peugeot 206 WRC for Monte Carlo. The other leading World Rally Car privateer is likely to be Italian Piero Longhi, who fields a Toyota Corolla WRC.
In Group N, meanwhile, Manfred Stohl and Gustavo Trelles have enjoyed fierce competition in the category for more standard vehicles in recent years, and there's little to suggest that they'll break the habit in 2001. Both will compete in Monte Carlo this weekend, and reigning FIA Group N World Champion Stohl is predicting a tough fight - here, and during the rest of the year. „There have never been so many good drivers in Group N, he said. „Even outside the regular guys there are often local drivers who'll make it tough. It'll be hard to keep my title. Italian Gianluigi Galli is a likely challenger to Stohl and Trelles in Monte Carlo.

GMT +1
Leg 1, Friday 19th January (667.49 km)
SS 1 10:03 Bif. D 5 / D 10 - Roquesteron 22.89 km
SS 2 10:46 Saint Pierre - Entrevaux 30.34 km
SS 3 13:19 Bif. D 5 / D 10 - Roquesteron 22.89 km
SS 4 14:02 Saint Pierre - Entrevaux 30.34 km
SS 5 17:03 Comps Castellane 20.53 km
SS 6 18:09 Clumanc - Lambruisse 14.75 km

Leg 2 - Saturday 20th January (814.77 km)
SS 7 09:53 Bif. D 1 / C 1 - Turriers 24.12 km
SS 8 11:06 Sisteron - Thoard 36.69 km
SS 9 13:34 Clumanc - Lambruisse 14.75 km
SS 10 15:07 Comps - Castellane 20.53 km
SS 11 18:00 Sisteron - Thoard 36.69 km

Leg 3 - Sunday 21st January (277.11 km)
SS 12 09:08 Sospel - La Bollene Vesubie 32.72 km
SS 13 10:03 Loda - Luceram 16.55 km
SS 14 12:28 Sospel - La Bollene Vesubie 32.72 km
SS 15 13:23 Loda - Luceram 16.55 km
15:15 Finish of the rally in Monte-Carlo

1 Gronholm/Rautianen (Fin) Peugeot 206 WRC A8
2 Auriol/Giraudet (F) Peugeot 206 WRC A8
3 McRae/Grist (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC A8
4 Sainz/Moya (ES) Ford Focus RS WRC A8
5 Burns/Reid (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC A8
6 Solberg/Mills (N/GB) Subaru Impreza WRC A8
7 Makinen/Mannisenmaki (Fin) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo A8
8 Loix/Smeets (B) Mitsubishi Carisma GT A8
9 McRae.A/Senior (GB) Hyundai Accent WRC A8
10 Piero/Cassina (I) Hyundai Accent WRC A8
11 Schwarz/Hiemer (D) Skoda Octavia WRC A8
12 Thiry/Prevot (B) Skoda Octavia WRC A8
16 Panizzi/Panizzi (MC/F) Peugeot 206 WRC A8
17 Delecour/Grataloup (F) Ford Focus RS WRC A8
18 Martin/Park (EST/GB) Subaru Impreza WRC A8
19 Gardemeister/Lukander (Fin) Peugeot 206 WRC A8
20 Bugalski/Chiaroni (F) Citroen Saxo Kit Car A6
21 Puras/Marti (E) Citroen Saxo Kit Car A6
22 Longhi/Baggio (I) Toyota Corolla WRC A8
23 Stohl/Muller (A) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
24 Trelles/Fel Buone (ROU/RA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
25 Galli/Bernacchini (I) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
26 Pozzo/Cretu (RA) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4
27 Maselli/Arena (I) Fiat Punto Kit Car A6
28 Burri/Patthey (CH) Toyota Corolla WRC A8
29 Tsjoen/Vergalle (B) Toyota Corolla WRC A8
30 Zanchi/D'Esposito (I) Toyota Corolla WRC A8