After a brief break, we are back for another Sunday Service Park with just a few things happening…including the Monte Carlo Rally. Not a big deal is it? Team that with a few driver signings and we now present this weeks service park.
The IRC kicked off its season with the centenary edition of the Monte Carlo Rally. The Indy 500 of rally has really become an invitational event since leaving the WRC a couple years ago. Every year we see a couple WRC drivers step outside of their series to run the event. We had Petter and Henning Solberg this year. The field was stacked with names like the two previously mentioned, Juho Hanninen (2010 IRC champion), Guy Wilks, Freddy Loix, Toni Gardemeister, Stephane Sarrazin, Francois Delecour, and eventual rally winner Bryan Bouffier.
Day 1 looked like it was going to be a rally dominated by Juho Hanninen as he developed a quick 50 second lead. Conditions were dry and cold on the opening leg but all of that would change on day 2. Day 2 brough massive snow in the mountain stages and disaster for the front runners. Juho Hanninen and the Skoda cars would opt for intermediate tires, as would second place Petter Solberg. The choice would prove the difference maker as the Peugeots would opt for full studs. This would catapult the Bryan Bouffier’s Peugeot 207 from 8th overall to 1st in ONE STAGE! A position he would hold onto for the remainder of the rally.
I did have a problem with one event that happened during the rally and that was another case of a team pulling over a driver. Stephane Sarrazzin was set to secure the final podium position until he elected (sure he did) to check in 3 minutes late to a stage. The penalty would catapult Guy Wilks to the podium and give him a better odds for the IRC title. I hate this move in any motorsport and I think penalties should be issued for manipulating the results. End rant.
Biggest losers from Mote Carlo: Andreas Mikkleson. Finally in a top spec Skoda and his rally was over literally in 90 seconds. Andreas would clip a wall early on and cause substantial damage to his suspension that would see him out on his Skoda debut. Also losing this past week was Proton. With a solid lineup of drivers in P-G Andersson and Chris Atkinson, the Malaysian team floundered badly. Atkinson would retire with reliability issues on SS1 and P-G would damage a wheel and retire in SS2. Henning Solberg would also lose at the Monte as he would retire after hitting a wall in his M-Sport prepared Fiesta. Who would I be by not handing a fail award to Skoda? If you see the snow coming half a day prior to it happening…why would you not put studs on your car? The Fabia S2000 was in real good shape and has proven to be the car to beat when in capable hands. However, you cannot beat yourself on stage like that. Granted Monte poses some interesting challenges between asphalt and snow, you have to play it safe when dealing with snow.
P-G Signs with Proton
P-G Andersson has secured a full works ride with the Proton IRC team. Andersson will compete in the remaining rounds of the title. The deal was announced early during the Monte Carlo rally last week. Must have had some free time after both cars retired within twenty minutes. P-G deserves this ride and is down right fast in any rally car. After being released from Suzuki in 2008 following their withdraw from the WRC, P-G has performed rather well when given the chance. Proton will surely benefit from having a driver of P-G’s caliber on the team. He is currently waiting for a teammate to join him. Atkinson and Alister McRae are potential candidates as both are with Proton through the Asian-Pacific Rally Championship.
Matthew Wilson’s Season in Jeopardy
As we mentioned during the early bit of the off season, Matthew Wilson’s 2011 WRC campaign is in serious jeopardy after it was revealed that he is only guaranteed through the opening round in Sweden. The Stobart driver has shown some pace but has not put together the results really necessary to warrant his ride. It appears as though Malcolm has had enough and is not going to pay for his son to continue perhaps? Regardless, he has been with the Stobart team for some time and his results have not shown signs of progression. I here Proton may be hiring…
Petter Solberg can see himself going back to compete in the IRC as soon as this year maybe. The Norwegian was quoted on Autosport.comas saying he could see himself back in a Peugeot and fighting for victory in the IRC. 2003 champion Solberg is slated to run his Petter Solberg World Rally Citroen DS3 for the 2011 campaign, but has not ruled out making a visit or two to the IRC still.
Citroen Promises Driver Equality
Citroen has promised that it will stay true to the sport and allow both Sebastien Loeb and Ogier to drive against each other with equality. Lets hope that Monte Carlo was not a preview in regards to their other arm and Peugeot. Ogier who was able to achieve victory in 2010 has been promoted to the works squad in replacement of Dani Sordo. Sordo was never able to achieve victory at rally’s highest level. Loeb however does recognize the threat Ogier represents and will have his hands full with the DS3, Ogier, and the M-Sport Fiesta. Ogier has also told the media that he will NOT be a lap dog to Loeb and will take him to the limit this year. The only thing I ask is that Ogier is punctual to his stage check-in.
Keep it here as we count down to the WRC’s first round in Sweden. Still some crazy moves and off season news to cover before we are well and truly under way this season.