Welcome to Rally Flashback, where we look at old highlight videos of previous editions of the upcoming WRC rally. As in most years of the World Rally Championship, the calendar starts with the legendary Monte Carlo. This time we look back to 2004, a season with several interesting aspects.
Of course, the Monte stayed very much the same as previous years. The weather and road conditions changes with altitude in this rally, and could go from dry tarmac via wet tarmac to snow and ice in just one stage. Tire choice, good “gravel crews” that run ahead and check the road conditions, and the driver’s ability to judge those conditions are critical for success in this rally. Add something like a million hairpin corners to the mix, and you have a real challenge. This is also the rally where manufacturers often introduce their new cars, often with a few issues along the way.
The 2003 World Champion Petter Solberg sticked with Subaru for the new season, but his experienced teammate Tommi Mäkinen was replaced with rookie Mikko Hirvonen. Solberg never liked this rally, and you rarely have a chance as a rookie in Monte Carlo. It would be hard for the two Subarus. Unlike what we’re used to now, most of the manufacturers had drivers and cars that could very likely challenge for the title.
Two-time champion Marcus Grönholm stayed with Peugeot, that replaced their 206 WRC with the larger 307. Sebastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz both had a chance at the 2003 title until the very last rally, and continued with Citroën. As a younger driver with a huge talent, Loeb was the main hope for the championship, but having a strong teammate like Sainz could prove very important. Like in 2016 Ford and M-Sport are developing younger drivers, but Markko Märtin had proved his speed and was their title candidate. The 2nd driver, Belgian madman Francois Duval, also had the raw pace needed for podiums in the WRC. Also featured in the video is the bonkers drivers Gilles Panizzi and Gigi Galli in new Mitsubishis, Freddy Loix in Peugeot and Roman Kresta in a privateer Hyundai.
So it seems that the first rally would be as important as ever. Could Sebastien Loeb get ahead of his competitors right away, and by how much? Could Petter Solberg minimize the gap, and have a shot at defending his title? Will the Peugeot 307 WRC work properly? If you are long time rally fans you might remember, if not the highlights video will have all the answers. I’d watch it either way!