BFGoodrich and the Monte Carlo Challenge
The 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge kicks off with the world's most famous rally, the Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo. The 77th edition of this winter classic promises to be a fiercely fought affair, with a route that stretches all the way from the Principality of Monaco to France's ArdÃ¨che region and back again. BFGoodrich, whose tyres won the 2006 and 2007 Montes, is more than ready for this year's challenge.
The route of the 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo visits such legendary regions as the Mercantour, the Pays du Buech, the ArdÃ¨che and the Vercors, as well as some of the stages that have forged the event's legend over the years, including Laborel, Saint Jean en Royans and Saint Bonnet le Froid. And given the recent wintry weather, it could well even turn out to be a 'white' Monte featuring the infamous freezing ArdÃ¨che winds, snowdrifts, snowy climbs and icy descents, a cocktail that will make getting tyre choices right more vital than ever...
The event stands out as a real challenge for BFGoodrich: "This year's event sees the return of some of the traditional features of the past, including some legendary stages. This represents a big shift in the basic equation we tyre manufacturers face," says BFGoodrich's IRC Programme Manager Jacques Morelli. "A decade ago, each driver had some 250 tyres available for this rally and was able to choose from a range of maybe 10 different products just before the start of each stage."
"Today, tyres must be chosen at the preceding service halt for groups of two or three tests at a time. The decisions are made sometimes hours ahead of the start of stages situated a long way from the service park in question. It is consequently important to try to predict how the weather will turn, which is never easy in this part of France in the midst of winter," underlines Jacques Morelli.
BFGoodrich has adapted to such situations by producing ever more versatile products and, above all, by preparing meticulously for the event during pre-event testing.
"We will have five different types of tyre for the Monte," explains Patrick Letort, Chief BFGoodrich Technician. "On an event like this, it's all about finding the ideal compromise because there is no ideal choice. On the same loop, drivers can come across a mix of dry, wet, snowy and icy conditions in varying proportions! Pre-event testing is therefore crucial since it enables the drivers and BFGoodrich's technical staff to determine the conditions for which each type of tyre is suited."
Indeed, the tyre choice for the very first group of stages on Wednesday January 21 promises to be particularly complex since the two tests are separated by some 200km. This group is followed by a visit to the classic Saint Jean en Royans test that could well be snowy.
BFGOODRICH'S VIEW OF THE STAGES
Monaco-Valence Wednesday January 21SS1: Tourette du ChÃ¢teau-Saint Antonin (24.77km),8.45am
The event kicks off with a classic that has been used in both directions over the years. It runs along the south facing flank of the mountain, yet ice could still well form in the shade. This stage is relatively flat all the way to Rourebel and passes a number of small villages, while the descent to Saint Antonin is faster prior to the slower portion to the finish.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "The grip is relatively good and there is not much risk of snow, but this is still a notoriously treacherous stage."
SS2: La Motte ChalanÃ§on-Saint Nazaire le DÃ©sert (23.27km), 1.12pm
This stage used to feature on the Rallye Monte-Carlo during the early 1990s. Its repeated changes of rhythm make it a challenging test for the drivers. It begins with a wide, fast climb which is chiefly in the shade, followed by a downhill portion on slippery asphalt.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "The drivers will need to choose tyres for SS1 and SS2, as well as for the road section of more than 200km between the two. SS1 will probably be dry, but there is a good chance of snow and/or ice on SS2."
Tyres service: Saillans, 2.17pm
Only tyres may be changed here. Drivers will need to choose tyres for SS3 (Saint Jean en Royans) which could be snowy.
SS3: Saint Jean en Royans-Col de Gaudissart (30.39km), 3.50pm
This is a classic Monte Carlo test, although the end has been modified from 'Carrefour des Trois Routes' on. Instead of the impressive descent to Font d'Urle, competitors will climb the Col de l'Echarasson and the Col de Gaudissart (as in 2008) via a non-classified road. There is a good chance of snow.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "The second half of this stage is particularly difficult, with a strong likelihood of snow and fog."
Valence-Valence Thursday January 22
SS4/7: Labatie d'Andaure-Saint Pierre sur Doux (25.30km), 9.58am/3.11pm
The early part of this stage is a repeat of 2008. It then uses the road to Saint Pierre sur Doux which was run in the opposite direction... back in 1996! The first 20km climb is relatively wide and fast.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "There shouldn't be a problem with grip on this one, but this is the first of a loop of three stages, so drivers must choose and look after their tyres carefully."
SS5/8: Saint Bonnet le Froid (25.67km), 10.38am/3.51pm
Another long-standing Monte classic which is very fast, at least up to Pont de Faurie beside the Bonnette River. This stage could be entirely snowy, so the drivers will need to bear that in mind when choosing their tyres for this loop of three stages.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "This stage hasn't changed over the years. It is fast, but the asphalt doesn't give much grip and there's a good chance of snow."
SS6/9: Lamastre-Gilhoc sur OmÃ¨ze-AlboussiÃ¨re (21.92km), 12.03pm/5.16pm
This technically demanding and particularly varied stage features a mix of wide, narrow, uphill and downhill portions.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "This stage features quite a lot of slippery black asphalt, but grip is fairly consistent. This one isn't far from Valence, so there's less chance of snow."
Valence-Monaco Friday January 23
SS10: Montauban sur l'OuvÃ¨ze - Eygalayes (30.42km), 9.23am
There is a 122km run out to the day's first stage. The climb to Col de Perty is quite slow with a number of hairpins, but the downhill section to Laborel is more challenging. Snow and/or ice are a distinct possibility, too. After Laborel, which is a long-time highlight of the Rallye Monte-Carlo, the stage begins with a relatively fast climb to Col Saint Jean before the final descent to Eygalayes.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "The first climb is southfacing, but the downhill portion to Laborel can be icy, as can the following climb up to Col Saint Jean which is in the shade and offers little grip."
SS11/13: Col de Braus-La BollÃ¨ne VÃ©subie (34.68km), 7.40pm/11.15pm (stage modified)
Familiarly known as the Col de Turini, this classic will be run in modified form this year, since the climb to the celebrated pass itself will use the Peira-Cava approach. The downhill section to La BollÃ¨ne is the same as usual and is tough on tyres, with several spots that call for particularly hard braking. This is the longest stage of the rally.
From BFGoodrich's viewpoint: "This stage is always hard on tyres. Even if the weather is dry, there is a good chance the drivers will come across portions of ice as they climb to altitudes of up to around 1,600 metres. The route change means that competitors will cross three different passes, and the going will be twistier than originally planned, so the tyres will face an even bigger test."