Night of Turini
|Monte Carlo Rally 2003|
The most remarkable news of the pre-season was the announcement by Mitsubishi that it was to withdrawal from the championship this year, to focus on preparing a more competitive car for their return in 2004. Moreover, the pre-season was rich in transfers as Citroen which began its first complete season and had contracted C. McRae and Sainz, two uncontested Masters of the WRC, to join young Loeb.
The question in the heads of everyone before the launch of this rally was undoubtedly: was the Monte Carlo finally going to bring a smile to the unlucky French lionesses (in 2000 and 2001, all Peugeots retired and in 2002, they disappointed a little with a poor 5th place at best)?
Grönholm (Peugeot) left a good impression during the two first legs gaining most of the timed sectors but under the increasingly pressing threat of Seb' Loeb (Citroen) who could match Grönholm's pace, Marcus made a mistake on SS9. He set out again (after half an hour of repair) but with the new system put into force by the FIA in which the first 8 places awarded with points (as opposed to the 6 of previous years), he had the possibility of bringing back 1 point to his team. Indeed, he set out again in 15th and considering that in front of him were some privates (not taking constructor points) and three Citroen (only 2 can score constructor points), it was enough for him to advance 1 or 2 ranks to fulfill his mission at once. He finishes 13th and takes 1 pt for Peugeot.
The first leg was, beside the domination of the Finn, especially marked by the retirement of both Subarus in the SS5 (Plan de Vitrolles) which had a name for being treacherous.
But the praise in this rally should go to Citroen, after Grönholm threw away the lead, the Citroens would go on to not only win the rally but take 2nd and 3rd as well. Loeb was ecstatic as he took his revenge for the 2002 cock-up. And McRae and Sainz (who managed to hold off Markko Märtin and his Ford Focus) finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. It was the first time since the Alpines in 1973 that a French car manufacturer took a clean sweep on this rally. Behind, Burns (Peugeot) took 5th in front of an impressing Cedric Robert in a customer 206. Auriol succeeded in bringing back 3 pts to Skoda in the Octavia. A team he had joined in expectation of the new Fabia.
Once again, contestants were plentifull in the junior championship. As always Citroen (Saxo) was prepared very well, Fiat (Punto) a little old , Suzuki (Ignis) had done a very intensive winter testing, and joined by two new very motivated manufacturers, Renault (Clio) and Volkswagen (Polo).
During the first days of race, Carlsson (Suzuki) reigned supreme taking 4 of the 6 special stages Friday but was excluded for speeding in a liasion section... so silly! It is thus Brice Tirabassi (Renault Clio) who takes the lead never to release it. At his sides, Simon Jean-Joseph who unfortunately was not registered with the championship set very good times. 2nd was Marcos Ligato (Fiat) in front of Broccoli (Opel). The surprises of this rally were without any doubt the Volkswagen Polo which debuted in JWRC and which initially finished 2nd place with Katajamaki, only to be scrapped from the results on February 19, when the FIA disqualified him for having non-conforming rear lights.