The final round of this year’s World Rally Championship was always going to be a venture into the unknown for the teams and drivers alike. OK, COVID-19 might now mean we aren’t heading to Japan for the first time since 2010, but its 11th-hour replacement – Monza Rally – is still brand new to everyone.
Or is it?
Italy’s long-standing Formula 1 venue might not have welcomed the WRC before in its illustrious history, but that doesn’t mean to say the WRC hasn’t visited it.
That’s because Monza Rally Show is a traditional end-of-year showpiece event, and over the years both Hyundai and M-Sport have had a regular presence there. While Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Craig Breen all have driving – and in Neuville’s case, also co-driving – experience at Monza, it’s M-Sport that looks the best in terms of prior knowledge.
Instead of sending an R5 car to Monza, M-Sport has fielded its very latest WRC car there in recent years. MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi took victory in 2018 with the very car Teemu Suninen used in the first part of the 2020 WRC season.
Having set-up data already in the back pocket has got to be an advantage for M-Sport, hasn’t it?
“I mean I think we’ve got, not an advantage but we’ve certainly got good feedback and set-ups from when we have been there in the past and a lot of that will carry over,” M-Sport team principal Rich Millener tells DirtFish.
But Millener also acknowledges “the unknown is the stages on Saturday outside of the circuit”. The second of three legs takes the rally out of the confines of Monza Park and on to the closed public roads near Lake Como, north of Bergamo.
However, running cars in the WRC since 1997 means the team at M-Sport aren’t exactly what you’d call a daft bunch. They’ve thought of that one. Adrien Fourmaux has been driving his Ford Fiesta Rally2 in regional rallies of late, and there’s a reason one of them was Trofeo ACI Como.
“Half of the idea to send Adrien to Como was to get a bit of an idea of the feel of those stages, because we didn’t know if it would be around there or not but it did give us an opportunity just to have a bit of a look and understand the base characteristics of those stages,” Millener confirms.
“But that’s going to be the hardest bit. On the track, it’s not simple, but it’s quite straightforward finding a set-up that will work well on that and the added bonus is actually if you look at the itinerary, it’s a bit different to what we’re used to because of the way the event will run it means there’s effectively a 15-minute service after every stage.
“If you do need to make a quick modification to springs or ride heights or whatever we’ve got a lot more flexibility to do that in Monza than you would have on a normal rally where you see the car after a batch of a few stages.
“So I think we’ll have a good starting point and then we’ll just be able to adjust on the move really throughout the day.
“The only thing we haven’t done is we haven’t been to the circuit officially as a team with the R5 car, that’ll be a little bit of catching up but we’ve got enough set-up data to know where we should be roughly so I think we’re quite happy with where we are at the moment.”
Hyundai and Toyota will also have been doing its homework too, but even without a pre-event test M-Sport is shaping up nicely for the Monza Rally on December 3-6.