Once again it’s a Monza finale. First run in 1978, it was originally an end of season celebration event for rally drivers, track racers and motorcycle racers and won seven times by GP legend Valentino Rossi, between 2006 and 2018.
First appearing on the WRC calendar last year due to the global pandemic, the Italian Temple of Speed once again hosts the final event of the 2021 season.
The Monza Rally will offer a mix of smooth race track including flat out curves on the banked oval and some very difficult mixed surface roads. Add to this a journey away from the circuit for some very technical mountain roads in the foothills of the Italian Alps in the Lombardy region north of Bergamo.
Weather is always a factor on the Monza Rally with early morning fog, both around the circuit and in the mountains, followed by the climb to higher altitudes which often results in iced covered roads. The mountain roads will deteriorate with the passing of each car as mud and leaves are pulled onto the surface as drivers cut corners to save vital tenths.
The closing stages on Friday and Saturday will be run in darkness adding to the difficulties created by the multiple surface changes.
A challenging stage will be Friday’s SS2 run again as SS4, the 22.17 km Costa Valle Imagna. This road twists and turns as it climbs to the pass at Valcava, some 1 340 metres above sea level, but it is the descent that challenges requiring accurate pace notes, determination and a lot of courage to negotiate the long, steep downhill run to the stage finish. The possibility of less than favourable weather conditions can turn this into a real game changer.
The Pzero, 4.09 km shakedown stage on Thursday 18th, is centered at the Monza Circuit, as is the central service park for the entire event. Friday morning will mark the start of the rally as 82 entries head for the mountains and tackle seven special stages covering 105.41 km.
A further 108.24 km await the competitors on Saturday, the intrepid survivors will end the event with just 3 stages on Sunday totaling 39.53 km, incorporating two runs of the Serraglio stage, the second being the Wolf Power Stage. Serraglio is a difficult stage, with teams facing 22 surface changes in the 14.62 km.
The 16 special stages cover 253.18 km of the rally’s 678.94 km total distance. Cars use an asphalt setup with Pirelli’s PZero tyres as the primary option, with a softer compound for cooler conditions and of course for extreme wet conditions, the Cinturato rain tyre.
The race for the Manufacturer’s title currently favours Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT on 474 points with Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 47 points adrift on 427 points.
It is unlikely, but not impossible, for the Hyundai team to snatch the title, but it would mean full points for the team and zero points for Toyota. The M-Sport Ford WRT trail the field with just 185 points.
The driver’s championship is led by Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier with co-driver Julien Ingrassia on 204 points, the pair in line to take their eighth WRC title.
Once again he is chased by team mate Elfyn Evans and co-driver Scott Martin, 17 points in arrears on 187. It’s a case of déjà vu as it is almost a repeat of last year, but it was the Welshman who held a 14 point lead over the Frenchman and was very close to his first world title.
Unfortunately, it ended in SS11 when Evans’ Yaris lost grip on a snow covered corner, descending a steep bank and ending his challenge.
Kalle Rovanpera (140 points) and Jonne Halttunen will be looking for a strong result to bring their Yaris closer to Neuville, a 19 point gap, but in WRC nothing’s impossible.
The young Finn has had an amazing season bringing home several podium finishes and two victories for Toyota. Last for Toyota Gazoo Racing is Japanese driver Takamoto (68 points) with Aaron Johnston another driver seeking a good finish after a disappointing second half of the season.
Leading the Hyundai charge is Thierry Neuville (159) points) with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe fresh from their victory in Spain, will be looking for a great result following last season’s Monza DNF following an accident.
The pairing of Ott Tänak (128 points) and Martin Järveoja will be missing in Italy due to an urgent family issue for the Estonian. It was a late call for the ex M-Sport team of Teemu Suninen ( 21 points) and Mikko Markkula, who had previously run a Rally 2 version of the i20 on the Spanish rally, until engine issues took them out of the running.
Back in the team is the Spanish crew of Dani Sordo (63 points) with Candido Carrera. Sordo took third place in last year’s Monza Rally having previously won the event in 2010 and 2013, this could be the team to upset the result sheet on Sunday afternoon.
Finally it is the Fiesta’s of M-Sport Ford WRT in the hands of Gus Greensmith (60 points) with new co-driver Jonas Andersson, his fourth new right-hand-man this season.
Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux (42 points) and Alexandre Coria will be pushing to ensure a seat for next season and both drivers will be hoping for a better result than last year when Fourmaux, in an RC2 Fiesta went out in SS11 with suspension failure and Greensmith in SS10 after an accident forced retirement.
The WRC Forum8 ACI Rally Monza will be a significant event, not only an epic fight for teams and driver’s as they chase victory in the respective championships and Julien Ingrassia’s 168th WRC event and his final having recently announced his retirement, but it will also be the last time the awesome WRC classified cars run, making way for the new hybrid era Rally1cars in 2022.