Juho Hanninen has given the brand new Skoda Fabia Super 2000 the perfect debut by taking the lead on the Rallye Monte Carlo today [Wednesday], the opening round in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
The 26-year-old, who finished runner-up in last year's FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, confirmed the excellent reliability of the Fabia seen in pre-season testing.
He made the correct tyre choices all day in mixed conditions to end the opening three stages 11.9 seconds ahead of Stephane Sarrazin in the factory Peugeot 207 S2000. Even more impressively, Hanninen is the only one of the top three not to have contested the legendary Monte before.
"I'm very, very pleased with the way that things have gone today: I would honestly have not expected to be in the lead," said the Finn. "If I have managed it, this is also thanks to our gravel crew who have done an excellent job, so I would like to thank them especially.
"Even though the conditions have been very mixed, their information gave me the confidence to put the power down even where there was some snow, as I knew that I would have grip.
"I was deliberately trying to stay safe today and not choose any radical options with tyres and settings, and it seems that this is the way forward. But tomorrow is a different day, so let's see what it will bring. Certainly this is the best possible way to start my career with Skoda!"
Sarrazin meanwhile, who is usually a star of Peugeot's Le Mans programme, enjoyed a different type of challenge, winning the second stage of the rally by an impressive 13 seconds. This enabled him to climb up to second place: a position he maintained until the end of the day.
"I'm happy but today has been even more difficult than my previous experience of the Monte Carlo Rally," said the ex-Subaru World Rally Team man. "The first stage was a really big wake-up call for us; we were on slick tyres and I nearly went off on every corner. For the second stage we had the perfect choice, and it went much better; the last stage was good for us too.
"The main thing is that we are still firmly in the fight for the lead and there is a long way to go. I think the stages tomorrow should be drier so hopefully it will be a bit easier then, but the thing about Monte Carlo is that it is completely unpredictable and that is something we have already seen today."