The first round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship begins on 17th January with the Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo. This is the 30th year of the FIA World Rally Championship, which began at Monte-Carlo in 1973. It is a classic mountain asphalt rally held in mid winter, with the possibility of some stages being run on icy or snow covered surfaces.

With the new year comes new hopes and aspirations for all drivers and teams and a chance to prove their worth in the coming season.

Team Peugeot Total, Champion Manufacturers' in 2001, have champion driver Richard Burns on the team for 2002. Marcus Gronholm and Gilles Panizzi complete the line up for the Monte-Carlo Rally. There have been pre-season tests at Kall in Sweden where it was above-zero temperatures and raining, although the roads remained frozen hard, so the team are optimistic for a good start to the season.

Ford were second in the Manufacturers Championship last year. Everything is new within the team for 2002, except for the two main drivers! Ford is the first and only team to enter 2002 version cars on this event: the engines are substantially different, the engine airflow improved and the cars are lighter which gives the chance for more effective ballasting. Colin McRae has a new gravel note leader - Murray Grierson.

Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart will have Francois Delecour and Alister McRae fighting their cause this weekend. Mitsubishi have been the Monte Carlo winning manufacturer for the past three years. Coming to work with Ralliart will be Jimmy McRae, father of Colin and Alister, who will be Alister's chief gravel note crew driver. Team manager Derek Dauncey reports: "We have a real air of renewed enthusiasm in the team. We are making a fresh start with an entirely new driver line-up."

Subaru World Rally Team have good reason to be enthusiatic about the first event of the season. With Tommi Makinen aboard things are looking good. Makinen has won the Monte-Carlo rally for the last three years and has spent recent days testing in snowy conditions in Central Finland ready for the Swedish. "The Subaru has a different balance to the Mitsubishi." Said Makinen. "The differentials on the Subaru are more progressive." Further announcements regarding the team's plans will be made at the ISC pre-season presentation at Monte Carlo on Wednesday 16th January.

Skoda, who finished fifth in the 2001 World Championship will be running three cars in Monte Carlo. Kenneth Eriksson, Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta have been testing in Sweden since the new year, followed by confirmation checks for Monte Carlo. Eriksson's new co-driver Tina Thorner commented, "working in a Skoda is luxury! I am really enjoying my time at Skoda and with Kenneth." Eriksson meanwhile has been learning how to get the best out of the team's new Reiger shock absorbers.

Hyundia have been busy with press commitments before they began the pre Monte-Carlo test programme.

Citroen are not eligible for Chamionship points this year, although drivers Thomas Radstrom, Sebastien Loeb and Philippe Bugalski will be trying as hard as ever. Team manager Michel Perin is pleased with the teams progress: "Everything is proceeding according to plan," he said. It will be Citroen's first top line entry in Monte Carlo for 16 years. "This is my first Monte Carlo Rally," said Thomas Radstrom. "Maybe it will be embarrassing to watch me drive the stages but I am aiming to reach the finish. I suspect a lot of the other top drives will not!"

Since the lists were announced in the Junior World Rally Championship, Norwegian driver Tord Linnerud has withdrawn from the championship, leaving 27 remaining contenders from 14 different countries. His Peugeot run by ST Motors in Finland will now be driven by fellow Norwegian Martin Stenshorne. The co-driver for Rover MG driver Gwyndaf Evans' has now been announced as Chris Patterson. Serious test work started just before Christmas and three test days have now been held.

Of the maximum permitted number of 60 entries, 57 were actually accepted. No entries from Group N cars have been accepted. The only two-wheel drive, normally aspirated cars taking part are those entered in the FIA Junior World Championship category. Didier Auriol drives a Toyota Corolla World Rally Car prepared by Step 2 with Jack Boyere as co-driver.

There will be a ceremonial start on Thursday evening, at 18h30, in the Place du Casino, but the competitive sections only start the next morning. This is the first rally in which the FIA's new concept of dividing the entries between World Rally Cars and either Super 1600 or Group N cars, with the remaining places accepted according to the organisers' wishes, has been tried out. When entries closed there were 18 works and six 'works approved' first priority entries and five 'second priority' competitors in World Rally Cars, and 28 Super 1600s on the list.

Don't forget there have been major changes for this year! Shakedown tests on Thursday, reverse running order on days two and three, the time of arrival of the leading cars at stages and controls on days two and three will be about a half-hour later than published scheduled times for car 0, and the cars will run together in their entry categories on every day.

For logistical reasons, the 'end-of-day' 45 minute service halts will be held the following morning. There will be no service at all after the final stage on Friday and only a ten minute service on Saturday night. Servicing on the first day will be at Digne-les-Bains and on both second and third days will take place on the seafront in the Principality. To facilitate reconnaissance there are fewer individual stages than before: all except one will be run twice. There is a limit of 60 entries. The Col du Turini stage is to be run twice in both directions, in daylight and at night.