The FIA Junior World Rally Championship kicks off in Monte Carlo this weekend with the first of seven rallies that will share the World Rally Championship calendar.

Two new locations have been added with Turkey and Finland joining the usual Monte Carlo, Acropolis, Sanremo, Catalunya and Great Britain line-up.

Following Fran?cis Duval's graduation to the Ford Rallye Sport WRC team this year, the 2003 Ford Puma JWRC presence will consist of four new, up and coming drivers, eager to follow in his footsteps.

Italian team Astra Racing will be represented by Lebanese rising star Abdo Feghali and Austrian Beppo Harrach while Britain's Chris Birkbeck Rallysport will run Norwegian Martin Stenshorne and Briton Guy Wilks.

Here each driver reveals their hopes and aspirations for Monte Carlo and how they think they will fare in the forthcoming season...

Q:
Guy [Wilks]. Are you looking forward to the new season and are you feeling confident?

Guy Wilks:
Yes, I'm looking forward to the season very much, but I'll have to wait until the first few rallies are under my belt before I can comment on confidence. This year will be a learning experience and the confidence will come as the year progresses as I haven't done any of the JWRC rounds apart from the Rally Great Britain. If we find ourselves on the sharp end doing well, we'll adjust our strategy and vice-versa. Monte Carlo will be about analysing the competition, getting experience and fighting the rate of attrition to score some points. For sure if you are driving 100 per cent, all the time, you won't finish. It's about finding the right balance between speed and staying on the road.

Q:
What is your goal for the season ahead?

GW:
To do the best I can. I'm just amazed to be here in the first place. If I'd realised three years ago I would get this opportunity to drive in Monte Carlo on a World Rally Championship round, I wouldn't have believed you. I've been spoilt in a way, the progression has been quite quick and easy and this seems the next natural step. I hope I've achieved it by justifying my talent and proving myself even if I haven't got a championship under my belt (yet!), but I've been very close and against stiff competition.

Q:
Have you got a good car for Monte Carlo?

GW:
The car feels great and having driven a S1600 Puma last season, I'm familiar with the car and how it handles. Testing went well, I'll be in a car which has the latest specification engine so it'll be good to see how it does.

Q:
What are you expecting?

GW:
Monte Carlo is 'the rally'. It's great to watch but you'll only enjoy the rally, as a driver, when you finish. I'll be expecting a vast array of mixed conditions that will be thrown at me all in the space of one stage, let alone the whole event. It will be difficult to get the tyre choice right as once you've chosen the specification, you have to stick with it. When you are on the right surface for the tyres, you go for it, when you're not, you deal with it and get the car through with either no damage or as little damage as possible.

Q:
Chris Birkbeck Rallysport is also a familiar team for you?

GW:
Absolutely. The first time I ever drove a rally car was at Chris' rally school. Neither of us envisaged that almost exactly three years to the date, he would be running me in the Junior World Rally Championship. The atmosphere is great throughout the whole team. We are always joking with each other and it's important to have a comfortable relationship.

Q:
You have a new co-driver. Why did you choose Phil Pugh and how does he help you?

GW:
Phil has a vast experience and knowledge in the WRC. He has a calming effect on me when things go wrong and takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. We have good fun but work is work and play is play, it's important not to mix them up. You spend the best part of eight or nine days together, and it's important to be able to talk about problems that may arise but also to be with someone who doesn't bore you and keeps you on your toes.

Q:
What have you been doing to prepare for the rally?

GW:
I stopped drinking before Christmas. When I have a season coming up it's important to start looking after yourself. I've been doing a lot of training and getting my body back into shape. I really enjoy cycling but haven't dared go out on my mountain bike following the recent trouble certain WRC drivers have experienced. I swim, as it's good for the breathing and I'm doing a lot of aerobic training as well.

Q:
As it's your birthday two days before Monte Carlo, what is the best present you could wish for?

GW:
A good finish and some points would be nice. It's a shame the rally is before my birthday really but it will be a double celebration if all goes well. For now the birthday will have to go on ice......(laughing).

Q:
Thanks Guy.... Martin [Stenshorne]. You are back in a Puma after a season's break. Are you pleased?

Martin Stenshorne:
Yes I'm pleased to be back and with Chris Birkbeck. I drove with them in 2001 and it was a great partnership. They know what I want and I know what they want. I've also gained a lot of experience since then too.

Q:
What did you do last year?

MS:
I drove in four JWRC rounds, in a Peugeot for the first two rounds and then switched to an Opel. I did some good times, but the year was plagued by technical problems and then I injured my back and had to retire. But I'm happy to say I'm fully recovered and looking forward to a good season.

Q:
Clive Jenkins co-drove for you in the S1600 Championship. Does this help?

MS:
Yes, a lot. The pace notes I have will help too but there were changes made throughout the rallies, so I will have to update some and completely re-do others this year.

Q:
Will knowing the stages give you an advantage?

MS:
Not in Monte Carlo. This is a relatively new rally for me as I only did the first six stages last year before the suspension broke. It's very tricky with the snow and ice and it will be difficult to make the right tyre choice. It's a gamblers rally. I'll drive carefully, try and be fast on the dry stages and easy on the others. If I can end up in the top three I'll be happy! We'll have to wait and see, we'll do our best, that's all we can do.

Q:
Who do you think will be the major players?

MS:
A lot of the drivers who were competitive last year, will be again. I don't want to name any names but we'll see how we do against them.

Q:
How have you prepared for the season?

MS:
I haven't had much time to prepare. I'm competing in the Norwegian Group N Championship this year as well as the JWRC and in January and February I have rallies every weekend. I won Group N in the Sigdalsrally in Norway earlier this month which put me in a positive frame of mind. It's not in the Norwegian championship but served as an important rally to confirm both car and driver before the national championship starts this weekend with the Mountain Rally. In between rushing around, I try to relax as much as possible.

Q:
Have you tested yet?

MS:
I had a test last week, they have done a great job with the car over Christmas and the engine and suspension modifications they have done feel very good. I am confident!

Q:
Thanks Martin. Now Beppo [Harrach]. How was your Christmas?

Beppo Harrach:
Not too good actually. I was ill in bed for four days frantically trying to get well for the first round of the Austrian Championship on January 3. I managed to miss the recce which I did during New Year. I'm happy to say I have fully recovered now though.

Q:
Are you looking forward to the season?

BH:
Absolutely. I wasn't expecting to be competing at all. The deal with Astra happened very quickly and here I am. It's all been a bit of a blur as I only finished the Austrian Group N Championship two days before Rally GB last year, which isn't that long ago.

Q:
You have only ever driven a four-wheel drive car. Will swapping to a two-wheel drive be difficult?

BH:
That'll be the major thing to get used to. I have only driven very heavy, long, four-wheel drive cars. I have never driven a two-wheel drive car that is also a third lighter than anything I've driven before! The major difference will be the grip. The four-wheel drive car has plenty whilst in a two-wheel drive car you have to tread more carefully. You have to be easy with the accelerator so you don't wheel spin and lose too much time. Using a sequential gearbox will be a first for me too.

Q:
Have you driven the Puma yet?

BH:
Not yet. We have a test on Saturday and Sunday with Astra in Italy so I'll get to grips with it then. I am not expecting too much from Monte Carlo though, it'll be a big learning curve for me, getting to know the car, conditions and my competitors.

Q:
Have you driven much with Michael Kolbach before?

BH:
Michael is a new co-driver for me this year but he did co-drive for me in 2000. Since then though I have developed a lot. My personality has changed, my driving style has changed and I have a lot more confidence. It'll be interesting for both of us to see how much we benefit. He co-drove for Sven Haaf in the JWRC last year so he knows the events and what to watch out for which may prove handy.

Q:
Thanks Beppo. Abdo [Feghali]. First rally of the season, how do you feel? Are you looking forward to it?

Abdo Feghali:
It was like a dream when I knew the drive had been confirmed. It has always been a dream since childhood that I would do a World Rally Championship round let alone a whole season.

Q:
What are you looking forward to the most in Monte Carlo?

AF:
Finishing. I will aim to finish in the points by taking it slowly and making no mistakes. Roger, my brother, did exactly this in his Puma last year and finished third on the podium.

Q:
What do you think you may find a challenge in Monte Carlo?

AF:
The Monte Carlo Rally is one of the hardest rallies in the world and being the first of the season makes it doubly tricky. I have no proper experience on ice or snow and I don't know how I will tackle it until I get there. I think the way to handle it will be to go fast on the dry bits and concentrate hard and take it easier on the more difficult surfaces. The new points system, where the top eight finishers score points this year, means that you are more likely to score points by being cautious and finishing.

Q:
What do you want to achieve this year?

AF:
I don't aim to prove anything on the first rally but after that I will take each rally as it comes. The more experience I gain, the better. I intend to drive with my brain and not just my heart.

Q:
Has your Sanremo JWRC debut last year made you eager for more?

AF:
Sanremo was a lot more difficult than I was expecting. Only having two practice runs at the stages and then the actual rally to get used to the car and the surface was hard and it was my first time driving outside Lebanon. Even so, I learned a lot about the car in the five stages I drove - how to make proper pace notes and how to adjust my driving to suit the rally. It gave me a good start and I hope to start the season well. It will also make a difference knowing I will be doing all seven events rather than just the one. This way I can plan and adjust as necessary as I work through the season.

Q:
Have you been in the Puma since?

AF:
Only once. Martin Rowe and I drove the Puma at the Bologna Motor Show on gravel, which was my first time on that surface. Needless to say I will hopefully be testing quite a bit before Turkey. We are about to do a three day test in Italy which will help me get back into the feel of the car. It will also help us to set the cars up on roads which will reflect those we face on the rally.

Q:
What preparations have you made for Monte?

AF:
We have mountains in Lebanon that have snow at this time of year. I also have an old car with studded tyres I use to drive around in so I have a small idea of what to expect, but it's not a two-wheel drive car. Other than that I have spent time in the gym getting myself fit as some of the stages we have to drive are very long.