The 555 Subaru World Rally Team will face the challenge of the Rallye Sanremo, round eleven of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship this Friday, and according to team boss, David Lapworth predicting the whims of the weather could prove fundamental to help both drivers - Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen - maximise their chances of success.

Contested amid the stunning scenery of the Southern Alps, high above the Riviera resort, Rallye Sanremo is the first of three classic asphalt events scheduled for October.

A more compact event than Catalunya, and less specialised than Corsica, the rally's mix of twisty, narrow mountain roads, which run through picturesque Italian villages, draws thousands of passionate rally supporters.

Correctly anticipating stage conditions is one of the most difficult challenges facing teams on Rallye Sanremo. While the town itself enjoys a fine climate all year round, high in the mountains it's a very different story.

The unpredictable autumn weather can mean bright sunshine and heavy rain are just minutes apart, and getting a car to the stage start in the correct set-up, with the appropriate tyres, is critical to success. But it's not just about predicting rainfall. The stages are renowned for their varying levels of grip, and drivers need to accurately judge the effect of fallen leaves on the road, damp tarmac in shaded, woodland sections, and adjust their speed accordingly.

"Sanremo is a classic smooth surface event that brings tricky weather conditions and an emphasis on tyre performance and tyre choice," said Lapworth, "The weather conditions in service and on the stages are often completely different and choosing the correct tyre for a stage sometimes two hours in advance is often a tough call. Getting the decision wrong on asphalt is a costly mistake - there's much more of a contrast between the grip level on wet and dry asphalt than wet and dry gravel.

"Our main objective for Sanremo, and the following two asphalt events, is to consolidate Petter [Solberg]'s championship position and keep him in contention for the title. We'll go for a calculated approach, looking at our rivals and adjusting tactics accordingly. We're confident in Petter's ability to consistently score points on the forthcoming events with the aim of going to Rally GB in a position to clinch the championship.

"Looking to the technical details, Petter's car will be fitted with a new electronic control system, which replaces the previous engine ECU, transmission ECU and data-logger. The bespoke system, which utilises Formula One technology, is able to process more information at a higher speed than its predecessor and has been introduced as part of our ongoing development programme.

"As their home event, Sanremo is an especially important rally for Pirelli too. They have been working hard to develop an improved asphalt tyre for events this year. We saw some improvement in Germany and we've seen more again on recent tests. It's always difficult to quantify testing gains outside a rally environment, but with the new construction and compound that both drivers will use here, we feel Pirelli have made a significant step forward."

Kicking off with a ceremonial start tomorrow [Thursday] evening, the event begins proper on Friday when competitors leave the rally's base in Imperia to contest the first of three days of high-speed action. Comprising 14 stages and a competitive distance of 387.36km, the rally features the second longest stage in the championship, the 52.35km section at Teglia, which is used twice. Comprising just seven stages in total, all of which are repeated, the rally is centred around a single service park in Imperia, while Rally HQ will be at the opulent Hotel Royal in Sanremo.