The four Suzuki Junior World Rally Championship drivers have emerged from a two-day test before the Monte Carlo Rally delighted with their new cars.

It was the first proper taste of the 2004-specification Ignis for Mirco Baldacci, Guy Wilks, Kosti Katajmaki, and Per-Gunnar Andersson, following a brief shakedown run in England two weeks ago.

The test took place in the French Alps on two stages about 40 kilometres from Gap, using similar roads to those found on the rally. Each driver completed approximately 180 trouble-free kilometres, and encountered a wide variety of weather conditions that will be representative of the rally itself.

Monte Carlo, the oldest rally on the World Championship, is also the most unpredictable event of the season. A single stage can contain several variations of surface and climate, and to some extent drivers rely on luck as much as the gamblers in Monaco's famous Casino.

But drivers can increase their chances of success by establishing the best possible set-up for the rally, which has to work well under all sorts of conditions. The objective of the Suzuki drivers throughout the test was to find a good base set-up with which to tackle the three-day event. The best set-up is inevitably a compromise, but the drivers are now confident of their new car's performance on the season-opener. They also tried out the range of tyres that will be used on the event, and adapted quickly to the 2004-spec Ignis.

On the first day of testing, drivers encountered some rain with snow and ice. The second day of testing was mostly dry. Both stages were used on each day, giving drivers the opportunity to sample some fast roads and also some slower and more technical sections. Initial reports suggest that the rally could be mostly dry, but as always this is subject to change.

Monster Sport Europe team manager Risto Laine said: "We're confident that the new car is an improvement over the last years' car, especially the engine is very impressive, but Monte Carlo is almost certainly the trickiest event of the season for everyone. There are so many unknown factors - particularly with the changeable weather - that it's truly impossible to make any predictions.

"Our objective is above all to try and bring four cars to the finish. If we achieve that, there is a strong chance that they will be in good positions. I'm very happy with the work we've done so far and also with all the drivers. They have got used to the new Ignis remarkably quickly, and we haven't made any major changes. I reckon we're in good shape, but let's wait and see!"

In the build-up to the rally start, the four cars will now be re-prepared at the team's local workshops. The cars next see action at the official shakedown on Thursday afternoon [22 January] followed by the ceremonial start outside the Casino on Thursday evening at 1830 [CET].

A fifth Suzuki Ignis Super 1600 - in 2003 specification - will be driven on this year's Junior World Championship by Estonian Urmo Aava. He will be looking to put his previous experience of the event to good use.



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