Suzuki driver Urmo Aava has finished second in the Junior World Rally Championship classification at the end of the Monte Carlo Rally. Mirco Baldacci's Ignis ends the season-opener sixth, while his team-mate P-G Andersson is a points-scoring eighth after having led for most of the opening day.

Unfortunately, Suzuki driver Kosti Katajamaki was forced to retire from a podium place after hitting a rock Saturday, while Guy Wilks was out on leg one after getting stuck in a snowbank.

Sunday's final leg of the event consisted of four stages, including two runs over the world-famous Col de Turini. The weather on these long mountain stages is notoriously unstable, with crews encountering a wide variety of conditions. This made tyre choice particularly difficult, as drivers struggled to find the best compromise. Temperatures were below freezing up in the mountains, with intermittent patches of ice, but it became warmer as the day progressed.

Baldacci only had his first clean run on the final stage yesterday after being held back by punctures - and he promptly set his first fastest time! The San Marino driver was aiming for a solid point-scoring finish, but lost time on SS13 after breaking a wheel and hitting a bridge. He still finished an excellent sixth.

"It's not at all been an easy rally for me, but that's never a surprise in Monte Carlo," he said, "I think we've been a bit unlucky but this rally has been incredibly useful for us: I've got to know the team and the car quite well now and I'm very impressed. Had it not been for the punctures and the problem with the wheel we could have been in a really good position to fight, but I'm happy to come away from here with a result."

Per-Gunnar Andersson hopes of a dream debut win were dashed on the opening day when he lost 15 minutes and any chance of victory. From then on, he concentrated on gaining experience of the event, the team and the car.

"This rally could have resulted in so much more for us - but you can never tell what is going to happen in this sport," said Andersson. "I've been absolutely amazed by the car: it has felt fantastic throughout the rally and it is really easy to drive. Today I wanted just to get to the finish"

Aava used his previous experience of this event to good effect by blasting straight into contention with his 2003-specification Ignis and taking the lead after stage five. He has been fighting at the sharp end throughout the rally, and his Ignis has been perfectly reliable for all three days. Aava started the final leg in second overall but lost a minute on SS13 after a tyre came off the wheel rim. Nonetheless, he was able to keep second place - his best-ever result.

"It's been a very good rally for us and I'm pleased with this result," commented Aava, "It's been incredibly slippery and very difficult to guess the conditions, which were changing all the time. But I think we did a good job under the circumstances and we managed to score some important points."

Monster Sport Europe team manager Risto Laine concluded: "We always knew that Monte Carlo was going to be the most difficult event of the year for us, and this certainly proved to be the case. But there have been a lot of good things and I think that everybody is delighted with the speed and the potential of the 2004 car. Had it not been for a couple of mistakes and some bad luck we could have been capable of a top result here, but that's rallying. I think our drivers have proved a point though, and they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future."

 

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