The 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge season gets underway this week with the unique Rallye Monte Carlo - the oldest, best-known and most prestigious event in the sport.

Running for the 77th time this year, Monte Carlo is a legendary event to be ranked alongside the Le Mans 24 Hours, Monaco Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 in the pantheon of world motorsport.

The event contains a number of epic challenges and some of the world's most classic stages.

Chief of these is the legendary Col de Turini, which forms the climax of the event on Friday night. Only the top 60 classified crews will go through to the final four stages held in Turini, before returning to Monte Carlo in the early hours of Saturday morning.

This year's Monte Carlo Rally goes 'back to the future', recapturing the traditional values of the sport's golden age within a thoroughly modern format.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the bulk of the action takes place in the Ardeche region, with the service park in the city of Valence. The crews then make their way through the Maritime Alps, as they gradually head back to Monaco. The rally route consists mainly of narrow and bumpy mountain tracks, often with some steep drops on either side.

However, the biggest challenge in Monte Carlo is traditionally the weather. With regional temperatures in mid-January dipping well below freezing, there is always a high possibility of ice, snow and black ice.

To make matters even more complicated, each individual stage can contain a wide range of conditions within a reasonably short distance, starting off with bright sunshine for example, and ending in heavy snow.

Tyre choice becomes a crucial factor, and to find some grip in the snow and ice, the teams use studded tyres to bite through the layer of slush into the surface below. Often, the best compromise choice for a stage or loop of stages is the most effective although drivers willing to gamble can gain huge chunks of time if luck is on their side. So far the conditions are expected to be largely dry, although there will be some snow and ice in high areas. With a few days still left to go before the start, anything is possible.

Even without snow, the roads offer a wide variety of different grip levels, due to the changing nature of the surfaces. Some of the stages are run on very rough and bumpy roads while others have been treated to newer and smoother asphalt. Even within the same stage, the amount of traction can differ greatly. Monte Carlo is a rally where experience definitely helps, as drivers learn to look out for things such as patches of ice at the exits of tunnels - where melting snow often re-freezes.

The Monte Carlo Rally gets underway at 07:30 hours on Wednesday 21 January from Monaco, when the first of 64 competitors is flagged off the start ramp. The finish is scheduled for 11.30 hours on Saturday 24 January, after 14 special stages and 362.25 competitive kilometres [all times local].

History:

Monte Carlo has always formed a key part of motorsport history, but the event's format has chopped and changed over time. Up until 1991, competitors could select different starting points prior to completing concentration runs in order to reach the official starting location. In recent years the rally mainly used stages in the Alpes Maritime before switching to the Ardeche region in 2007, when night stages - including a pass over the famous Col de Turini - returned to the itinerary.

This year's competition represents a major departure from recent seasons with the rally starting in Monte Carlo on Tuesday and returning there for the finish on Saturday.

Since 1973, the event marked the opening round of the World Rally Championship when Frenchman Jean-Claude Andruet claimed victory at the wheel of a Alpine-Renault A110. After the global oil crisis forced the event's cancellation in 1974, Sandro Munari began a run of three successive victories driving Lancia's famed Stratos.

Following Jean-Pierre Nicolas' success in 1978 (who is now the IRC's motorsport development manager), Bernard Darniche triumphed on the 1979 event by a meagre six-second advantage over Bj?rn Waldegard's Ford Escort MkII. Waldegard is convinced he would have won but for the time lost when a group of unruly spectators blocked a bridge with a lump of concrete.

Walter Rohrl's fourth victory in 1984 was the first achieved by a car conforming to the Group B regulations when the German brought home his thunderous Audi Quattro A2 in first place. Finns Ari Vatanen (1985) and Henri Toivonen (1986) also triumphed in the Group B era, Toivonen's win marking his last triumph before his untimely death in Corsica four months later.

Miki Biaison helped to usher in the new Group A regulations for 1987, when he claimed the first of two victories. The Nineties coincided with Didier Auriol taking four wins and Patrick Bernardini becoming an unlikely victory in 1996 when the event counted towards two-litre championship points only. Piero Liatti scored the first win by a World Rally Car when he triumphed in 1997.

With World Rally Cars not permitted to take part on IRC events, the 77th running of the rally will mark the start of a fresh era for this famous event, with several exciting new cars and drivers.

TV times:

Viewers will be able to enjoy an extra dimension from the Monte Carlo Rally this year thanks to live programmes direct from the stages, including uninterrupted footage from the Turini stages on the final night.

Coverage of the Monte Carlo on Eurosport, Europe's largest television channel, will be at the times listed below. All times are CET.

Wednesday 21 January
16:00-17:00 LIVE SS3 Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific
00:00-00:15 Highlights day one Eurosport

Thursday 22 January
10:30-11:15 LIVE SS5 Eurosport 2 & Eurosport Asia Pacific
15:45-16:30 LIVE SS8 Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific
00:00-00:15 Highlights day two Eurosport

Friday 23 January
19:30-21:15 LIVE SS11 Eurosport 2 & Eurosport Asia Pacific
LIVE SS12 Eurosport 2 & Eurosport Asia Pacific
23:00-01:00 LIVE SS13 Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific
LIVE SS14 Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific

 

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