sport

Snow set for opening round

The start to the new World Rally Championship is expected to be hit by snow and ice this week.

It means the Monte-Carlo Rally, which begins in earnest on Wednesday following Tuesday's official starting ceremony, could be back to its treacherous best.

The rally has been light on snow in recent events, but after a recce yesterday by the crews ahead of the four-day rally, they discovered mixed conditions and the prospect of trouble ahead.

Championship favourite Mikko Hirvonen, competing in a Citroen DS3 WRC, said: "It was a varied picture, with some stages totally clear and others completely snow covered.

"In general there was more snow than I think I've ever seen in Monte before. It's not deep, maybe only one or two centimetres, but it's in many stages, and for some long sections, so it's going to be tricky."

Reigning nine-times world champion Sebastien Loeb, taking a back seat this season as he will only be competing in four rallies in another Citroen DS3, fears for his prospects if the snow does not clear.

Although the record-breaking Frenchman has won six of the last seven Monte-Carlo Rallies, he told wrc.com: "If it stays then the changing grip all the time will be difficult for me.

"The second stage last year was part snow and Jari-Matti Latvala was a lot faster than me there.

"I always took it carefully on the snow because I knew I could be faster on the tarmac that followed, but of course if there's more snow and ice then it's difficult to do that."

For Volkswagen, who embark on their first season in the WRC this year, the belief is the tougher the terrain, the better their chances of scoring a strong maiden result.

Sebastien Ogier said: "I'm sure there will be snow during the race now and that's okay. What I want is difficult conditions.

"It's not an advantage as such, but as this is our first race we know it's going be harder to be on the pace of the others.

"But then if the conditions are really difficult then the differences between the cars will be less."