World Rally Cars raid the Riveira

Subaru won the Monte Carlo Rally, but not before a bloody fight with Mitsubishi and Ford. Andrew Frankel was there

In the end it wasn't speed or sublime talent that won the first round of the 1997 World Rally Championship for Piero Liatti and Subaru, although both played a part. As ever with this maverick event, it fell simply to the team that made the fewest mistakes, the victory proving just tribute to ruthless efficiency with which Dave Richards runs the 555 Subaru World Rally team.

This was a fact not lost on Malcolm Wilson, who had prepared Ford's new Escort challenger in one month flat and was rewarded with a fine second and fourth place for Carlos Sainz and Armin Schwarz respectively. And, as Liatti is expected to contest just half the season, the result placed Sainz in the effective lead for this year's title.

Tommi Makinen had more reason to be disappointed by his third place. Having led superbly throughout the second leg of the rally, he lost over a minute after spinning into a wall. At the start of the stage the team had found two tyres with no pressure leading to suggestions that the more neanderthal spectator element had actually strewn nails in the path of his flying Mitsubishi.

With Toyota, more Mitsubishis and Subarus occupying the rest of the top ten places, the event was dominated by Japanese marques, European pride being left to Ford alone to uphold.

The drivers, by and large, are not great fans of this tricky, technical and sometimes dangerous event. For the spectators however, the sight of rally cars hurtling around a special stage on the Grand Prix circuit is unlikely to be one they'll forget.