Kubica back in familiar surroundings for WRC debut

Wed Jan 15, 2014 6:21am EST
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By Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) - Robert Kubica faces the biggest challenge of his rally career in Monte Carlo this weekend when the former Formula One driver makes an icy start to his first full season in the world championship.

The Pole, who won the European Championship opener in Austria this month after clinching the second tier WRC2 title in 2013, will be closely watched as a man whose fame extends well beyond the world of rallying.

"This year will be a big challenge, participating in the WRC with the top drivers and the new rallies coming," said the former Renault F1 driver, who was a grand prix winner with BMW-Sauber in 2008.

He twice stood on the Monaco Formula One podium, racing around the principality's tight and twisty streets to finish second with BMW-Sauber in 2008 and third with Renault in 2010.

But the rally, on winding Alpine roads with sheer drops to the side and sheets of black ice to beware, is a very different affair. Cars use slick and studded tires with some stages run in the dark.

"I have never been in Monte Carlo (the rally) apart from the recce in 2010 but I didn't start the rally. I haven't driven on snow," he said.

On Ferrari's radar, Kubica's Formula One career came to an abrupt halt when he crashed and suffered near-fatal hand and wrist injuries in a minor rally in Italy in 2011 and underwent extensive surgery.

Since then he has rebuilt his career with a new focus on rallying, always his passion, and will be driving an M-Sport prepared Ford with a reconfigured gearshift and handbrake mechanism because of the limited strength in his right hand.   Continued...

Renault Formula One driver Robert Kubica of Poland arrives at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad