88th Rallye Monte-Carlo – the perfect curtain raiser for the latest edition of the World Rally Championship. From the class of Monaco’s Casino Square to the treacherous unpredictability of Southern France’s icy mountain roads. The ever changing road conditions are in direct contradiction to the never changing winner – Sebastien Ogier.
The Frenchman has won the WRC opener every year since finishing second to Sebastien Loeb in 2013, that’s six Monte Carlo wins in a row. The Toyota driver will be hoping to get his assault on regaining the Drivers’ Championship off to a perfect start yet again.
The WRC title was finally fought from the Ogier residence in 2019 courtesy of the formidable force of Ott Tanak and Toyota. Aside from a few niggling issues, including a puncture in Monte last year, Tanak’s title never looked in doubt. Now in a Hyundai, will Tanak’s pace be strengthened further or will he miss the might of Toyota’s intimidating Yaris WRC?
Thierry Neuville came oh-so close to beating Ogier in Monte Carlo last year. An early mistake cost him vital seconds as he finished only two seconds behind Ogier’s Citroen after 16 gruelling Monte Carlo stages. Neuville will be hoping to stay clear of any errors as Ogier upgrades to a Toyota and Tanak gets cosy in Neuville’s Hyundai camp.
It’s impossible to predict who will win the latest Rally Monte Carlo but it will certainly be a statement of intent if Neuville or Tanak can dethrone Ogier on his own local roads.
As attention intensifies on the WRC’s top-three, certain subplots cannot go unnoticed. While his experienced rivals engrossed themselves in pre-event testing, 19-year-old Kalle Rovanpera headed north to the snow of the Arctic Rally. That alone speaks volumes of Rovanpera’s confidence. Will he tame his driving to ensure he experiences the full Monte, or will he let his talent loose to show the world what he can do.
Jari-Matti Latvala will miss his first world rally since 2012 but Finland will still be represented in Monte Carlo thanks to M-Sport’s Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen. The asphalt roads may not be the place for the Scandanavians to showcase their potential but a good start will be critical to reinvigorate the Cumbrian team.
The crews will line up to start Rally Monte Carlo’s first stage at half past eight on Thursday evening. Is there a better place to start an intense season of rallying? I can’t think of any. They’ll all wait to begin their new season with a new stage, Stage 1, Malijai – Puimichel, hasn’t been used since the 90s. WRC spotlights will illuminate the icy roads and the fans’ flares will decorate the mountains ranges as the next episode of world rallying beckons.
Ogier starts the year looking for his seventh world title but first his rivals must stop him getting his seventh Monte victory in a row. Year-by-year Neuville has been getting closer while Tanak’s pace in Monte-Carlo last year was an eye-opener. While the challenge of beating Ogier in Monte Carlo remains extremely tough, the rewards of doing so would be huge for Tanak, Neuville and their monopolistic team, Hyundai.
Photo: Muller Yohan Photosport