The snow is falling heavily. Ice lies thick on the asphalt. Cold temperatures make the air thick with fog, limiting visibility. The dead silence of the night and its blackness is ripped apart by the screaming of a WRC car’s engine and the laser-sharp headlights.
One corner of the Rallye Monte-Carlo is oftentimes wholly different from the very next, even 100-meters down the road. From a dry patch of tar to a melted water stream that’s turned to ice, could spell disaster for a crew. The Rallye Monte-Carlo presents the biggest challenges to FIA World Rally Championship contenders, and this year’s event promises to add even more action to this spectacular season-opener.
Staged up, over and around the French Alps, in the middle of Winter, this asphalt rally is unlike any other in the world. Apart from millimetrically precise pace notes and tyre choice, competitors face tough decisions and big gambles in a hunt to outwit and outpace one another.
There are 16 stages with 304.28km of action lying in wait over the four days in a route of 1,505.64km. Glitzy and glamorous, the event starts from Monaco’s harbour and then takes in two stages in the dark of night with Malijai-Puimichel (17.47km) starting the event followed by Bayons-Breziers (25.49km).
Friday’s action starts 08h36 with a loop of three stages in the morning and repeated in the afternoon with a midday Service in between. The six stages make up 122.58km for the action around Gap, the hometown of six-times WRC champion Sebastien Ogier.
Four stages in a loop of two stages of 75.20km and a midday Service makes up Saturday’s relatively short action. This is where the most explosive action will come, with drivers sprinting through the stages at maximum attack – regardless of the weather conditions.
For Sunday, competitors face 123.54km over a loop of two stages repeated in the afternoon to conclude the 88th running of the Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Who will be on the podium? That is everyone’s guess for now, but the fight will most likely come from Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT team-mates Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville, with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Sebastien Ogier. However, never discount Sebastien Loeb in the third Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC machine…
Last year’s event was action-packed: Ogier (driving for Citroën Racing at the time) claimed the surprise win by just 2.2 seconds from Neuville and his Hyundai. Ogier’s claimed victory here for the past six consecutive years, and with the Toyota Yaris WRC beneath him, the Frenchman is also the bookies’ favourite to win his seventh WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Loeb’s claimed seven WRC victories on this event, and with more time in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in 2019 he’ll be quietly confident of his chances for the win on these roads. He has many years of experience of reading the road conditions, and that’s most vital on this complex rally.
Neuville, as quick as he is, will need to master the environment and the changing grip levels to stand on the podium this weekend. The incredibly talented Belgian has only stood on the podium once on this event, but he’s never scared of a fight. And, he’ll be having to keep a very close eye on his team-mate and reigning WRC champion Ott Tänak. The Estonian’s hungry for this win.
The two Finnish stars at M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, Teemu Sunninen and Esapekka Lappi, are sure to chase for stage wins too. To add the action is the youngest-ever full-time WRC driver Kalle Rovanpera in the Toyota Yaris WRC who’ll most definitely be a threat in the sides of the more experienced WRC drivers this weekend.
While not in the top-tier class, the action in WRC2 will be as feverish: reigning WRC2 Pro champion Mads Ostberg returns to defend his title with a customer Citroën C3 R5. The experienced WRC rally driver and winner will face stiff competition from the next generation in the form of Oliver Solberg in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5. This will be the battle to watch…
The constructors are also remaining very competitive in this class, too. Keep your eyes on the two Hyundai-backed entries of Ole Christian Veiby and Nikolay Gryazin in action a pair of Hyundai i20 R5 machines as they fight with the Ford Fiesta R5 MkII cars of Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux and Brit Rhys Yates.
This the crown gem in the WRC’s crown, and the season-opener, offers tantalising WRC action this weekend: Toyota versus Hyundai; Tänak versus Neuville; hometown-hero Ogier on form; unpredictable weather and stage conditions. What a Rallye Monte-Carlo we have ahead of us!