With Sebastien Loeb calling time on his career as a full-time WRC driver, victory on his home event will take on added significance, particularly after a rare engine failure forced his exit in 2011. However, he will face strong opposition from stablemate Mikko Hirvonen, on a high after being confirmed as Citroen’s team leader in 2013 and following his victory on a practice rally in France recently.
Not only can Loeb take the drivers’ crown by beating Hirvonen, Citroen can make it eight WRC manufacturers’ titles next week.
Factory Ford pair Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg journey to France with their confidence lifted. Latvala gave the works Ford squad its first win since Sweden in February with victory last time out on Wales Rally GB, while Solberg claimed third following a close battle with Loeb.
Dani Sordo will be another strong contender in his Prodrive-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC, while WRC Team MINI Portugal’s Chris Atkinson upgrades to the latest specification of the car having campaigned the older version in Germany and Great Britain.
Having impressed with an error-free, albeit controlled performance in Wales, Belgian youngster Thierry Neuville will be expected to up his pace in France in his Citroen Junior World Rally Team entry.
Ott Tanak demonstrated his potential by taking a brace of stage wins on asphalt in Germany but a mistake put him out on the gravel of Wales. As a result he will be determined to hit back with a successful run in France where M-Sport team-mate Evgeny Novikov will also be in action.
Ford’s star privateer Mads Ostberg will be in the fight for another healthy haul of points. Nasser Al-Attiyah, Paulo Nobre, Daniel Oliveira and Martin Prokop will all be armed with World Rally Cars, as will multiple World Touring Car champion Yvan Muller and sportscar racer Romain Dumas.
French rising stars Sebastien Chardonnet and Stephane Consani will both be looking to maximise the opportunity handed to them by their country’s motorsport federation, while Julien Maurin is the last of 19 World Rally Car drivers to appear on the bulging entry.
Alas, there will be no repeat win for French ace Sebastien Ogier, whose Super 2000-specification Skoda Fabia doesn’t pack the same punch as the pacesetting World Rally Cars. However, the priority for the Volkswagen Motorsport driver remains to build his team’s experience of WRC competition ahead of the debut of the Polo R World Rally Car in 2013. Andreas Mikkelsen pilots a second Volkswagen-run Fabia.
Visit WRC.com next week to find out who will be fighting it out for Super 2000 World Rally Championship and WRC Academy honours in France.
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