This rally will be one of only four events in which defending, and nine-time World Rally Champion, Sebastien Loeb will be appearing in 2013. And going on past performance, with six victories from his last seven starts, it seems very likely the Citroen DS3 WRC driver will win again.
Not only is this one of Loeb’s favourite rallies, but there’s pride at stake too. Ten years after their first Monte in a World Rally Car, he and co-driver Daniel Elena (who hails from Monaco) want to bow out from the sport on a high. Even Loeb says it is difficult to imagine achieving any other result than first place...
But with 13 World Rally Cars entered in the event, there will be many drivers out to stop him. Not least his own Citroën Total Abu Dhabi team-mates; 2010 Monte winner Mikko Hirvonen, Loeb’s former Citroen number two Dani Sordo and the 2011 Monte winner Brian Bouffier.
The youthful trio of Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville have secured drives in Ford’s now M-sport run Fiesta RS WRCs, but their inexperience in the specialist conditions won’t encourage flat-out heroics. Seasoned competitor Juho Hanninen, of the Qatar M-Sport WRT, is the pick of the Fiesta pilots and has podium potential.
The main focus however will be on Volkswagen which, after a rigorous programme of testing and WRC acclimatisation, will make its eagerly anticipated entry into the WRC with drivers Sebastien Ogier and Jari Matti Latvala.
Ogier is probably the fastest driver in the WRC right now, and exactly what he and the new Polo R WRC will deliver on the opening round week is the subject of much speculation. Will they blow their rivals into next week? Probably not. At this point in the season it’s more likely the focus will be on building experience, proving reliability and settling in. We’ll see.
Also in the mix will be Michal Kosciuszko, in a MINI John Cooper Works WRC run by Motorsport Italia, and Martin Prokop and Julien Maurin who will drive Fiesta World Rally Cars.
The FIA’s new WRC 2 category, the replacement for the SWRC (Super 2000 World Rally Championship), kicks off with eight entrants. Top seeded driver is Esapekka Lappi, in a Skoda Fabia S2000, with Sepp Wiegand next in a similar car. Armin Kremer (Subaru Impreza) and Luca Betti (Peugeot 207 S2000) are also ones to watch.
Three French drivers are registered for WRC 3 - the replacement for the PWRC (Production World Rally Championship). Sebastien Chardonnet, Gilbert Quentin and Renauld Poutot will each drive a Citroen DS3T.
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