The Frenchman Sébastien Ogier will try to hang the record of eight victories, including seven consecutive, at the Monte-Carlo Rally from Thursday to Sunday, in order to start off on the right foot his collaboration with Toyota in the World Championship (WRC).
Aged 36, Ogier has joined the Japanese team for what is announced as his last WRC season and will be keen to show that he is able to take the world crown from Estonian Ott Tänak, himself from Toyota to Hyundai.
"Monte-Carlo is the rally I most want to win during the season," said the six-time world champion on Wednesday, adding that "we need a few special stages, more kilometers to find out where we are. situate ".
He had the best "shakedown" time on Wednesday evening, but he himself admits that this warm-up before the start of serious business on Thursday evening does not mean much.
A new victory at Monte-Carlo would also allow him to put his name on the list of legendary events with a 5th different manufacturer (1 with Peugeot in 2009 in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, 3 with Volkswagen, 2 with M-Sport Ford and 1 with Citroën in WRC since 2014).
But he will have on his way Tänak, who will show off his world crown and will be keen to show that he can do as well at Hyundai as at Toyota.
- Loeb on the lookout -
"The season begins with what is probably the most difficult event," said the 32-year-old champion.
"To make things even more complicated, I am in a new team and with a new car that I will have to learn in tricky conditions", he recalls, even "if we are still participating in a rally with the intend to win it. "
He finished 3rd last year behind Thierry Neuville, who is his teammate at Hyundai this year.
The Belgian has finished the last four seasons on the 2nd step of the final podium of the championship and he will want to mark his territory against Tänak. "We have already run on this course in recent years and we know which parts will be in the shade all day and therefore slippery, but there are always surprises at + Monte +", underlines the Ardennes driver.
As for the sports director of the South Korean team, Andrea Adamo, he judges that the rivalry between his two pilots will be "manageable", while confident: "but it all depends on what meaning we give to this word".
The two men will also have to count with Sébastien Loeb, seven times winner of the "Monte" like Ogier, between 2003 and 2013. The Frenchman performs at 45 years one of his annual "freelancers" for the South Korean team and had hung a 4th place last year when he just returned from the Dakar.
"With our better knowledge of the car, we can do even better" this year, hopes the nine-time world champion, always guided by his Monaco co-driver Daniel Elena.
- Weather forecast announced -
The rally will also see the start of the Welsh Elfyn Evans and the Finnish Kalle Rovanperä, only 19 years old, at Toyota, who will also continue the Japanese Takamoto Katsuta's apprenticeship in the queen category.
The Finn Esapekka Lappi found a new steering wheel at M-Sport Ford after Citroën's withdrawal and will be supported there by his compatriot Teemu Suninen and the British Gus Greensmith.
The weather forecast predicts a rather mild weather during the four days of this 88th edition of Monte-Carlo, with ice at altitude but without snowfall announced.
Covering 1,505 kilometers, including 16 specials totaling 304 km, the rally will see the first two ES disputed at night on Thursday, with the return for the first time since 1994 of that of Malijai-Puimichel. Friday, competitors will also discover a new section (Saint Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières) while the rest of the route will be the same as last year.
They will win Monaco on Saturday evening before the specials on the last day Sunday which will see them climb the famous Turini pass twice, once in each direction, before playing around noon for the final "Power Stage" which brings in additional points to the championship. of the world.
© 2020 AFP