Paris (AFP)

The French Sébastien Ogier starts this week in defense of his title and in search of an 8th coronation in the World Rally Championship (WRC), for what must be, this time it is promised, his last season.

Like a feeling of déjà vu.

Last year, Ogier announced that he would end his WRC experience.

But now, a pandemic has broken out, the world has adapted, and so has the rally: the 2020 season has gone from 14 to 7 races.

And if Ogier imposed himself, with experience, he did not want to end with this unfinished aftertaste.

So at 37, he will be there at the Monte-Carlo rally from Thursday to Sunday, on the roads of his native region of Gap, for a second and final season at the wheel of his Toyota Yaris and always with his co-driver Julien Ingrassia.

"Everyone knows that Monte-Carlo is the rally I want to win the most," Ogier explains.

"But this year, it will be different: for me, there has always been massive support, but even if they will not be present on the side of the road (the event is behind closed doors, Editor's note), I am almost sure that my supporters will applaud me in front of the television and I will try to make them happy ”.

- Untouchable Loeb record?


For his arrival in 2020 at the Japanese manufacturer after his successes at Volkswagen and M-Sport Ford, the Gapençais won his 7th title, approaching the record of his compatriot Sébastien Loeb (9).

A course that is not an obsession, assures the person concerned, who should stop before being able to equal the Alsatian.

With the exception of Loeb (who did not stack up for a few years with Hyundai), Ogier will face the same opponents.

Starting with his Welsh team-mate Elfyn Evans, vice-world champion, and the Hyundai drivers, the Estonian Ott Tänak and the Belgian Thierry Neuville, who has just changed co-driver.

Toyota, now run by the young, retired 35-year-old driver Jari-Matti Latvala, has reserved his third car for Finnish talent Kalle Rovanperä (20), while at Hyundai, world constructors champion, it is the experienced Dani Sordo and Craig Breen who will succeed in the 3rd i20.

The private M-Sport team, 3rd entered, is the only one to have rejuvenated its teams.

The Briton Gus Greensmith (24) was promoted to driver N.1, while the Finn Teemu Suninen (26) and the French Adrien Fourmaux (25) will alternate in the 2nd Ford Fiesta.

On the French side, it should also be noted that Pierre-Louis Loubet (23) is registered for his first full season in the WRC at the wheel of a private Hyundai.

- Croatia, Kenya and Japan -

But after entering without knocking in 2020, the big guest of the season will still be the Covid-19.

Because if twelve rallies are planned, all is uncertainty.

Tänak, crowned in 2019 and 3rd last year, touches wood: "I hope for a longer and more normal year" because "it was not easy to get into the rhythm of the championship last year, with events often canceled and replaced ".

Moreover, the regulations now stipulate that at least half of the events foreseen in the initial calendar must be organized for the titles to be awarded.

With the cancellation of Rally Sweden, scheduled for Round 2 in February, 2021 got off to a bad start and all eyes were on the inaugural event.

At the cost of a rethought organization, in particular to respect the curfew at 6:00 p.m. in France, the "Monte" held firm.

The drivers will be driving early in the morning and the public will not be allowed.

The Arctic Rally (February 26-28) replaced Sweden: heading to northern Finland for the first time in the WRC before, other novelties, to go to Croatia (April 22-25) and Belgium (13 -August 15th).

Canceled last year, the Kenya Rally, Historic Safari Rally, still hopes to make a comeback in June after being on the calendar from 1973 to 2002, as Chile (September 09-12) and Japan, to close the season (November 11-14), are also returning.

This year will also see Pirelli replacing Michelin as the tire supplier.

Before, in 2022, the promise of a revolution with the arrival of engines with hybrid technology for the 50th edition of the WRC.

© 2021 AFP