Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
The wait for the 2023 WRC season is finally over, as teams and drivers head to the traditional starting point of the championship for almost 50 years: The frosty and icy mountain roads of Monte Carlo. The event has been part of nearly every season of the competition, always as the opening round of the year. With lots of snow and ice, the Monte is a tarmac rally like no other. More importantly, it’s either won or lost on tyre choices. Picking a specific compound and expecting it to work well throughout a whole loop of stages is simply unreasonable in these icy passes. Along with the right tyres, you need more than a few ounces of bravery and skill to win in the Principality. This is made clear once you look back at the list of previous winners: Walter Röhrl, Ari Vatanen, Carlos Sainz Sr, Didier Auriol, Tommi Makinen, Sebastien Loeb, and Sebastien Ogier; just some of the great names to have conquered the French mountains over the years. No wonder then, Monte Carlo being considered the most prestigious rally of all.
Of all the drivers competing, Sebastien Ogier is one of only two to have previously won the event, no less than eight times. He is back in the Toyota team to make up for last year’s late disappointment, but even without his arch nemesis Loeb taking part, his task will be just as tough, if not even tougher. One man who will almost certainly be in contention is reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä. The young Finn would be looking to kick off his title defense in the best way possible, and victory on the Monte would be an ideal start, especially since he’s never been on the podium here. Thierry Neuville is the only one other than Ogier on the Rally1 entry list to have won the rally. He’ll also be attempting to repeat the feat, proving early on his capability to lead Hyundai to its former title successes, from a couple of years back, as well as being able to challenge for the ultimate prize. The final heavy hitter is Ott Tänak, who’s back with M-Sport after six years. He feels the move will propel him back into championship winning ways, after a rocky stint with Hyundai, though how close the British outfit can get to the other two manufacturers still remains unclear.
Backing up the Estonian for the rally and the entire year is Pierre-Louis Loubet. The French driver impressed in his part-time season last year, and could be a major threat, should any of the top drivers slip up. Esapekka Lappi is in a very similar position to Loubet, having been picked up by Hyundai to compete in all rallies after a successful part-time return to the sport. The Korean outfit will probably be hoping for a smooth rally from the Finn, with any bigger expectations seeming unrealistic. That responsibility falls on Dani Sordo, who’s once again the third driver, this time sharing the seat with M-Sport refugee Craig Breen, bringing in a whole heap of much needed experience and pace. Lastly, Toyota’s Elfyn Evans could also be a serious threat for a big result, the Welshman looking to start the year in the best way possible, following a disappointing 2022 campaign. The final two Rally1 entrants are Takamoto Katsuta and Jourdan Serderidis. Both would be hoping for a quiet weekend, and not ending up in the ditch would be considered a victory, though with Monte Carlo famously having its fair share of retirements, a strong points finish could be more than likely.
In addition to the main category, the WRC2 field is also looking quite exciting this year, with many familiar names looking to do battle in the French mountains. M-Sport’s line-up consists of Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster, both driving the updated Fiesta Rally2. Oliver Solberg will also be there, in a brand new Skoda Fabia RS, while Monte Carlo veteran and rally legend Francois Delecour will also be using a Fabia for his one-off return.
This could really be considered the icing on the cake, in what promises to be a thrilling season opener for the WRC’s second year of hybrid rally cars.