The curtain is raised on a ground-breaking new FIA World Rally Championship era at this week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo as hybrid-powered cars launch the series into an exciting future.
Innovative new Rally1 cars blend a 100kW electric motor with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine as the WRC celebrates its 50th season with new regulations to drive the championship towards a more sustainable future.
Energy regeneration from the plug-in hybrid system, a 100 percent hydrocarbon fossil-free fuel and sustainable energy supplies are key to the WRC’s commitment to a greener outlook.
The new cars pack a punch. Peak performance will soar above 500hp on the mountain roads in the French Alps, while two Monte masters return to renew rivalries as the door opens on the new generation.
Sébastien Ogier, who clinched his eighth crown last year before stepping back to a part-programme, goes head-to-head with fellow Frenchman and arch-rival Sébastien Loeb, whose nine titles make him the sport’s most successful driver. Ogier has eight Monte victories compared to Loeb’s seven.
Ogier drives Toyota Gazoo Racing’s GR Yaris with new co-driver Benjamin Veillas.
“I’m at the beginning of a different stage in my career and, as I’m not taking part in the full championship, the feeling is a little bit different to usual for me at this time of the year. But I’m still a competitor and I still want to win,” he said.
“I know the team has been working very hard to be ready with this new generation of car and big steps have been made in every test. It’s quite a big change and it’s an exciting challenge to try and adapt to that. There’s more uncertainty than ever going into this rally.”
Loeb hopes to pounce in his first WRC drive in more than a year in M-Sport Ford’s Puma. He starts less than a week after finishing second in Saudi Arabia’s desert at the Dakar Rally.
He is partnered by Isabelle Galmiche following the retirement of Daniel Elena, with whom Loeb has tackled every one of his previous 180 WRC starts.
“It’s a radical change of scenery after spending three weeks on the Dakar Rally!” quipped Loeb, who squeezed in a brief test at the start of the week.
“For this rally, I will certainly be less prepared than the other drivers, but the feeling with the Puma Rally1 was immediately very good and everything just came together,” he said.
Manufacturers’ champions Toyota also field 2021 drivers’ runner-up Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä. Takamoto Katsuta steers a fourth GR Yaris in Toyota’s second-string squad.
Loeb is joined by new signing Craig Breen and Adrien Fourmaux at M-Sport Ford. Gus Greensmith drives a fourth entry.
Hyundai Motorsport is fired up after a disappointing 2021 campaign. Former world champion Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and youngster Oliver Solberg pilot i20 N cars.
Unpredictable mountain weather means competitors can encounter snow, ice and dry asphalt within a handful of kilometres. Cunning tyre selection in such conditions is key and while the forecast suggests this might not be a true winter Monte, nobody will be lulled into a false sense of security.
The rally starts in Monaco’s refurbished Casino Square on Thursday evening. Crews will face 17 mountain stages covering 296.03km before Sunday afternoon’s finish there.