Three undisputable headliners of the 91st edition of Rally Monte-Carlo kicked off this Thursday morning at the “shakedown” between Sainte-Agnès and Peille (2.29km): Frenchman Sébastien Ogier (Toyota), an 8-time World Champion, in search of a 9th record success in the Principality, Belgian Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), the multiple vice-World Champion, often placed, never crowned, and Estonian Ott Tänak, the 2019 World Champion, back at M-Sport Ford, in the team that allowed him to burst on the rally scene.
One rally driver is missing, the legendary Sébastien Loeb, who won last year at the respectable age of 47, but he could not reasonably follow up, in such a short time, a superb 2ndplace in the Dakar rally-raid, Sunday, with such a demanding rally as the Monte-Carlo. Even if the weather conditions are expected to be mild, with almost completely dry asphalt roads. And this regardless of the outside temperature when the crews will leave the Port of Monaco Service Park early in the morning.
We will also have to follow closely, of course, the youngest world champion in the history of the World Rally Championship (WRC): Finnish star Kalle Rovanperä, 22, crowned at the end of 2022 at the end of an incredible season for a driver with so limited experience. His calm is already legendary. It will serve him well during this 91st edition which, like all previous ones, will be tricky, difficult and complicated to manage.
For the second season of hybrid cars in the Rally1 category, inaugurated last year at the same time, the first stage times of 2023 will be known this Thursday evening in Col de Turini (SS1, 15.12km) and Col de Castillon (SS2, 24.90km), so close to Monaco. They will give an initial trend on the potential of the forces involved this year. With a special mention for another young driver: Pierre-Louis Loubet, starting his first full season at M-Sport Ford, the family team of Malcolm Wilson, alongside Tänak. Very promising!