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Princely start on Casino Square

HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco was present on Casino Square, on Thursday, for the official start of the 92nd Monte-Carlo Rally. Following the withdrawal this morning of an Italian crew’s VW Polo GTI, the 69 competitors then set off for a long road section (over 200 km) to the first two special stages, scheduled this evening between Alpes de Haute-Provence and Hautes-Alpes.

“It’s never easy at night, so we will need to be vigilant, even if there’s no snow. The rally won’t be easy though and there will be a lot of pitfalls, as usual”, said Sébastien Ogier, the eight-time world rally champion, on the starting podium, after a discreet exchange of words with HSH Prince Albert II. His Toyota Yaris, now in a superb matt black livery, will carry his lucky number, 17. The driver from the Hautes-Alpes is aiming for a 10th success in the Principality, having last year taken the all-time record for Rallye Monte-Carlo victories to 9 (the same number as Seb Loeb’s world titles…).

Two special stages on Thursday night

As it does every year, Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) pulled out all the stops and invited a number of VIPs to this top-of-the-range start ceremony. They watched a parade of 70 superb rally cars, in slow motion and, for the eight hybrid cars in the top category (Rally 1), in a relative eco-friendly silence: three Toyota Yaris, three Hyundai i20s and two Ford Pumas entered by Malcolm Wilson’s British M-Sport team.

As this is the year of the big return to Gap, everyone set off on a long road section (over 200 km) heading to a couple of very tricky special stages: Thoard-Saint Geniez (SS1, 21km) from 8.35pm, very close to Digne-les-Bains, then Bayons-Bréziers (SS2, 25km), closer to Gap, from 10pm for the first cars. And a little later for the private competitors, expected until 3am in the new service park in Gap.

The night will be short before a potentially strenuous Friday, with the start set for 8am for two loops of three special stages (SS3 to SS5, then SS6 to SS8, totalling 105km of timed sections). And that means a dozen hours of fierce battling at every level of the overall standings. This is the 92nd Rally Monte-Carlo and, once again, it’s going to be a great show!

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