The 2019 World Rally Championship kicks off next week with the most famous of them all, Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The “Monte”, as it is affectionately known, is a tarmac event, although its January position in the calendar means that the conditions are often unpredictable. Driving in the mountains of southern France during the winter months will challenge drivers with wet and dry roads, mixed in with plenty of ice and snow. Tyre choice will be critical if the teams are to get the most out of their cars.
Toyota, Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Citroën will fight it out once more on the best rally stages that the world has to offer, although their cars have not changed too much during the off-season.
The most significant changes for 2019 are among the drivers. Sébastien Ogier jumped ship from M-Sport and has returned to Citroën along with Esapekka Lappi who moves to the French squad from Toyota.
WRC legend Sébastien Loeb returns to the fold, with Hyundai. He will be joined by Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville driving i20 Coupe WRC machines.
Over at M-Sport Ford, Teemu Suninen enters his first full season in a front running WRC car, with teammate Elfyn Evans returning for his fifth season with the British team. Pontus Tidemand will join the squad for Monte Carlo.
Ott Tänak and Jari-Matti Latvala return with Toyota in the Yaris WRC along with Citroën refugee Kris Meeke joining the squad.
Citroën, M-Sport and Škoda have already registered for the newly created FIA WRC 2 Pro Championship for manufacturers of R5 cars and will be fielding entries on the opening round of the 2019 series. The Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, which made its competitive debut at the end of last year, is back on the WRC stages in the FIA WRC 2 Championship amid a field of other competitors in the category. Rallye Monte-Carlo is also the first round of the FIA RGT Cup.
THE 2019 ROUTE
The 87th edition of Rallye Monte-Carlo sees the start ceremony move to Place Desmichels in Gap on Thursday evening and the competition immediately gets underway with two new night stages.
More fresh challenges await on Friday’s longest day with two loops of three stages; SS3/6 is also entirely new, SS4/7 is mostly unchanged, and SS5/8 has never been driven in this direction. Saturday’s route, which ultimately takes the crews to Monaco, takes in two repeated loops of two stages covering 93.38 competitive kilometres, both of which are virtually the same as 2018.
On Bank Holiday Sunday, the top 60 crews will take in two runs over the Col de Turini and La Cabanette-Col de Braus stages, the latter hosting the all-important Power Stage.