After the winter break, the World Rally Championship kicks off for 2015 with the oldest and most unpredictable rally on the calendar, the Monte Carlo Rally. The crews will tackle fifteen special stages on surfaces that can change from asphalt to snow and ice in the blink of an eye, and the rally promises plenty of carnage and drama.
The Monte Carlo Rally has been running since 1911 but it wasn’t until 1992 when the drivers had to follow a designated route. Before that, there were several locations that were equal distances away from Monte Carlo that they could choose from. Arguably the most controversial thing ever to happen at this rally occurred in 1966, where the top four finishers and the sixth place driver were disqualified for having the wrong type of headlights. Ten cars were disqualified in total and this fiasco damaged the reputation of the event.
However the rally continued to run and in 1973 it was given the honour of being the first round of the newly formed World Rally Championship. Since then it has only been off the calendar for a couple of years from 2009-2011 as it became part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC).
The 2015 Rally
For the 2015 WRC season the rally has a completely revamped route, with 75% of the stages not on the 2014 itinerary. There are 15 stages, starting with two stages run in the dark on Thursday night following a spectacular opening ceremony in Monte Carlo’s Casino Square. The first day proper sees six stages run as two blocks of three centred around Forest St Julian, with the second day returning to stages such as Prunieres, Sisteron, and the 51km monster that is the Lardier et Valenca stage. The final day would be more familiar to the drivers with the Col de Turini, one of rallying’s most iconic locations, being featured. The stages on the final day have traditionally seen carnage, especially when there is snow and ice around. Rally 2 rules, allowing retired crews back into the rally, will also be used for the first time, meaning there will be more action than ever.
Ones to Watch
The Driver’s Champion for the last two years,Sebastien Ogier is hoping to take his second consecutive victory on the Monte Carlo Rally. However there are a host of drivers with star pedigrees who are hoping to stop the Frenchman from dominating like last season, not least the nine time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb, who is back from his retirement to tackle at least this round. Time will tell if Loeb still has the lightning quick pace that allowed him to tear up the record book and topple his successor. The rally has attracted 20 WRC cars, an increase on the usual number, which promises to make it a spectacular rally. As well as the two Sebs, the first rally also gives the crews a chance to see where their cars are at, so Citroen, Ford and Hyundai will see whether they can get anywhere near Volkswagen. Thierry Neuville is one to watch; he took his and Hyundai’s maiden victory in their debut season on tarmac at the Rallye Deutschland, so is no slouch on this surface. Bryan Bouffier and Robert Kubica can’t be discounted either, with the former taking the runner-up spot behind Ogier last year after leading for most of the event, whilst the latter set some very competitive stage times on what was his WRC debut.
Rewind to 2014
Last year the rally was won by Sebastien Ogier in his Volkswagen, in what was arguably the most dominant car for several years. However, it was Bryan Bouffier who led for most of the rally before a lengthy spin on Stage 9 meant that he had to settle for second. Robert Kubica, the former Formula 1 driver recovering after a horrific crash in 2011, won the first two stages of the rally but was caught by Bouffier, before an accident on the second day led to his retirement. Kris Meeke led home team-mate Mads Ostberg in third and fourth places, though neither could match the pace of the Volkswagens. After an off, Ogier’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala took home fifth ahead of the leading works Ford Elfyn Evans.
Support Category Preview
Just as in the WRC, there promises to be drama in the support categories as well. WRC-2 looks set to be a thriller with the field led by last year’s Junior WRC Champion Stephane Lefebvre in a Citroen DS3 R5. The Peugeot 208’s of Craig Breen and Jonathan Hirschi showed some promise at the opening round of the European Rally Championship despite various problems. Frenchman Julien Maurin and veteran Armin Kremer also look like being in the mix for the win. For this rally all of the JWRC crews are also the only crews eligible for WRC-3 with there being several potential winners in the pack. The most likely however looks to be between Quentin Gilbert and Christian Riedemann, both of whom have proved themselves on tarmac at this level.
1st: Sebastien Loeb
2nd: Sebastien Ogier
3rd: Bryan Bouffier
WRC-2 Winner: Julien Maurin
WRC-3/JWRC Winner: Quentin Gilbert