The iconic wintry event has attracted 96 crews, 18 of which will drive top flight World Rally Cars. But for thousands of spectators who will flock to the stages, this season’s opener is all about the battle between the two Frenchmen.
Nine-time champion Loeb, 40, retired from full time rallying 14 months ago but is back for a one-off appearance at the wheel of a DS 3 WRC. He will go head to head with Volkswagen’s defending champion Ogier, 31, as he begins his quest for a third title.
There is no love lost between the pair, who endured a tense relationship as team-mates at Citroën in 2011. But after Ogier left for VW at the end of that season they haven’t had many opportunities to battle each other on the stages. They have squared-up in World Rally Cars only four times since, most recently at the 2013 Rallye de France. The scores are level on two wins apiece, so this week’s encounter should tip the balance one way or another.
But while fans can’t wait to find out which Seb will come out on top, the men themselves are playing it cool. Ogier, last year’s Monte winner, isn’t a fan of comparisons with his namesake and is doing his best to play down the rematch. “It’s no real importance,” he insisted, “I feel I have nothing to prove against him. It’s just an interesting challenge that he’s in again.”
Ogier however isn’t underestimating the threat posed by the man who has won the Monte seven times. “For sure I expect him to be as competitive as ever,” he acknowledged. “Even if he had a year off [from rally] he was still in competition. I’m sure he will be back quite strong, and it’s interesting for the race, but to be honest I don’t feel any extra pressure.”
Armed with new second generation Polo R, Ogier can also count on local knowledge of this WRC classic. “Monte Carlo is definitely important for me, it feels like my home rally. This year there are stages very close to my childhood home, so of course I will be very happy to perform well. Okay, there is a lot of expectation and the conditions are difficult, but I like that,” he said.
Loeb meanwhile is promising to give the rally his best shot. It’s an approach that has led to 78 wins at World Championship level so far. “My ambition is to do my best,” he said. “I haven’t driven for a year. Okay, it’s not the priority to win here, but on the other side, when I take the start of a race I always try to do my best. So I will try to prepare as well as possible and do my best. We will see…”