The World Rally Championship returns this weekend with the first round of this season. The 92nd running of this absolute classic and legendary round will actually see the two-time and reigning champions Kalle and Jonne sit this one out.
Let’s take a look at the stages facing the crews for this first round then. They have 324km’s over seventeen stages. Shakedown is happening on Wednesday afternoon with a short 3.28km stage. The first run as always will be shown on the WRC YouTube channel. The first two stages happen on Thursday evening. Saturday sees the longest day of stages with 120km’s over six stages.
Of course, this is the first round with the new points system in place and there is a lot of opinion about this change. It will be interesting to see what the result of this all will be in terms of the championship points standings.
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“It’s always exciting to start a new season, especially with Rallye Monte-Carlo. The 2023 season was a nice progression for us that showed we’re going in the right direction. Of course, we want even more in 2024 but it’s not going to be easy to achieve that. We know that the competition will be tough like usual, so as a team we’re always working to continually improve and we’re ready to give this season our best shot. With Rallye Monte-Carlo moving north again this year, we’re much more likely to see wintery conditions forming part of the challenge. We had some tricky conditions in our pre-event test, so that provided some good practice, but this rally is all about adapting to whichever conditions we face during the weekend.”
“I’m happy to be at the start of another season after all these years, and I take this opportunity with both hands. The last couple of years have been good fun with the team and we managed to secure some good results. I think we want to keep going this way as long as we can and that’s the plan for 2024, starting with Rallye Monte-Carlo of course. For me this is a must-do event and there’s a lot of hopes for this first rally. I think it’s the rally that you need to respect more than any other as the conditions can be so challenging, which means that nothing is guaranteed. Numbers are never my main motivation, but if I could get a 10th win on this event it would be something very special.”
“It’s always nice to be back in the mountains around Monte Carlo ready to start a new season. Every year there is more expectation, but I like this pressure and I want to fight at the front, so I will try to have even better results in 2024. I want to be consistently in the podium fight, and to try to get a first victory. I will enjoy it and keep pushing the limits and working hard. The engineers are pushing a lot to improve the car further and I can feel in the factory that everybody is working hard, so I’m confident that we can be even better than last year. Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of the trickiest rallies in terms of the conditions with difficult tyre choices, but we’re up for the challenge.”
“I’m glad to be able to continue my journey with Hyundai in my 11th season with the team. They have shown me a lot of trust and I have helped them develop the car over the last two years. Our 2024 targets are to push hard for both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships, and the first step to achieving that is to perform well at Monte Carlo. It’s a challenging event due to the unpredictable weather conditions and varying surface profile, especially on the night stages. We have been competitive there in the past and know what it takes to stand on the podium. This year we are going to try for the best possible result, which we hope will be towards the front of the field.”
“Starting the season at Monte-Carlo is always a challenge. This year the event is moving back to the Gap region, so we are expecting the conditions to be mixed and tricky, with the potential of more snow and ice than we have had the past few seasons. Although we only had one day at the test, we were quite lucky with the conditions, as we were able to run on slick tyres in addition to experiencing wetter and icier roads. Overall, the feeling in the car was good and we found a nice rhythm. Our target at the rally itself is to achieve a podium finish, but of course we will push for the best result possible.”
“Coming back to the top class of rally from WRC2 is really exciting, and it feels really very good to return with Hyundai Motorsport. A completely new car and regulations creates a different environment for me, but it I am ready to take on the challenge. I’m very happy to be starting with Monte-Carlo this year – it’s an exciting rally with so many factors at play. Tyre choice and strategy plays a big part in success there, which means it is possible to achieve a good result even when you don’t know the car so well and haven’t found maximum pace. I want to finish the rally in the best position possible, and after a win here in WRC2 in 2022, I am determined to push until the very last stage to collect as many points as we can.”
M-Sport Ford WRT
“Our Monte-Carlo test went really well, and I had a really good feeling with the car on the mixed conditions that we had on the first day. It’s been positive and I was really happy to be back in a Rally1 car. On the second day we had a full snow stage, with some tarmac also, but it will be a really interesting drive if the snow comes for the rally. It doesn’t seem like we will have that much snow, but at least we are prepared, we never know in the mountains!
“So now we feel really prepared, but we know that at Monte Carlo you need to be humble. You need to have a lot of respect for this rally; especially this year as we go back into the Alps in the proper mountainous areas, where you can have really difficult conditions with snow and ice. So, for sure it will be a tough one, as it normally is in this area of France, but the real challenge will be the weather and the condition of the stages.”
“During pre-season testing we had two good days, one in the snow and one on tarmac. On the snow it went very well, and even though we are not sure if we are going to have those conditions on the rally, if it does then we are fully prepared. For the tarmac testing we got some good mileage, and we tried some different settings and tyre combinations.
“We are fully motivated to start the season well and we are looking forward to getting moving. We want to start the season properly and try to finish the rally by not making mistakes. If we kick off the year on a positive note, we can carry on the momentum and build up the pace throughout the season.”
“Rallye Monte-Carlo…” said Oliver. “Just saying the name is exciting. I think everybody in the world knows about this rally – it’s just so famous. And just so difficult!”
“I want to carry on where I left off last year,” he said. “I felt good with the car, everything was comfortable. Now I have more experience with the car and the team, it would be nice to go and set some more fastest times for the Rally2 cars and see what we can do.”
The route has changed significantly from last year, meaning some unfamiliar territory for Oliver. It’s also almost four months since he competed in the Škoda, so pre-season running has helped reacquaint him with the car.
“While we start and finish in Monaco, the rally is actually based out of the town of Gap in the mountains,” Oliver explained. “That means the roads we’re using are further north than where we have been in previous years. I don’t know these places so well, but this is a good opportunity to take more experience of these stages.
“For sure, I think we can expect more changeable and more winter weather, which should make it a real challenge. I’m excited to get going now. We have completed some testing in the off-season which was a good opportunity to be back in the car – it’s quite a long time since I was competing with the Fabia.
“We’re so happy to be working with Škoda Motorsport this season – it’s going to be a good one.”
Well, here we go again!! First round of thirteen and the challenge of Monte-Carlo never changes. The move to stages based around Gap may bring the snow and ice to the stages, something that the fans will love with the added spectacle when the cars are on the stage.
Let’s see who fights for the win!