Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb, who between them have won the last 15 world rally titles, go wheel to wheel at the fabled season opener in Monte Carlo starting on Thursday.
Ogier wrapped up his sixth straight WRC crown in last year's finale in Australia in one of the championship's tightest finishes.
A crowd pleaser
The 34-year-old Frenchman has since switched from Ford to Citroen, the team where his career began in 2009, on a two-year deal.
As the ambitious new kid on the block back then he proved a constant thorn in the side of Loeb, who has ended his career-long association with the French marque in a six-rally deal to drive for Hyundai.
"It's nice to have Loeb back, we had some great battles," Ogier, hunting for his sixth win in a row in Monte Carlo and seventh overall, told the WRC's official website this week.
"We are both changing environments and it has created a real excitement in the service park, everyone wants to see what will happen."
Loeb, 44, arrives in Monte Carlo still shaking the sand off his shoes after finishing third in this month's Dakar Rally in Peru.
Finding the rhythm
"There is every possibility of finding ice as the temperature drops overnight. You always have to adapt to the changing and unpredictable conditions," said the record seven-time Monte Carlo winner.
"The most complicated thing is to find the right rhythm and not to fall into any traps," added the man who owned the drivers' rally championship from 2004 to 2012.
Ogier clinched the 2018 title by just 18 points from Thierry Neuville, Loeb's Hyundai teammate hungry for his maiden crown.
The Belgian has warned his rivals to expect a more ruthless approach as he attempts to deliver his Korean team their first title in their sixth season of competition after finishing second best in both the drivers and manufacturers' titles in the past three campaigns.
"I think as a team we learned a lot last year. To be much more aggressive on strategies is something we have to bear in mind this time."
Toyota's Estonian driver Ott Tanak was third last season, the winner of four rallies in 2018, delivering his team their first manufacturer's title since their return after a 17-year time out.
"This year, going into the season for a second time with the same car, same people, same team definitely feels a lot more relaxed," commented Tanak.
With snow, ice and dry conditions sometimes experienced in the same stage, Monte Carlo represents one of the trickiest tests on the 14-rally calendar.
It gets underway Thursday with two night special stages around Gap: drivers face 16 stages in all covering 325km with a finish in Monaco on Sunday afternoon.