- Rallye Monte-Carlo has fired up in Monaco, where three new plug-in hybrid cars lead the WRC into a new era for rallying.
- Two Sébastiens (Ogier and Loeb) will compete as part-time drivers in this year's championship.
- These vehicles use bio-fuel and electrification to reduce their emissions impact on the environment.
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The curtain has risen on a revolutionary new FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) era at this week's Rallye Monte-Carlo as hybrid-powered Rally1 cars launch the series into an electrified future. These Rally1 cars blend a 100kW electric motor with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine as the WRC celebrates its 50th season with new regulations to drive the championship towards sustainability.
According to the WRC organiser, energy regeneration from the plug-in hybrid system, a 100% hydrocarbon fossil-free fuel, and sustainable energy supplies are critical to the WRC's commitment to a greener outlook.
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Rally living legends return to duel
While the new Rally1 cars from Ford (M-Sport), Hyundai and Toyota undoubtedly pack a punch, able to unleash more than 370kW on the mountain roads in the French Alps, this weekend's opening salvo marks the return of two "Monte masters" looking to renew rivalries as the door opens on the new generation.
Sébastien Ogier, who clinched his eighth crown last year before stepping back to a part-time rallying programme, goes head-to-head with fellow Frenchman and arch-rival Sébastien Loeb, whose nine titles make him the WRC's most successful driver. Ogier has eight Monte victories compared to Loeb's seven.
Ogier will be gunning for the win
Sébastien Ogier drives Toyota Gazoo Racing's GR Yaris Rally1 with new co-driver Benjamin Veillas. "I'm at the beginning of a different stage in my career and, as I'm not taking part in the full championship, the feeling is a little bit different to usual for me at this time of the year. But I'm still a competitor, and I still want to win," he said.
"I know the team has been working very hard to be ready with this new generation of the car, and big steps have been made in every test. It's quite a big change, and it's an exciting challenge to try and adapt to that. There's more uncertainty than ever going into this rally."
Loeb wants to prove he still has the mettle
Meanwhile, Sébastien Loeb hopes to pounce in his first WRC drive in more than a year in M-Sport Ford's Puma. He starts less than a week after finishing second in Saudi Arabia's desert at the Dakar Rally. Loeb is partnered with Isabelle Galmiche following the retirement of Daniel Elena, with whom Loeb has tackled every one of his previous 180 WRC starts.
"It's a radical change of scenery after spending three weeks on the Dakar Rally!" quipped Loeb, who squeezed in a brief test at the start of the week. "For this rally, I will certainly be less prepared than the other drivers, but the feeling with the Puma Rally1 was immediately excellent, and everything just came together," he said.
Tricky conditions ahead
Reports from Monaco suggest unpredictable mountain weather, which means competitors can encounter snow, ice and dry asphalt within a handful of kilometres. Tyre selection in such conditions is crucial. The rally starts in Monaco's refurbished Casino Square, and crews face 17 mountain stages covering 296.03km before Sunday afternoon's finish.
You can watch the stages live on the WRC website.
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