The 2015 Rallye Monte-Carlo saw the season get off to a bang, Sébastien Loeb was back for a one-off rally as he took on the defending double-champion Sebastien Ogier. While it would have been stupid to have doubted Loeb, no one could have predicted that the nine-time champion would finish the first stage 30 seconds up. Unfortunately for Loeb his victory challenge would end (also with a bang) when he hit a rock in an eerily similar accident to team-mate Kris Meeke. As the rally went on it was clear that the pace of the three Volkswagen’s would be hard to go up against with Ogier leading home the eventual 1-2-3 result for the team.
We’ve taken a look over the entry list for the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship to give you low down on what’s been happening since Wales Rally GB in November.
There is no change at the top for the driver lineup with Volkswagen Motorsport as the welcome back Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, but there is a change with the latter’s co-driver. Gone is Ola Fløene, who took victory in Spain last season with the Norwegian and in comes Anders Jæger who makes the leap from partnering upcoming star Ole Christian Veiby.
For Hyundai Motorsport their line-up remains the same with Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo leading the charge while Hayden Paddon pilots the Hyundai Motorsport N entry. While the line-up is the same the South Korean marque has chosen to name Spaniard Sordo as their number 1 driver in the official 2016 FIA entry list with previous bragging rights given to Neuville. 2015 was a tough year for the Belgian driver, a brilliant second place finish in Sweden would be eclipsed by a below-par second half of the season, resulting in management swapping him with Paddon for the final round of the year at Wales Rally GB. Despite all new regulations kicking in at the end of the 2016 season, the team will début a new generation Hyundai i20 WRC in Monte-Carlo, with Paddon using a 2015-spec i20 WRC for this rally.
It’s all change at M-Sport as Ott Tanak heads to satellite team Drive DMACK World Rally Team and Elfyn Evans is relegated to WRC2 duties for the opening round. ‘Returning home’ to the team and taking on the team leader duties is the swift Norwegian Mads Østberg, who last raced with the team in 2013 and will be co-piloted for the first time since 2004 by Ola Fløene. Two seasons at Citroën rewarded him with six podiums, including two second-place finishes last season; Returning as the lead driver with two more seasons experience under his belt could put him in prime position for ‘dark horse’ status. Joining Østberg is a driver that team owner Malcolm Wilson has been watching for some time, Eric Camilli, who last season took three podiums with Team ORECA in the WRC2 class, the 28-year-old Frenchman is joined by Nicolas Klinger who replaces his previous co-driver Benjamin Veillas. Bryan Bouffier is also entered to Rallye Monte-Carlo under the M-Sport banner, the Frenchman was last see with the team in France last season where he finished in eighth place.
While it isn’t a fully fledged manufacturer entry, Citroën are back under the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team as they concentrate their main efforts on developing their 2017 car without the pressure of championship duties. Kris Meeke will take the reigns while 2014 J-WRC and WRC3 champion Stéphane Lefebvre joins the Northern Irish driver for Monte-Carlo. Craig Breen and Khalid Al Qassimi will also get the opportunity to take part throughout the year, starting with Rally Sweden.
Robert Kubica is yet to fully commit to any plans for the full 2016 season, but Monte-Carlo will see him back behind the wheel of the BRC Racing Team Ford Fiesta. The Pole was fast last year but his luck run out when his brakes failed after the end of a stage, resulting in a collision with a wall and a retirement. Unfortunately for the Pole his pre-rally test ended early when he slid of the road in and in to a ditch.
Lorenzo Bertelli will run under the FWRT banner supported by M-Sport after disbanding his own team to concentrate on driving. The 2015 season brought two top ten finishes for the Italian, but also six retirements.
WRC stalwart Martin Prokop will miss Rallye Monte-Carlo as he is currently competing in the 2016 Dakar Rally, while it is yet to be confirmed he is expected to be back on the world circuit later in the season.
2016 WRC Season predictions
Drivers Champion: Sébastien Ogier
Drivers Runner-Up: Andreas Mikkelsen
Manufacturers Champion: Volkswagen Motorsport
Manufacturers Runner-Up: M-Sport
One To Watch: Mads Østberg
The WRC2 championship is set to be a fierce battle this season, with M-Sport moving Elfyn Evans to the class for more development work on the Ford Fiesta R5 , the Cumbrian team should be in with a shout for the title. The Fiesta R5 has been worked on over the winter and sees an increase of 32bhp from the engine while further developments are due to come in March.
With Eric Camilli moving up to WRC, Teemu Suninen is the one to beat in WRC2 as he rejoins Team ORECA for 2016 in on of their Škoda Fabia R5s, the young Finn also remains on the books as TMG Development driver. Rapid Frenchman Julien Maurin will also be looking to impress in his privately entered Škoda Fabia R5
One driver to watch this weekend is Quentin Gilbert, who makes the transition from WRC3/Junior WRC up to WRC, the young Frenchman claimed both titles in 2015 with four WRC3 wins and two other podiums, plus five JWRC victories. He also already has a WRC2 victory under his belt having driven a Ford Fiesta R5 to victory in the 2014 Rally de France-Alsace.
Other JWRC alumni inlcude Simone Tempestini (Fourth place in JWRC 2015) and Pierre-Louis Loubet (Sixth place in JWRC 2015).
2016 WRC2 Season predictions
Drivers Champion: Elfyn Evans
Drivers Runner-Up: Quentin Gilbert
Teams Champion: M-Sport
Teams Runner-Up: Škoda Motorsport
One To Watch: Teemu Suninen
Nine competitors will take on the WRC3 class in Monte-Carlo headed up by Norwegian driver Ole Christian Veiby who ended his 2015 season with WRC3/JWRC victory at Wales Rally GB. He will once again be piloting his Citroën DS3 R3. Another driver to watch is the upcoming Jordan Berfa who will be tackling the rally for the Peugeot Rally Academy in their Peugeot 208 R2.
2016 WRC3 Season predictions
Drivers Champion: Ole Christian Veiby
Drivers Runner-Up: Jordan Berfa
Teams Champion: Printsport
Teams Runner-Up: Peugeot Rally Academy
One To Watch: Ole Christian Veiby
Englishman Eamonn Boland is once again entered and will be taking on Monte-Carlo with a private entry in his Subaru Impreza. Max Vatanen, who recently announce his intentions to compete for the British Rally Championship title will also be taking on the rally in his Ford Fiesta R2.
The Checkered Flag will be covering Rallye Monte-Carlo from start to finish throughout the next day with all the news and end of day analysis, follow us on twitter at @thecheckerflag for further updates as the stages happen. Also check out our new Pace Notes feature with information from Gus Greensmith who took part in the recce for this rally.