Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak are the favorites for the title in the 2019 edition of the World Rally Championship (WRC), which opens this weekend with the legendary Monte Carlo Rally, which will feature Sébastian Loeb as an exceptional guest.
A six-time world champion, Ogier is still hungry and seeking the seventh title in a row. It will do so with a third manufacturer, Citroën, after its successful steps by Volkswagen (2013-2016) and M-Sport Ford (2017-2018).
Only the Finn Juha Kankkunen has managed to win with three teams, Peugeot, Lancia and Toyota.
Seven years after his departure from the French team, which he reproached for being too focused on Loeb, Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia return to the brand that launched them.
«It is a return to the origins. Citroën first gave us the opportunity in rallying a dozen years ago, when we won the Junior World Championship together. After that, we did three seasons in the World Cup with them, ”explains Ogier.
“The team has good potential again and we are very motivated on both sides with the idea of starting this season. We are going to try to reach the top ”, he adds.
The reigning champion must quickly measure up to a car whose performances have left much to be desired in the past two years, with two fourth and final places in the constructors’ standings and three victories since 2017.
– ‘Everything is gathered’ at Citroën –
But his boss Pierre Budar is confident. “We now have a car, performance, a technical team and drivers. Everything is gathered at Citroën so that we can fight again and fight for the title, “he said.
Ogier demonstrated in the modest M-Sport his ability to develop and extract performance from a car that was one of the least attractive in the World Championship.
But the competition is coming. Neuville and Tänak managed to carry the suspense until the final test last year. In the season that begins they have the advantage of not changing their structure.
A season as indecisive as the previous one awaits the trio, in which the Belgian and Estonian fell on the last straight to a once again superior Frenchman.
Now experience may help them, starting with Tänak, who finished his first year at Toyota with an outstanding performance.
«The second season should be a little easier than the first because you already know what to expect. Our adversaries will complicate our lives, but now we have experience, we must use it, get the best out of it, “he explains.
– Changes at Hyundai –
Neuville, on the other hand, has obtained changes in Hyundai to finally be able to achieve the title, both in the driver category and in the manufacturer category.
“The objective has not changed, we were close last year. We know we can do it. We pushed hard for some internal changes, especially at a technical level, this should allow us to be more competitive and faster, “he says.
Italian Andrea Adamo managed to control the structure, which nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb will reinforce in six rounds, starting with Monte Carlo and continuing through Sweden in mid-February.
‘Semi-retired’ from the World Rally Championship since 2012, the Frenchman continues to be a sure thing, winning in Spain last year, in one of the three rounds he contested with Citroën.
In the transfer market, the fickle Briton Kris Meeke has signed for Toyota and Finnish hopeful Esapekka Lappi for Citroën.
Fourteen events appear on the calendar for the season, which will end in Australia in mid-November, one more than in 2018. For the first time, the World Cup will travel to Chile (May 9-12). AFP