MONTE CARLO, Principality of Monaco: Sebastien Ogier begins his quest for a fourth successive world rally title on Thursday (Friday in Manila) in the plush surroundings of Monte Carlo at the start of a World Rally Championship (WRC) competition that is expected again to be easy pickings for Volkswagen.
Ogier wrapped up his third world crown with three races to spare in 2015 while Volkswagen dominated the contstructors’ championship, ending the season with almost twice as many points as Citroen.
The Monte Carlo race is in its 84th edition and French driver Ogier has already three wins under his belt – in 2009 with Peugeot and in 2014 and 2015 behind the wheel of a VW Polo-R.
“All modesty aside, I think VW has the best three current drivers,” said Ogier of teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen who were second and third last season.
“Transparency is very high within the team. Even our last-minute choice of tires is known to our teammates. The difference will be in the driving seat,” he added.
Ogier won eight of last year’s 13 rounds with Latvala claiming three and Mikkelsen just one.
The only blip in the VW record was victory for Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke behind the wheel of a Citroen in Argentina.
Meeke, who was targeted by Toyota for their entry into the championship in 2017, will stay with the French manufacturer but is not expected to drive in all 14 rounds.
The Citroen driver struck the first blow on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) when he was fastest in the shakedown for the Monte Carlo race, two-tenths of a second quicker than Ogier.
It was a testing start for all the drivers with cars struggling for grip on the icy, muddy track.
“We were second or third in, and for sure a lot of mud was pulled out and the road got slower and slower,” Meeke told wrc.com.
“Okay, in that sense it isn’t a very representative stage, but I’m still happy because my second pass was quickest too – so even when the road was muddy the time was still good,” he added.
Hyundai will be the chief challenger to VW and Citroen with a new i20 model piloted by Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon.
But the South Korean manufacturer will be looking to improve on a poor record of just one win in two years, courtesy of Neuville’s triumph in Germany at the end of 2014.
Meanwhile, the 2016 world championship will for the first time be filmed by drones, made by Chinese supplier DJI.
The contract was signed to mark the championship returning to China in September.