Just 46 days after the conclusion of the previous season, the curtain rises again for the WRC 2021 with the legendary Rally Monte-Carlo (21-24 January).
The 89th edition of the famous round, however, will leave an image quite different from the usual with no public cheering from the sides of the road in compliance with current Covid-19 restrictions in France.
The bulk of the action will again take place in the French region of the Haute Alps from where competitors will drive down to Monaco on Sunday. This year’s race, however, will be the shortest in history with just 257,64 timed kilometres, most of which (104,7 kilometres) will take place on Friday.
Also, in order to further comply with the curfew imposed by the French authorities, there will be no night stages. Furthermore, the famous Col de Turini stretch had to be scrapped following October’s severe flooding which resulted in the route being modified.
Despite the changes and cuts in the itinerary, which now only has 14 specials, we can still expect an extremely complex and challenging race. We are confident that Monte will once more be the stage of an epic battle between Hyundai and Toyota.
Both teams will be eager to steal each other’s crowns after the South Korean’s conquest of the Constructors’ World Cup and the Japanese winning of the Pilots’ title with Sebastien Ogier in 2020.
Close behind them, and after having undergone some structural changes, will come M-Sport, always at the ready for a chance to snatch a podium from one of the leading teams.
Hyundai: Neuville defends the title with a new co-pilot
Hyundai has maintained all of its 2020 members but one in 2021. The Estonians Ott Tänak and Martin Jarveoja (car #8), will once again act as heads of the team. After their brutal accident of 2020, they dream of a first triumph here in Gap-based event.
Sharing car #11 will be the Belgian Thierry Neuville and his new co-pilot Martijn Wydaeghe, who has been chosen to step in in replacement of Nicolas Gilsoul after the latter walked away from Neuville just one week before the start of the championship.
Meanwhile, the third i20 WRC (car #6) will be driven by the Spaniards Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio, who will also go separate ways after this event.
Toyota: Favourites at Ogier’s home race
Toyota has kept its lineup intact for 2021. The French couple made up of Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, who sufferd a heavy crash in a test ahead of the Rally Monte-Carlo, will share car #1; the Britons Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin will get behind the controls of car #33 and the Finns Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen will get on board car #69. In a fourth Yaris WRC will run the Japanese Takamoto Katsuta & his Briton codriver Daniel Barritt with car #18.
For Ogier, this will be the last time competing at his favourite race and before his countryfolk, as he plans to bid goodbye to the World Championship at the end of the season.
He will thus be very motivated to retire with an eighth home win, the single record for victories in the Hautes-Alps. His teammate, Elfyn Evans, runner-up in 2020, will, in turn, aspire to improve on his third place in Montecarlo last year.
M-Sport and its own internal revolution
M-Sport has undergone a profound strategic restructuring. They have scrapped one of their three Fiesta WRCs and sacked Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi.
The Britons Gus Greensmith and Elliott Edmondson (#44) will now be the only drivers to compete at all of the events scheduled in the 2021 WRC calendar. Teemu Suninen (#3) and Adrien Fourmaux (#20) will take turns behind the wheel of the second Ford.
The Finn, who is no longer a full-time member of staff, will have Mikko Markkula as co-driver, with whom he competed at the WRC between 2015 and 2018. The couple will also be taking the start in Monte.
Images of Preview Rally Monte-Carlo: Hyundai WRT