The rallying world descends on Monte Carlo this week for the opening round of the 2024 World Rally Championship.
With just eight Rally1 cars entered, and a nine-time event winner in the field, you might think picking a winner for this year’s event would be rather straightforward.
But the WRC field is tighter than ever and there are plenty of drivers with a point to prove as they look to get their seasons underway with a victory in the sport’s biggest event.
Unpredictable weather, new stages and a new points format all add to the challenge; anything can happen on the Monte.
Here’s a look at which drivers are in good form ahead of the rally:
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-31st-3rd
Best Monte Carlo result: 2nd (2021)
Defending world champion Kalle Rovanperä is skipping the WRC season opener, so last year’s championship runner-up Elfyn Evans has the honor of being first over the ramp in Casino Square on Thursday night.
Evans ended the 2023 season in the best possible way, driving superbly in atrocious conditions to win the final round of the year in Japan. Despite a two-month break between events, Evans comes into the Monte with the most momentum of any driver in the field.
This rally hasn’t been the Welshman’s forte in recent years, with Evans struggling to get to grips with his GR Yaris Rally1 on the twisty alpine roads. But third in 2020 and second in 2021 in World Rally Car generation of Yaris prove that when Evans is comfortable in his machinery, he can deliver in Monte Carlo.
A return to the Monte podium would be a great start to his 2024 title challenge.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 13th-1st-2nd
Best Monte Carlo result: 1st (2020)
Neuville begins his 11th season as a Hyundai driver and is one of only two former Monte winners on the Rally1 entry list.
That win came in 2020, where he brilliantly held off Evans and Monte master Sébastien Ogier to seal victory. With the rally’s base now moving back to Gap, many of the 2020 stages will return to the event this year, something that should give Neuville even more confidence.
Despite ending a season of ups and downs in 2023 with a bizarre crash while challenging for the lead in Japan, Neuville is confident that he performed at his best last season, with only mechanical troubles costing him a chance at the title.
The Belgian will hope those troubles are behind the team now as he goes in search of a second Monte trophy.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-3rd-1st
Best Monte Carlo result: 2nd (2018)
Ott Tänak has shown speed during his previous 10 attempts at the Monte. But his results while sporting Hyundai colors on the event, which he’s back in after a year at M-Sport, have been nothing short of dismal: three DNFs from three starts.
Tänak will need to put that right this year if he’s to get his WRC title challenge off to a good start, but re-adapting to an i20 N after his difficult year at M-Sport in 2023 will be no easy task.
With only one asphalt test day in the car before the rally, Tänak won’t be as comfortable in his Hyundai as team-mate Neuville.
But if last season tells us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t underestimate the 2019 world champion’s ability to deliver a result in a machine that isn’t quite to his liking. Tänak could be right in the mix come Sunday.
#17 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-4th-10th
Best Monte Carlo result: 1st (2009, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 & 2023)
Seeking an incredible 10th victory on the Monte, Sébastien Ogier is the clear favorite for this year’s event.
After pulling out a lead of 36 seconds after the first full day of action, Ogier effectively had the 2023 Monte in the bag before even the halfway point. Such dominance is rarely seen in modern-day rallying, and shows just how strong Ogier is on this event.
The Frenchman will be further buoyed by the return of the service park to his hometown of Gap for this year, where the local fans will be out in force to support their hero.
But while Ogier may be the favorite, he’s still got to navigate over 200 miles of treacherous mountain roads in freezing conditions. Anything can happen, and the nine-time Monte winner will have to be on top of his game to turn that statistic into an even 10.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-5th-5th
Best Monte Carlo result: 6th (2021 & 2023)
Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta comes into 2024 off the back of his best-ever WRC showing on last year’s season-ending Rally Japan.
While fifth place wasn’t what he’d hoped for, the speed he showed certainly was, and Katsuta will be hoping to replicate that pace on the Monte, his debut as a fully-fledged Toyota works driver rather than a member of the Challenge Program.
Katsuta has taken a conservative approach to this rally in previous years, a tactic that led him to some fairly anonymous performances but has nonetheless secured him four consecutive points finishes.
It will be interesting to see if he gambles a little more this time around and seeks to start 2024 as he ended 2023 – with stage wins aplenty.
#9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results (WRC2): 1st-13th-1st
Best Monte Carlo result: 2nd (2016)
Andreas Mikkelsen makes his first top-class WRC start since 2019 on this week’s event, driving the third Hyundai i20 N.
The Norwegian’s goal in his limited 2024 campaign is clear: to play wingman to Hyundai’s full-season duo of Tanak and Neuville.
But that doesn’t mean Mikkelsen isn’t capable of springing a surprise on the Monte. He has multiple podium finishes on the event, and has continued to compete in the rally during his long spell in the WRC2 wilderness.
Outperforming Katsuta’s Toyota and both M-Sport Fords would likely mark a good result for Mikkelsen and Hyundai.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-8th-11th
Best Monte Carlo result (WRC2): 2nd (2021, 2020, 2019)
Also returning to top-flight WRC competition is Adrien Fourmaux, who will drive a full-season in an M-Sport Ford Puma.
After a year in Rally2 competition with M-Sport, the Frenchman will be looking to erase the memories of his monster 2022 shunt on the Monte, which set the tone for a disappointing season.
Since then, Fourmaux has gone back to basics under the wing of M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson, who is confident the Frenchman is ready for the big time now.
Monte Carlo will be the first test of that confidence, and the Fourmaux needs a solid finish to kick off what will be a critical year in his young career.
#13 Grégoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-7th-13th
Best Monte Carlo result (WRC2): 8th (2023)
The man with the least amount of experience in the Rally1 field is Grégoire Munster, who also graduates to a full-time M-Sport seat this year.
Munster isn’t a Monte Carlo rookie though, with four starts already under his belt in Rally2 machinery.
After showing solid pace and keeping at least two wheels on the road at all times during his most recent Rally1 start on last year’s Central European Rally, the Luxembourg native has proven to M-Sport that he can be trusted to bring his Puma home in one piece.
That will surely be Munster’s goal on the Monte; a notoriously tricky event makes picking up positions if other drivers hit trouble a solid strategy.