Another new feature will be the revision of the different support championships following the arrival of the so-called Group R cars.
There are no changes to the format of the Manufacturers' championship which will continue to be based on teams of two nominated cars at all 13 rounds. The non-Manufacturers teams which enter one or two World Rally Cars will have to take part in at least seven rounds, including one outside of Europe.
This new championship is open to Group R5, R4, S2000 and N4 cars (all-wheel drive). A minimum of seven rounds, and the best six results to count.
Open to two-wheel drive Group R1, R2 and R3 cars. A minimum of six rounds, and the best five results to count.
Junior WRC: six rounds (Portugal, Greece, Finland, Germany, France and Spain), all mandatory, and the five best results to count.
After returning as the opening round of the WRC in 2012, next week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo proposes a similar programme to last year, with visits to the Ardèche and Vercors Mountains. However, two classic stages return to the menu ('St. Nazaire-le-Désert' and 'Sisteron-Thoard'), while 'St Jean-en-Royans' will finish at La Cime du Mas this year, and the organisers have added a third attempt at the 'Col de Turini' to heighten the Final Night’s challenge
The second visit to 'Lantosque-Lucéram', the last day’s other stage, will double up as the 'Power Stage' which will enable the three fastest drivers to pocket three, two and one ‘bonus’ points. For the record, this years 'Power Stages' will have to be at least 15km long and be “representative” of the rest of the rally.
On the drivers’ front, the arrival of Volkswagen and the disappearances of the Ford factory and Mini teams have shaken up the market a little bit, with most top names changing either team, car or status…
For the Monte Carlo, Sébastien Loeb stands out as the favourite, despite his step into semi-retirement. Mikko Hirvonen has become the boss at Citroën where he has been joined by Dani Sordo who will be keen to trade his frustration with Mini for a top result in the Principality. Meanwhile, there is no lack of ambition in the Volkswagen camp which will be represented by two equally ambitious drivers, Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. M-Sport has placed the emphasis on young blood in the persons of Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville, alongside whom Juho Hanninen comes across as an old-timer!
The expected WRC-2 front-runners are likely to be the latest Finnish hopeful Esapekka Lappi and fellow Skoda runner Sepp Wiegand. Last but not least, next week’s WRC-3 battle promises to be an all-Citroën affair, led by Sébastien Chardonnet and Quentin Gilbert.
Recce begins tomorrow (Saturday, January 12) and it looks like this is going to be a very snowy ‘Monte’ indeed!