The moment that WRC fans have been desperately waiting for is finally upon us: in a few days, the 2017 World Rally Championship will get underway on the stages of the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The Citroën C3 WRC – designed to meet the new FIA regulations – will be making its competitive debut. Driven by Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau, two cars have been entered for the opening round of the season.
Apart from the prestige evoked by its name, Rallye Monte-Carlo owes much of its reputation to the unpredictability of the rallying conditions.
In January, the roads in the hills of the south-west of France can be snow-covered, icy, wet or just dry, meaning that in a single stage, drivers can experience all of these conditions.
Tyre choice is therefore of critical importance. It's all about estimating, for an entire loop of stages, what represents the best compromise. Gaps can open up and disappear very quickly, making the race even more exciting.
On this, the 85th running of the event, the oldest rally in the world will be spread over four days. On Thursday, 19th January, the rally will get underway in the evening, with the ceremonial start in Monaco.
The crews will then head towards Gap, where they will tackle two evening stages, one of which is new this year. After a short night's rest, day two promises to be incredibly intense, with two loops of three stages contested in the Isère and Hautes-Alpes departments.
On Saturday, the competitors return to Monaco, completing five stages on the way. The final leg, contested with no service, will see the crews tackle the famous Col de Turini.
The rally is scheduled to finish in the Principality on Sunday, 22nd January, in the early afternoon.
The start of a new season is invariably the source of great interest for rally fans. But this year, the excitement has been ramped up with the introduction of new cars, more powerful and spectacular than their predecessors.
In addition to the new regulations and cars, this year's driver transfer market has been particularly eventful and intriguing, so much so that we enter the 2017 season with a large number of unknowns and variables.
On its return as a works team to the WRC, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT has generated a lot of interest, but no one is getting carried away in the ranks of the Red Army. Everyone is eager to see the first times, with a mix of excitement and anxiety, to find out if the results of all the hard work over the last two years or so meet the ambitions of the brand.
At four of the year's first five rallies, Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT will only enter two C3 WRCs.
This time, Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau have been tasked with scoring points towards the Manufacturers' World Championship. Meanwhile, Craig Breen/Scott Martin will be competing in a previous generation car. They will therefore be able to score points in the Drivers' World Championship.
Last year, Kris Meeke was fighting for the lead before he had to retire. Meanwhile, Stéphane Lefebvre finished fifth, which remains his best result in the World Championship. This year, the team-mates will have the same ambition: eliminate the unknowns and manage the variables as they try to solve the tricky equation posed by the 2017 Rallye Monte-Carlo.