Words and photos by Red Bull Content Pool
The wait will soon be over. On Thursday evening, the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo (19 – 22 January) gets underway – signalling the start of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season.
Based out of the Principality of Monaco, Rallye Monte-Carlo is the jewel in the WRC’s crown and the oldest event on the calendar. Treacherous and icy mountain passes in the French Alps provide a fitting backdrop for the opening round.
And what a season it’s going to be. With 13 gruelling rallies spanning five continents, global manufacturers battling for glory plus a host of exciting changes to the driver market, 2023 has all the ingredients for another thrilling campaign.
Setting out to defend its manufacturers’ crown, Toyota Gazoo Racing has retained the services of Kalle Rovanperä, who, at the age of 22, broke records last year by becoming the youngest WRC champion in history. As world champion, Rovanperä had the option to carry the number 1 on his car this year, but will stick with 69.
Joining the young Finn in the GR Yaris Rally1 line-up are Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, with eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier also set to contest selected rounds. Although Katsuta starts every rally, he will only score manufacturers’ championship points on events where Ogier is not present.
Hyundai Motorsport has put its trust in a combination of new and familiar faces to field its flurry of i20 N Rally1 cars.
Team long-termer Thierry Neuville will be desperate to secure his maiden world title, while newcomer Esapekka Lappi is delighted to be in a full-time seat after car-sharing with Ogier at Toyota Gazoo Racing last season. Craig Breen returns to the team having spent the past year with rivals M-Sport Ford. He will alternate drives with seasoned Spaniard Dani Sordo in the third car.
Another driver returning to their former home is 2019 world champion Ott Tänak, who joins British-based M-Sport Ford from Hyundai. M-Sport shaped Tänak’s early career and it was team owner Malcolm Wilson who gave him his first factory drive back in 2012.
M-Sport’s second Ford Puma will be campaigned by young Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet, whose impressive performances during a seven-round campaign last year have resulted in a full-time contract.
“This is a time of the year that always comes with great anticipation,” enthused WRC Promoter Managing Director Jona Siebel. “There have been a number of changes to driver line-ups since FORUM8 Rally Japan which only adds to the intrigue of what is about to unfold.
“The changes also extend to WRC2 which has arguably its strongest-ever entry list with no clear favourite and we will be endeavouring to give this category more coverage than ever before.
“I want to avoid using the word ‘off-season’ as we know the 2023 campaigns already started with testing some weeks ago and all teams, drivers, organisers, the FIA and the Promoter have been working around the clock to be ready for Col de Turini on Thursday night.”
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