Champion Ogier set for Monte Carlo Rally

Sebastien Ogier says he is well prepared and relaxed as he begins his title defence this weekend in Monte Carlo where Korean constructor Hyundai enter the world rally championship (WRC) fray.

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The fabled Monte Carlo Rally is the oldest in the world.

First captured by French pioneering aviator Henri Rougier in 1911, it might have lost some of its lustre over the decades, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of rally enthusiasts.

From Paddy Hopkirk’s win at the wheel of the iconic Mini Cooper S half a century ago, Monte Carlo’s fortunes dipped to such an extent it disappeared from the WRC calendar in 2009, returning in 2012 when it was won by Sebastien Loeb.

Ogier is favourite to kick off 2014 on a winning note.

“Testing and preparations have been running at full throttle since November and we are well prepared to start the new season as defending champions.

“I’m not incapable of making a mistake, but I’m more relaxed than last year because I know that I have a winning car whereas, in 2013, the Polo-R was making its competitive debut.

“I’m approaching the Monte Carlo rally with lots of respect and humility despite all the confidence generated from last season. It’s always held in very tough conditions.”

Volkswagen, Ford and Citroen have a new rival in Hyundai, with rising star Thierry Neuville and experienced Dani Sordi their drivers.

Neuville, second in last season’s championship, spelled out the team’s ambitions for Monte Carlo.

“Our aim is to finish the event and get some good experience and mileage to further develop our car.”

Hyundai team chief Michel Nando added: “We have two very good drivers who have given the whole team a big boost.

“We all know that Thierry can achieve outstanding performance levels despite his young age, while Dani has a lot of experience in the WRC and at Rallye Monte-Carlo. We have a very good mix.”

Ogier’s birthplace of Gap provides the backdrop for the first two days competition, before an overnight stop in Monaco and two runs over the legendary Col de Turini on Saturday’s third and final day.

Ogier is bracing himself for a tough championship defence: “Our main goal is obviously to defend the title. It is never easy to win a title, but successfully defending it is even more difficult.”