With Kalle Rovanpera resting, rivals start chase for his world rally title

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s new-look, 2024 Yaris world rally contender.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s new-look, 2024 Yaris world rally contender.

Published Jan 25, 2024


The World Rally Championship begins its search for a new king on Thursday when the season-opening Monte Carlo event starts without champion Kalle Rovanpera.

The Finn, who had just turned 23 when he won his second straight world title for Toyota last October, has opted to follow the example of the team's elder statesman, Sebastien Ogier, and race part time.

"It's a little bit like catching up with your (youth), with what you were doing when you were younger," Rovanpera said.

"When you are a teenager and you are a professional, you always have some place where you need to be and you miss out on many things that other people are doing," he said, adding he wanted to use the year "for my personal things out of motorsport."

"There are trips to take. I want to visit places where I want to go."

"I felt that now would be a good moment to take a year for recharging the batteries."

Toyota, having swept the top category the last three seasons, are again one of three manufacturers in the elite category.

Ford will run two cars, Hyundai will run three and Toyota will enter four, but the last will not score points in the manufacturers' championship.

Toyota keep Elfyn Evans, last season's runner-up, and Takamoto Katsuta, as well as the two deluxe part timers, eight-time champion Ogier, who drove in eight of the 13 rallies last year, and Rovanpera.

The 40-year-old Ogier won a record ninth Monte Carlo rally last year.

"For me this is a must-do event," he said. "Numbers are never my main motivation, but if I could get a 10th win on this event it would be something very special."

He should feel even more at home this year. The organisers have moved race HQ from Monaco back to Gap, Ogier's home town.

With Rovanpera skipping the event, the road seems clear for Evans, runner-up in three of the last four seasons, to chase a first title.

"With Rally Monte-Carlo moving north again this year, we're much more likely to see wintery conditions forming part of the challenge," said the Welshman.

Ford have promoted Adrien Fourmaux, a 28-year-old Frenchman, and Gregoire Munster, a 25-year-old Belgian-Luxembourger, from second-tier WRC2.

"Monte is a notoriously tough event to start the season with, but we feel that both Adrien and Gregoire are prepared for what's ahead of them," said team principal Richard Millener.

Pierre-Louis Loubet has dropped to WRC2, while former champion Ott Tanak has switched back to Hyundai.

The Korean marque, still chasing their first drivers' world title, also welcomed back Finn Andreas Mikkelsen from WRC2 alongside Belgian Thierry Neuville, a five-time title runner-up.

Push hard

"Our 2024 targets are to push hard for both the drivers' and manufacturers' championships," said Neuville, who has finished third overall the last three seasons.

Hyundai also retained Esapekka Lappi, but with only three cars, the Finn will struggle for starts.

Despite speculation that the calendar would expand, it stays at 13 rallies. Saudi Arabia and the United States are among potential additions for 2025.

Poland, which was part of the inaugural WRC season in 1973, returns, again, and Latvia joins. Mexico and Estonia are dropped.

The Kenyan Rally, which returned to the calendar in 2020, switches to the traditional Easter slot of the old Safari Rally.

Organisers have tweaked the scoring rules, essentially separating the Sunday morning stages for cars that complete the race.

That is to prevent drivers taking it easy to preserve their tyres for the closing power stage, which offers a winner's bonus of five points.

Agence France-Presse

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