x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A historic start to the 2012 World Rally Championship

The season starts today with an uncertain future, but the first stage is Monte Carlo, after a three-year absence from the Principality.

Sebastien Loeb will be aiming for an unprecedented ninth World Rally Championship title.
Sebastien Loeb will be aiming for an unprecedented ninth World Rally Championship title.

The 2012 World Rally Championship gets underway in Monte Carlo today despite a winter filled with doubts over the future of the series.

That uncertainty came after the parent company of North One Sport, the championship's commercial rights holder and promoter, went into administration in December.

That left North One Sport, owned by Convers Sports Initiatives, seeking investment to continue in its role, and the 10-year agreement they had with the FIA was terminated last week as the world governing body said it had seen no evidence that a purchase of the company was to take place.

That left the series without the required timing and tracking infrastructure and an agreement for television production and distribution and cast doubt over the staging of the season opener.

But it has since been confirmed that Eurosport will cover this week's event in the principality and the Automobile Club de Monaco will provide their own timing and tracking system, ensuring the event can go ahead as scheduled.

The saga has overshadowed the Monte Carlo Rally's return to the series after a three-year absence, and the event promises to be a gruelling test for man and machine.

The 80th running of the rally takes place over five days, as opposed to the standard three-day format, and the mileage covered will be the most in a WRC event since the 2002 Safari Rally.

The event will see Mikko Hirvonen make his Citroen debut after making the bold move to switch from Ford and join eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb at the French team.

Hirvonen's departure has left his Finnish compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala to lead the Ford challenge alongside Petter Solberg.

Latvala ended his 2011 season with a win on Wales Rally GB, and he hopes his growing confidence on asphalt means he can kick off 2012 with a strong result on a "classic" event.

"I feel I'm more competitive on asphalt than ever," he said. "All the pieces are there for a successful year - a strong team, a competitive car and two good drivers.

"We need to put them together for the entire season, and if we do that then we can fight for the manufacturers' and drivers' world titles.

"I've driven a Ford for several years, but this season I believe we have the best chance of winning."