Exceptional racing, a unique atmosphere and a track without equal are all on offer as the World Series by Renault makes its now annual trip to Monaco to act as curtain-raiser for the Formula One grand prix.

While each of the 26 drivers in a field showing one change from the last round at Spa-Francorchamps dreams of making a name for himself on the streets of the Principality, P1 Motorsport's Giedo van der Garde will start as favourite, having made his mark with three wins in four races so far this season.

The Dutch driver holds a commanding points advantage over rivals so far beset by a mix of misfortunes, but van der Garde knows how hard Monaco can bite, and will be looking to consolidate rather than dominate if that is the option in Monaco. Draco's Bertrand Baguette is the only driver to have so far kept van der Garde off the top of the podium, winning on home turf at Spa, and the Belgian could not have hoped for a better way of getting his season back on track after a tough opening at Monza. However, unlike his Dutch rival, Baguette will be relying on the streets of Monaco to bring him continued success.

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More reliable and consistent, Carlin's Mikhail Aleshin currently holds second position in the overall standings and, with his breadth of experience in the category, the Russian's knowledge of Monaco and the traps it holds, may be an ace up his sleeve.

Last season, Carlin cheered Sebastian Vettel home to a hard-fought second place, which strengthened the team's lead in both championships, and hopes that Aleshin can build on the eighth place he took in the same race.

"Monaco is one of the best events of the year and, of course, as a driver, it's one of the circuits you most want to race and win on," the Russian commented, "But it is
extremely challenging and, with such little track time, it can be difficult to find the perfect set-up. We tested a high downforce set up at Pembrey last week which went
very well, so I'm hoping we'll be on the pace from first practice."

The series' usual race format changes for this exceptional weekend, with a 45-minute test session preceding the usual split qualifying sessions. The fastest driver overall will start from pole position for the weekend's only race, run, without the obligatory pit-stop, over 25 laps on Sunday morning.

Having missed out at his home track, Italian Marco Bonanomi put his house in order at Spa but, in order to keep his title hopes alive, the Red Devil Comtec driver admits that he must now steal points in every race in order to prevent van der Garde from getting too far away.

Bonanomi will face opposition in his quest from several drivers hailing from the region, with Julien Jousse, driving for reigning Monaco champion Tech 1, looking to claim a 'home' win. Team-mate Charles Pic has shown a quick enough adaptation to the World Series to also be considered a threat, while second year man Guillaume Moreau will be a dark horse. The fourth Frenchman in the field, rookie Alexandre Marsoin, may have a little more work to do to mix it with the frontrunners but, with the unpredictability of Monaco, may have his day.

Joining Moreau on the 'dark horse' list will be Fairuz Fauzy, who has signed with Fortec Motorsport as replacement for Germany's Julian Theobald. The Malaysian has several years of Monaco experience from both GP2 and World Series, and returns to the championship with a team that has already show promise in the hands of James Walker.

Prior to last year's race, the Briton had only seen the Principality on television, but he learned much from his visit and returns hoping to better the 14th place he took in 2007.

"One of the best things about World Series by Renault is that we race on some of the greatest circuits in the world," Walker said, "First Monza, then Spa and now Monaco. This event is a really big deal for me - I want to be in Formula One within the next two years and this is the perfect chance to show what I can do. I'm thrilled to be part of such an historic event - but I want a good result."

Among the batch of rookies treading the same path as Walker followed in 2007, Robert Wickens will perhaps have the biggest awakening - not necessarily the best scenario for a driver needing to turn around a torrid start to 2008. Despite showing great pace in practice and qualifying sessions, the Canadian has suffered from various clashes on track which has meant he is yet to finish in the top ten this season.

"I'm very excited to be racing in Monaco and, although I haven't raced there before, I don't think it should be too much of a problem," the Carlin man insisted, "I hadn't been to the Durban street circuit in South Africa before and I won there with A1GP, but we haven't got as much track time [here], so it will be important to make the most of practice on Thursday."

Track activity for the World Series contenders kicks off with practice on Thursday, with a day to mend any broken cars in time for qualifying on Saturday morning.