The World Rally Championship will shrug off its brief off-season slumber next week and get back to full speed action, with this season's drivers lining up for the start of the Rallye Monte Carlo.

That puts it into familiar territory as far as the reigning champion S?bastien Ogier is concerned, with the race starting in the Volkswagen driver's home town of Gap before making its way to the finish three days later in Monaco.

"That is an extra incentive for me to be the fastest come the end of the rally," said Ogier about the prospect of starting the season before the 40,000 inhabitants of his family home.

Related Articles

Ogier admitted that this meant a little extra pressure on him, as well as being an extra incentive. Scores of friends and family are expected to turn out in Gap to support the Volkswagen works driver at the start of the season opener, but Ogier said it would be important for him not to let the occasion distract him from his target.

"Our main goal is obviously to defend the title," who will once again be joined in the #1 Volkswagen Polo R WRC by his co-driver Julien Ingrassia.

"It is never easy to win a title, but successfully defending it is even more difficult.," he admitted. "I am certain that the other teams will put us under pressure.

"However, I am confident about the new season on the back of such a successful 2013," he added. "We have made small improvements to the Polo R WRC - for example, it is now even more reliable," he said, likely sending a chill down the spines of his rivals who already had enough to content with.

Among those teams doing battle with Volkswagen in 2014 will be the new Hyundai Motorsports team which boasts a formidable lineup of Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo for their maiden season in the championship.

"This will make the competition even fiercer," agreed Ogier when asked about Hyundai, who will be making their race d?but in next week's race. "That is what I am really looking forward to."

Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito certainly wasn't taking anything for granted as he looked forward to next week's curtain raiser.

"We line up at the Rally Monte Carlo with start number 1 on one of our Polo R WRCs for the first time," he said. "This honour is reserved for the World Champion, and is something we are very proud of.

"However, this does not mean that we will be arrogant or complacent this season - particularly not at the iconic 'Monte,'" he insisted. "We will approach it with the greatest respect, maximum concentration, and absolute commitment.

"It is easier to win a World Championship title than it is to defend it," he suggested. "And that is our goal. The 2014 'Monte' will give us the first indication of where we stand compared to the new-look opposition. We are looking forward to it."

The 82nd Rallye Monte-Carlo gets underway on Monday, January 13 with the traditional Ceremonial Start in the Principality's glamorous Place du Casino before the Shakedown on Wednesday followed by the first proper day of competition on Thursday.

Consisting of 15 stages over 380km, the Rally Monte Carlo traditionally winds its way through the French Maritime Alps with the centrepiece of the 2014 rally promising to be the special stage between Vitrolles and Faye. At 49.03 kilometres, it is one of the longest on the WRC calendar.

The final stage, from Sospel to Breil-sur-Roya, will also play a crucial role with its 16.55 kilometres forming the Power Stage climax in which the fastest three cars will earn bonus points towards the championship. This year the power stage will take place after dark on Saturday evening, the only time that will happen this season with the remaining race itineraries being made more consistent with a Sunday midday finale.