Citro?n Racing will get its season - and efforts to regain its World Rally Championship crown from Volkswagen - underway at this weekend's Rallye Monte-Carlo with the new pairing of Kris Meeke and Mads ?stberg.

For the first time since it began competing in the WRC, Citro?n Racing will be fielding a completely changed line-up over the previous season, but is confident that its decision can pay dividends as it attempts to prevent Sebastien Ogier embarking on the sort of championship run it enjoyed with predecessor Sebastien Loeb.

Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena once again proved unbeatable on the 2013 Monte, dominating the event after managing to negotiate the tricky road conditions created by the weather to produce the perfect start to the season. With only sporadic outings on their schedule, however, Ogier was presented with very little true opposition for much of the year, leaving Citroen licking its wounds.

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The marque enjoys a happy history with the season-opener, though, with nine victories stretching between the ID19 in 1959 to Loeb's 2013 success in the DS3 WRC. Both Meeke and ?stberg will pilot the DS3 this weekend, looking to make it a tenth win on the event and a 94th overall in the WRC.

A winter rally held in the hills between the Alps and the Mediterranean, the Rallye Monte-Carlo is reputed for its highly varied, testing road conditions. The tarmac can be dry or wet, covered in ice or snow: the road surface changes over time, varies in different parts of the stages and as more cars come through. To prepare for this testing rally, the Citro?n Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team organised several test sessions in the south east of France, close to the route of the rally.

"Our test campaign was split into two stages," chief operations engineer Didier Cl?ment explained, "Before Christmas, both crews spent two days in the Alpes-Maritimes department. They were able to get used to driving the Citro?n DS3 WRC on roads without any tricky sections. Then, a few days ahead of the rally, we made things more difficult for them. They had to drive with studded tyres on dry roads and slick tyres on the snow, and we also tested the intermediate configurations, with combined tyre set-ups. Kris and Mads had to get to grips with these kinds of situations, which can easily arise at some point or another in the rally."

By trying to cover as many different situations as possible in testing, the team was therefore able to boost its already very extensive knowledge base.

"During the rally, it'll be a question of making the best - or the least bad - tyre choice," Clement continued, "You have to anticipate the conditions, comparing the information provided by the gravel crews with data from our weather experts and from M?t?o France. Using all this information, as well as our experience and feedback from testing, we recommend a tyre choice to the crews. However, it is always the driver who has the final say, because he must feel confident in the car to be able to push."

Meeke has plenty of experience of competing on the Monte, having raced there five times already.

"My favourite memory goes back to 2005," he recalled, "It was my first rally in a Citro?n, as I was competing in the Junior WRC in a C2 Super 1600. The conditions were difficult, as ever, with snow and ice, but I remember that year in particular, as I took the JWRC category win!"

From experience, the Briton knows that the rally can be decided by minor details.

"Understanding the road - being able to read the surface conditions and reacting accordingly - is the best way to do well here," he claimed, "It is pointless aiming for a particular result. The goal is to be consistent, not make any mistakes and focus on the main priority, which is to make it to the finish. If everything goes well, your efforts will be rewarded by a good result.

"Testing allowed me to get used to the handling of the DS3 WRC in particularly demanding conditions. On the snow or ice, it's essential to be confident in yourself and in the car. The work we did helped me to learn and improve. Now we'll just have to wait and see what sort of weather we get in the race!"

?stberg, meanwhile, is hoping for some adverse conditions in which to display his natural talents.

"Monte Carlo is a real challenge for the first race of the season," he said, "Testing gave me the chance to experience just about everything that might be thrown at us during the rally, and I thought that I fared pretty well with slick tyres on the snow, although it was sometimes more a question of survival than of racing...

"I haven't done a lot of miles in the car as yet, but I had a good feeling in testing. I feel that the Citro?n DS3 WRC is a really steady car, with a very powerful engine but, if I could choose the weather, I'd ask for as much snow as possible!"

Based in Valence in recent years, the rally looks very different this year, with over 90 per cent of the route changed compared with last year. The 82nd edition of the rally gets underway in Gap on Thursday 16 January, but still retains some classic stages - one of which has particular memories for ?stberg.

"I thought I had lost several minutes, because I was struggling to find any grip," he said, reflecting on one pass of Col du Turini during his first outing on the rally in 2013, "I was fighting in the car, but had the impression I was totally powerless. At the end of the stage, I was so frustrated that I took off my helmet and put my head in my hands... And then someone told me that I had actually just set the fastest time so far. I was ahead of all of the leaders!"