After dominating in 2002, the Citroen Xsara WRC not only went on to win last year's Monte Carlo Rally but also secured a resounding one-two-three finish. Twelve months later, Citroen returns to the Principality with a world crown to its name and intent to defend its title as everyone's score is clicked back to zero and a tough but extremely exciting new campaign begins.

For the oldest rally of the World Rally Championship, the first of the sixteen-round 2004 calendar, Citroen-Total has entered two Xsara WRCs for its nominated crews Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena [#3] and Carlos Sainz and co-driver Marc Marti [#4].

A glance at the statistics reveals that the Frenchman and the Spaniard are in fact the only two drivers on the entry list to have already won this event.

The Monte Carlo Rally is only partially concerned by the changes to the regulations that will come into effect later in the season. Even so, the return to a maximum of two cars that teams can nominate as eligible to score Manufacturers' points is one new rule that will apply from the outset.

The format of the 2004 event is essentially identical to that of last January, with an opening day based near Gap, plus two legs starting and finishing in Monaco itself. The organisers have introduced a number of innovations, however, since only three of the nine different stages - fifteen stages in all - are repeats of last year's tests.

The new stages include the return of "Pi?gut-Urtis" [run in 2000] and "Laborel-L'Aubergerie" [used in the opposite direction in 1994], plus the rally's first visit to the "Rosans-L'Epine" test since 2000, although this will be the first time it has ever been used in this direction. Also new is the extension of the celebrated "Lantosque-Luc?ram" stage all the way to the Col de Braus via the Col de l'Orme and the Col de l'Abl?. "Tourette-St. Antonin" was programmed as recently as 2000, but the running of the celebrated "Col de Bleine" test in the opposite direction is a first.

Citroen's preparation for the event took place before Christmas in the Col du Galibier and near Gap. Loeb, Sainz and test driver Philippe Bugalski all took turns to fine-tune the Xsara's set-up over the variety of conditions encountered and also tested the full tyre range proposed by Michelin.

The Versailles-Satory-based team is today ready for the most unpredictable rally of the year on which it is looking to perform as well as in recent years. The stakes are high, but so is their motivation.



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