Peugeot Belgium's Nicolas Vouilloz is expecting the battle for honours to be close on the Rallye Monte Carlo this week, the opening round in the 2009 Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

Vouilloz, who will compete in a Kronos Racing-run Peugeot 207 Super 2000, has only done the event once before, back in 2004, but despite warning that tyre choice could be critical, he remains confident.

Indeed as the reigning IRC champion, he will be eager to get as many points as possible to get his title defence off to a good start.

"I'm sure it will be a tough event, and tyre choices promise to be decisive," he confirmed. "On a loop of three stages, for example, there is a chance that two will be dry, with the last one partially snowy.

"Personally though, I am thrilled at the idea of contesting this legendary rally. I did it in 2004 but didn't get very far!

"I feel confident this time though because the 207 has stood out through its reliability in the last two years. The event has attracted a very strong entry, so it should be close."

In total 64 crews are due to take in the 77th Rallye Monte Carlo, with Vouilloz set to be the first off the start ramp on Wednesday.

He will be followed by one of his key title rivals from last year and former European rally champion, Giandomenico Basso, in one of three factory Abarth Grande Punto S2000s.

Basso's team-mates are up-and-coming Finn Anton Alen, whose father Markku finished second on the Monte Carlo Rally in 1983, and reigning European champion Luca Rossetti, who will undertake a selected IRC programme with Abarth this year.

One of the major changes that Abarth has put in place for 2009 is a new transmission system, designed to enhance reliability.

"We've made a few changes over the winter and had some good pre-event testing, so I think that we definitely come into 2009 as a stronger package than we were last year, especially with a full year's experience of the series behind us now," Basso added.

"Obviously you always want to do as much testing as possible but a lot in Monte Carlo simply depends on the weather, so we will just have to wait and see what happens. I've done the Monte Carlo Rally once before but that was in a little Fiat Seicento many years ago, so I think it will be a very, very different experience now!"



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