Ogier at home at Monte Carlo season opener

Damian MCCALL
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Ahead of the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, five-time world champion Sebastien Ogier says anything less than a sixth title "will be a failure"

Local resident Sebastien Ogier embarks on his bid for a sixth straight world title in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally this weekend.

"Only a sixth world title will satisfy me, anything less will be a failure," Ogier told AFP.

"It's going to be a fight, tougher than ever, but that is what we want," the 34-year-old said.

Belgium's Thierry Neuville secured most wins last year with four in his Hyundai.

But French ace Ogier of Ford clinched the title despite only winning twice, including around the hills of Monte Carlo.

Toyota, Citroen, Hyundai and Ford are all providing top drivers for the brand new 13-rally season.

Monte Carlo's Casino Square is the start for the famed curtain-raiser, a tight-winding course through the scenic Monaco hills on one of only four rallies contested on tarmac.

On Sunday huge crowds will be expected at the Col de Turini for the pinnacle of the race which finishes outside the Palace of Monaco, with Prince Albert of Monaco presenting the trophy.

From Monaco, the world rally championship moves to snow and ice in Sweden next month while seven legs of the championship are contested on dirt tracks including the dust-blown searing heat of Turkey, back on the roster at the expense of Poland.

The only other change to the 2018 calendar is the swapping of October weekends between Wales, which is traditionally a mud-fest, and Catalunya.

Europe is home to 10 of the rallies with the others on dirt in Mexico, Argentina and Australia.

Ogier is counting on his car to once again deliver the goods.

"The truth is it's the same car as last year," Ogier said.

"There are evolutions here and there, but no revolutions," he said. "But Ford will make it perform better -- like all the other teams though, the car is the same."

Nine-time former world champion Sebastien Loeb is set to return to the fray for three rallies for Citroen at Mexico, Corsica and Catalunya.

"I've always loved racing on tarmac, although I'm not familiar with the current route of the Rally of Corsica," said the 43-year-old who last won the title in 2012.

He added: "Spain seemed like a good option too. I also wanted to contest a gravel rally. We opted for Mexico, since I have good memories of racing there."

Ogier praised his compatriot's grit.

"Few people would have had the courage to do that and I for one would be far from surprised if he did well again. He has rarely disappointed."

While the Monte Carlo rally boasts top quality drivers there will also be an expert pair of hands at the wheel of the course car which checks for safety and is being driven by Carlos Sainz Jr.

The Renault Formula One driver is maintaining a family tradition as his father Carlos Sainz won at Monte Carlo in his rally days before switching to the Dakar Rally, which he claimed for a second time last weekend.