Sebastien Ogier on his way to winnin g the 2017 Monte Carlo Rally. File photo: Red Bull TV

Monte Carlo, Monaco - Local resident Sebastien Ogier will embark on his bid for a sixth consecutive world title in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally this weekend.

"Only a sixth world title will satisfy me," the 34-year-old said. "Anything less will be a failure. It's going to be a fight, tougher than ever, but that is what we want."

Belgium's Thierry Neuville secured most wins in  2017 with four in his Hyundai, but Ford's French ace Ogier clinched the title despite only winning twice, including around the hills of Monte Carlo. Toyota, Citroen, Hyundai and Ford are all entering 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 route through the scenic Monaco hills on one of only four rallies contested on tarmac.

Huge crowds will be expected on Sunday at the Col de Turini for the pinnacle of the rally, which will finish outside the Palace of Monaco, with Prince Albert presenting the trophy.

Snow and ice in Sweden

From Monaco, the World Rally Championship will move to snow and ice in Sweden in February while seven legs of the championship are contested on dirt stages, 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. Ford will make it perform better but, like all the other teams though, the car is the same."

Three-race comeback for Loeb

Nine-times former world champion Sebastien Loeb is set to return to the series in three rallies for Citroen, in Mexico, Corsica and Catalunya.

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

"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 won for a second time last weekend.

Agence France-Presse