2010’s running of the Monte Carlo Rally begins this evening, and for the second year running it is a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC). Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke won the series last year at his first attempt, reviving his career. He returns this year driving the same Peugeot 207 under the Peugeot UK banner, run by the Belgian Kronos team.

Fighting him for the championship will be fellow-Brit Guy Wilks. Like Meeke he has funding from the UK arm of a leading IRC manufacturer, Skoda, and like Meeke his entry is run by a Belgian squad, Rene Georges Rally Sport.

The pair have had a long rivalry in the fight to represent Britain on the World Rally stage. They both came to the fore while racing Ford Pumas in the 2002 British Championship. They both moved up to the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) in 2003, Meeke driving an Opel Corsa and Wilks a Ford Puma. In 2004 Wilks was signed by the works Suzuki team, finishing 3rd in the JWRC standings. Meeke switched to a Citroen at the end of 2004 in readiness for 2005. Meeke won his class on Monte-Carlo, while Wilks won in Mexico. Unfortunately both were beaten by Spanish sensation Dani Sordo to the title, Wilks finishing 2nd and Meeke 3rd. Both returned in 2006 but failed to repeat their success.

In 2007 Wilks competed selected events in a WRC Ford Focus, before both he and Meeke drove Subaru Imprezas on Rally Ireland, Wilks finishing 6th, while Meeke retired after showing good speed. Wilks also took the British Championship driving for Mitsubishi.

In 2008 Wilks was able to retain his BRC crown, while Meeke struggled to find a drive, competing three rounds of the WRC in a S1600 Renault Clio. When Subaru withdrew from the WRC at the end of the season, it was revealed that Guy Wilks was days away from signing for the team for a 2009 campaign. 

In 2009 Meeke managed to get a full-time IRC campaign with Peugeot, beating the series’ established drivers on his way to the title. Wilks meanwhile joined the series mid-season driving a Proton, before switching to a Skoda for Rally Scotland, which he won.

2010 promises to be a thrilling battle between the two of them, but there are many other drivers aiming to spoil the British party. Skoda drivers Jan Kopecky and Juho Hanninen are back, and are joined in the team by ex-Peugeot driver Nicolas Vouilloz. Promising Austrian Franz Wittmann is also driving a Peugeot.

The Monte Carlo has attracted some thrilling one-off entries. Mikko Hirvonen will debut the Ford Fiesta S2000 that the team will use in the WRC next year. Toni Gardemeister, twice a podium finisher on the event in its WRC days, is driving an Abarth Fiat. Last year’s winner Sebastien Ogier returns in a Peugeot, as does Le Mans star Stephane Sarrazin. Also, Renault F1 driver Robert Kubica will drive a Renault Clio R3.

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