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Champion predicts wide open Monte

Reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Nicolas Vouilloz is expecting an extremely competitive season opener in Monte Carlo thanks to the influx of new entrants in the Super 2000-based series

The IRC is set for its biggest year yet in 2009, as with the World Rally Championship set to adopt S2000 from 2010, many drivers and teams are using the IRC to gain experience.

Vouilloz's opposition in next week's season-opener will include former Subaru WRC driver Stephane Sarrazin, Suzuki WRC refugee Toni Gardemeister, Citroen's rising star Sebastien Ogier, and 1994 world champion Didier Auriol, as well as emerging young drivers such as Kris Meeke, Juho Hanninen, Jan Kopecky and Anton Alen.

"The event has attracted a very strong entry, both in driver terms with perhaps 10 potential winners and on the manufacturers' front," said Vouilloz. "The performance of the cars is very similar."

With the Monte Carlo event not part of the WRC this year due to the latter's rotational policy, it has become an IRC round for the first time and reverted to a more traditional format, running from Wednesday to the early hours of Saturday, and featuring more night stages.

Vouilloz is delighted that the Monte is forming part of his title defence.

"I am personally thrilled at the idea of contesting this legendary rally," he said.

"I did it in 2004 driving a 206 WRC, but I didn't get very far! I feel confident this time, though, because the 207 Super 2000 has stood out through its reliability in the past two years. It is a robust car, and that will be a key asset on the Monte Carlo which features some very long road sections."

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