The 'indestructible legend' of the Monte Carlo rally

    Story highlights

    • The Monte Carlo Rally returned to the World Rally Championship this week
    • The principality has been part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for the last three years
    • Citroen's French driver Sebastien Loeb has won the historic rally on five occasions
    • Loeb has won an unprecedented eight world titles since entering the sport in 1999
    Monte Carlo is a millionaire's playground which has blended wealth and sophistication with the fast-paced thrills of motorsport since the early 20th century.
    Formula One has been a regular visitor to the principality since 1929, but rallying has returned this week after a three-year hiatus for the opening round of the 2012 world championship, with the sport's undisputed king Sebastien Loeb seeking an unprecedented ninth crown.
    So how important is Monte Carlo to rally and motorsport?
    "It is very difficult to drive a train with no locomotive," Ruchdi Hajjar, director of the Automobile Club de Monaco told CNN.
    Hajjar said Monte Carlo's absence from the World Rally Championship was down to a disagreement with the sport's governing body over regulations which were introduced for the 2009 season.
    "Due to the alternation of regulations, the Monte Carlo Rally had to leave the WRC in 2008. We were requested by the FIA to come back in 2012 which we did after obtaining some guarantees of changes in the regulations that we hardly believe in."
    In those interim years, Monte Carlo served as the first round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) season, a championship aimed at developing young and amateur rally drivers.
    France's Loeb dominated the race prior to its spell away from WRC, claiming five wins in six years.
    "The Monte Carlo rally has to be in the world championship," the Citroen driver said in quotes report by AFP. "For me, it's a no-brainer.
    "It is the world's most famous rally; you just can't have a world championship without it."
    This year marks the 80th edition of the race in its current format, but rally driving in Monte Carlo dates back to 1911. Since then the Mediterranean port has become deeply entrenched in motorsport folklore.
    "Indianapolis, Le Mans, Monza, Monaco F1 Grand Prix, Monte Carlo Rally, (these are) indestructible legends, pearls of the crown," Hajjar said.
    "The rally and all other events organized by the Automobile Club participated in making Monaco one of the capital cities in motorsport."
    This year's course spans 430 kilometers (267 miles) and comprises of 18 timed stages. Sunday's final stage will pit the three top-performing drivers against each other over 5.2 km in a "Power Stage" between Sainte Agnes and Col de la Madone.
    Loeb's Citroen teammate Mikko Hirvonen is thrilled to see the race return to WRC, although he admitted to having mixed feelings when he spoke ahead of the action getting under way.
    "I have a kind of love and hate relationship with the rally," the 31-year-old Finn said.
    "I mean I love it when I'm not there but when you're up in the mountains with the wrong tires doing icy downhill with the slick tire then I hate it.
    "But it's a real challenge and I'm very happy to start the season over there."
    After Monte Carlo, the WRC season moves to Sweden on February 9, with the world championship coming to a close in Spain on November 11.