A new season of the World Rally Championship begins this weekend with the 84th running of the Rallye Monte Carlo. It is only the start of a true trek across the globe, a grueling, uncompromising, fourteen-round quest for the title of greatest rally driver in the world. There are World Championships across multiple disciplines of motorsport, but rallying at the highest level is a test of skill that is completely unique, requiring another level of bravery, daring, and trust - of car, of co-driver, of the driving talent required to blast through the narrowest and most perilous stretches of road on earth and not launch driver, co-driver, and car into oblivion. At its most grassroots level, rallying is a form of motorsport where ordinary people and ordinary cars can do extraordinary things - that, in itself, is a beautiful thing. At the level of competition found in the WRC, extraordinary people and cars ascend to mythical status. THE FOURTEEN TESTS OF STRENGTH To be fastest on the ice-laden tarmac of southern France that comprises most of the Rallye Monte Carlo requires a totally different approach from the snow-drifted forests of Sweden that follows immediately after. The frigid cold of the winter rallies is then consumed by the sunshine and the sweltering heat of the spring and summer - ascending up the mountains of Mexico, down into the rivers and valleys of Argentina, leaping and bounding through northern Portugal and cruising through the coasts of Sardinia. There's the deceptive, blistering speed of Poland's lakeside roads that's yet to be truly appreciated, that does not relent through the thousand lakes of Finland, and the speed that rally enthusiasts have grown to love for decades. Image Credit: Hyundai Germany's high speeds and extreme variance contrast with the infamous, twisty, tarmac treachery of the Tour de Corse - two totally different asphalt rallies. In between, a new challenge for everyone in the vast expanses of China. Spain's unique variance, and then the impossible-to-predict nature of Wales - though this year, not the final leg of the tour for the first time in twenty years, for that final step is in the ultimate landmass of natural oddity and extremity, Australia. It's impossible for a brief, rapid-fire summary to truly lay out the challenges that lie ahead of every driver who will embark on the quest to become champion, to those uninitiated. ISN'T THERE SOMEBODY WHO CAN STOP THIS POLO MACHINE? Image Credit: FIA Asserting their place at the top of the WRC is Volkswagen Motorsport, who yet again enter 2016 as rallying's unstoppable juggernaut. Even in the backdrop of Volkswagen's horrifying emissions scandal, and now with motorsport director Jost Capito being poached away to McLaren, Volkswagen look completely impervious. The Polo R WRC (seen above in flight at last year's Rally Finland) has only been defeated five times in the last thirty-nine rallies. And leading that charge is the reigning champion, Sebastien Ogier. "The Big O" has rapidly climbed into the elite drivers in WRC history, with only the great Sebastien Loeb ahead of him in the all-time rally wins list after wrapping up his third straight championship last year. Upon the horizon is a chance to win a fourth straight title, to match a feat that only two men have achieved before: Loeb, and Tommi Makinen. Ogier is nearly invincible when he gains control of the leaderboard, and pushes until the very last stage for every possible point. The Frenchman, still only 32 years old, has perfected the brutal art of dropping the axe on the neck of any would-be challenger, unsympathetic of the supporters of his rivals, since 2013. And so often, Ogier's closest rivals are those within his own team, with a massive gulf between them and everyone else. Jari-Matti Latvala enters 2016 desperate to find the missing something that's kept him from surpassing Ogier over the course of a full season. There's still plenty of unrealized promise in the young Finn, but even as Latvala has tamed his early career wild streaks, he is desperate to win the title after finishing second or third in the championship five of the last six seasons. Andreas Mikkelsen finally broke through with a maiden victory in Catalunya, and the young Norwegian lion, positioned a solid number three in a deep Volkswagen roster, must feel that with the piano off his back and the first rally win secured, he can now make his own push to the title. Can he surpass his more experienced teammates in doing so? HYUNDAI HITS RESET IN 2016: NEW CAR, NEW SLATE Image Credit: Hyundai Hyundai's new-look i20 WRC is the platform for the Korean marque to begin anew after a tumultuous 2015 campaign that fell short of expectations of multiple rally victories. It's difficult to determine whether the stunning pace of Kiwi Hayden Paddon in his first full WRC campaign was more surprising in 2015, than how fragile and inconsistent Thierry Neuville, the team's ace driver, looked in comparison over the stretch run of the season. Paddon's year was highlighted by nearly winning the Rally Sardegna in a straight fight with Ogier. Neuville's was highlighted by deciding to drop himself from the mainline team in Great Britain. Safe to say, 2016 will be a crucial year to decide the future of Hyundai - whether their future in 2017 will see the team led by Paddon or Neuville remains to be seen. For 2016, the leader at Hyundai is neither of the two - it's the experienced Spanish tarmac specialist Dani Sordo, comparatively unspectacular yet steady in his approach last year. Monte Carlo is Sordo's kind of rally, and he has a real chance to stamp his authority on the team with a win to start 2016. The young apprentice at Hyundai is Kevin Abbring of the Netherlands, who went pointless in a limited campaign last year - but he'll be back for more this time around to show more of what he's capable of. M-SPORT LEADS FORD BRIGADE DESPITE UNCERTAIN FUTURE Image Credit: M-Sport Once again carrying the banner for Ford, M-Sport goes with an entirely new driver lineup for 2016. Mads Østberg returns after two productive, yet unfulfilled years at Citroen Racing - though he was still "best of the rest" in 2015. He's joined by a fresh face to the WRC - Frenchman Eric Camilli, 28 years of age, three times a podium finisher in WRC-2 a season ago and a test pilot for Toyota's regenerating programme. Team director Malcolm Wilson believes he has the potential for championship greatness, justifying his decision to bring him in for a full season. It's a big risk though, particularly when Camilli's nomination had to come with pushing dependable young Welshman Elfyn Evans down to WRC-2. A number of WRC's prominent privateers run the Ford Fiesta RS WRC in their efforts to crash the party. The unsinkable Ött Tanak moves on to the DMACK team, which steps up to the premier division. Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rahji's bright green car will be as eye-catching as the Pagani Huayra he owns as part of a collection of luxury supercars. Flambouyant Italian Lorenzo Bertelli exudes style that he hopes to match with real rally racing substance after a learning year in 2015. And at Monte Carlo, Bryan Bouffier is the local ringer who has triumphed in rallying's oldest challenge, and can easily do it again. Most popular of the Blue Oval's privateers over the last two years has been Robert Kubica, but the Polish superstar admits that the road may be nearing an end with his team's funding running scarce. With the accident that ended his F1 career still too raw in the minds of many, it's become an all too frequent and troubling sight to see the speed Kubica still possesses at the wheel of a rally car blighted by frequent crashes ending any hope of a breakthrough result, and beyond the start of 2016, nothing is guaranteed for Kubica's motorsport future. CITROEN TAKES A YEAR OFF - PARTY LIKE IT'S 2006! Image Credit: Citroen Racing The PH Racing team will pick up where Citroen Racing opted to leave off after last season, as the French manufacturer prepares to build a new car for the 2017 regulations. That commitment to what they see as a bright future and a return to their former glory was solidified with the signing of Kris Meeke to a long-term deal. Protege of Colin McRae, now finally a winner in Argentina last year, the Northern Irishman is the new leader of Citroen's rally programme, and even with a glorified privateer team behind him, he is still well and capable of toppling the Volkswagen apple cart to another stunning victory. They've also invested in two young drivers for 2016: 23-year-old Stephane Lefebvre won top honours in Monte Carlo in the WRC-2 class a year ago, scored points in his premier class debut - he shows all the early promise of a future champion, much like his mentor, Sebastien Loeb, was before him. Lefebvre will switch out in Sweden for ERC star Craig Breen, himself not 26 until February, in his first chance competing in the top level of the WRC. Either young man has the potential within him to impress big time in 2016. Veteran Emirati rallier Khalid Al-Qassimi is both driver and patron of the "We're Totally Not Citroen" Team. With big changes ahead for the WRC after 2016, it can be said that the season ahead could be a Liaison to the future that lies ahead from 2017. The series is already in the midst of a major youth movement, with the legends like Loeb, Solberg, and Gronholm having wound their careers to a close. There's enough talent to fuel a new boom period in the WRC, and hopefully, the arrival of a strong Toyota team, and a rejuvenated Citroen, to join Volkswagen and Hyundai will provide those promising stars the opportunity for success they've longed for. As far as 2016 itself goes, Ogier and Volkswagen look to be the overwhelming favorites to win out for a fourth consecutive year. The optimist will hope for a close fight all season, for Hyundai to assert themselves as serious title contenders alongside VW, and for one of the underdogs to steal the show somewhere on the dangerous journey to becoming World Rally Champion. Who do you think will take top honours in the 2016 WRC campaign? Who will be the surprise of the season? And who will start their season with victory in the fabled Rallye Monte Carlo? Discuss this, and more WRC-related topics, below!