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(3/1/2014)  WITH less that two weeks to go until the opening round, Rallye Monte-Carlo, (14-19 January) here are five reasons we’re getting revved-up about the year ahead in the FIA World Rally Championship  –

1: Rally Australia is back

Australia’s round of the WRC returns to the New South Wales Coffs Coast for the second consecutive year, a wonderful reward for the fans and locals who enthusiastically welcomed the championship there in 2011 and 2013. Look out for plenty of enhancements for spectators and competitors on 11-14 September.

2: Atko among new drivers in new cars

How will Mads Ostberg do in a Citroen, or Australia’s Chris Atkinson in a Hyundai? And what about Robert Kubica in a Fiesta? Last year’s end of season shuffle has thrown up some fascinating new combinations for 2014, as well as opportunities for fresh talent like Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans.

3: Hyundai joins the fray

In December the wraps came off the new Hyundai Shell World Rally Team and now it’s almost time for this young and ambitious squad to hit the stages against Volkswagen, Ford and Citroen rivals. We’ll find out soon how they get on, but the early signs are encouraging. Top-class headquarters facilities in Germany, an experienced team in charge and a driver line-up led by Thierry Neuville is an exciting combination.

4: A new defending champion

After a remarkable title-winning season in 2013, Coates Hire Rally Australia winner Sebastien Ogier changes from hunter to hunted as the points return to zero and he seeks to defend his crown for the first time. There’s no shortage of drivers with the potential to challenge him – not least his own Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala.

5: Kubica’s home rally

The WRC calendar has changed and after a five-year absence Rally Poland will return in 2014 with a new route based from Mikolajki and including stages in neighbouring Lithuania. In 2009 it attracted huge numbers of spectators – and that number should be beaten this year thanks to the participation of local hero Robert Kubica.

(With thanks to

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.