Ogier wins opening Monte Carlo World Rally

Sebastian Ogier emerged victorious from the treacherous conditions on the Rallye Monte Carlo, getting his and the Toyota WRC team’s season off to the best possible start.

For Sebastien Ogier, this was a win to remember. Not only was it his 50th WRC victory but also a record-breaking eighth win on Rallye Monte-Carlo.

All this, in a season that Ogier wasn’t even meaning to contest. His original plan was to retire at the end of 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he extended his contract with Toyota by a year. “I think it was the right decision; I almost have tears in my eyes now!” he said at the end of the last stage.

The Frenchman’s bid to become an eight-time world champion got off to the best possible start after he moved into the Monte-Carlo Rally lead on Saturday morning in the dark, with a stunning stage time that was a full 17 seconds faster than anyone else. It was a lead that he was never to lose, having previously dropped more than half a minute with a puncture and half-spin on Friday.

He was followed home by his team mate Elfyn Evans, the overnight leader on Friday, who ended up 32 seconds behind at the finish, after 15 stages; the shortest Rallye Monte-Carlo in history. “It was always a question of finding a balance: pushing hard enough to make progress, but making sure you don’t lose what you’ve got,” said the Welshman.

Both Toyotas had a minute’s advantage over last year’s Monte winner: Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville, with his new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe only stepping into the role three days before the rally started. Neuville moved into third on the first stage of Sunday morning, displacing the Toyota of Kalle Rovanpera, who lost time with an excursion into a field on Friday, a failed intercom on Saturday, and a puncture on Sunday. The young Finn nonetheless salvaged a strong fourth ahead of the other Hyundai of Dani Sordo and the final Toyota of Japanese protégé Takamoto Katsuta.

Hyundai was left ruing a mistaken tyre choice on Friday, selecting the studded tyre as well as the normal asphalt tyre – but on that day, there wasn’t enough ice and snow to make the studs worthwhile.

Saturday and Sunday made up for that though, with classic Monte conditions that were similar to the next round of the championship in February: the Arctic Lapland Rally.

It was another Rallye Monte-Carlo to forget for 2019 champion Ott Tanak: after crashing on his Hyundai debut last year, he had two punctures on Saturday which left him without enough rubber to return to service.

It was even worse for M-Sport Ford’s Teemu Suninen: having set some stunning split times on the very first stage on Thursday, the Finn crashed heavily before the end of it. This left the team with just one remaining Fiesta WRC, driven by Gus Greensmith, who finished eighth: albeit more than seven minutes behind the winner.

The WRC2 winner was Andreas Mikkelsen in a Skoda Fabia R5, who also finished seventh overall. Britain’s Tom Williams, the godson of Richard Burns, finished 10th in the WRC3 class with a Ford Fiesta.

Anthony Peacock

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