M-Sport’s Sebastien Loeb started the 2022 FIA WRC season with a win in Rallye Monte-Carlo over Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier in a gritty fight.
Sebastien Loeb became the oldest driver to lead an FIA World Rally Championship round after a sensational return to dominate Rallye Monte-Carlo on Friday. As he approaches his 48th birthday, the Frenchman won four of the six French Alps speed tests to lead the first rally of the WRC’s innovative new hybrid era by 9.9sec in M-Sport Ford’s Puma.
The Monaco-based event is Loeb’s first WRC outing for more than a year and, currently, a one-off appearance with the British squad. Loeb was second after Thursday night’s short opening leg behind old foe Sebastien Ogier. He charged by his fellow countryman in the last of the morning’s three special stages and preserved his advantage in the afternoon, despite a small technical issue.
Ogier dropped to third behind Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans after a cautious approach on frosty roads in this morning’s final stage. But fastest time on the afternoon repeat promoted him back to second. A wary run in the same test cost Evans valuable seconds. The Welshman ended 12.1sec adrift of his colleague after a frustrating day learning the intricacies of driving with the hybrid system for the first time in competition.
Thierry Neuville topped an intense battle for fourth in a Hyundai i20 N. His day improved after an eye-opening first stage in which he described the balance as ‘a nightmare’. The Belgian stiffened his car’s settings and ended 8.9sec clear of team-mate Ott Tanak, with Craig Breen dropping 2.5sec behind the Estonian in the final stage in another Puma.
Team-mate Gus Greensmith celebrated his first WRC stage win en route to seventh. But for a minor problem with the hybrid system, the Briton would have been snapping on Neuville’s heels. Takamoto Katsuta, Kalle Rovanpera and Oliver Solberg completed the leaderboard. A spin and smoke seeping into his i20 N’s cockpit delayed Solberg.
Adrien Fourmaux was fourth overnight but the Frenchman crashed his Puma down a ravine in the opening test. He and co-driver Alex Coria escaped injury, a testament to the new enhanced safety cell chassis introduced this year.
Sebastien Ogier sits on the cusp of a record-breaking ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo victory after outwitting arch-adversary Sébastien Loeb in the snow and ice of the French Alps on Saturday. Ogier headed to the closing speed test over the Col de Fontbelle with 5.0sec in hand over his fellow Frenchman after reclaiming the lead earlier in the penultimate leg.
With 5km of wintry roads at the top of the pass, Loeb laid out his cards by bravely fitting his Ford Puma with Pirelli’s soft compound asphalt rubber. He hoped to benefit on the dry sections before minimising the time loss on the ice. Ogier had already decided to mix two soft tyres and two snow tyres on his Toyota GR Yaris, but on seeing Loeb’s selection, he made a last-gasp switch to the same combination. He then outpaced Loeb by 16.1sec to reach the final overnight halt with a 21.1sec lead.
Loeb could not reproduce the pace that carried him to four fastest times yesterday. After a day of breathless drama, Craig Breen was third in another Puma. The Irishman was 64.9sec adrift of Loeb but a clean run enabled him to climb from sixth. After a dismal opening two days, Kalle Rovanpera found a more balanced set-up for his GR Yaris and soared from ninth to fourth. He ended 37.8sec behind Breen after winning the final two stages.
Gus Greensmith was fifth despite a puncture and an engine problem which cost time in the stages as well as a three-minute penalty as he replaced his Puma’s spark plugs. Having slipped to ninth, he recovered well as his rivals fell by the wayside. Thierry Neuville fought against a broken front damper in his Hyundai i20 N, which punched through the bonnet at one point. He dropped several minutes and ended almost eight minutes off the lead in sixth.
Elfyn Evans was third until he slid off the road, leaving his GR Yaris perched on the edge of a steep drop. He conceded 20 minutes. Ott Tanak retired his i20 N in the first climb up the Col de Fontbelle after nosing into a bank and damaging his car’s radiator, while team-mate Oliver Solberg dropped 35 minutes after locking his brakes and sliding down a bank.
Takamoto Katsuta’s fifth place disappeared when he found a ditch on the col and dropped off the leaderboard. WRC2 cars filled the rest of the top 10 places. Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh, despite stopping to change a puncture in the final test. Erik Cais and Gregoire Munster were next up with Yohan Rossel slipping to tenth after losing 90sec in a final stage ditch.
Sebastien Loeb became the oldest winner of an FIA World Rally Championship round after grabbing a remarkable Rallye Monte-Carlo victory from the under the nose of old foe Sebastien Ogier on Sunday. The 47-year-old Frenchman trailed Ogier by almost half a minute heading into the penultimate speed test of the four-day event in the French Alps.
But when Ogier limped to the finish with a front left puncture, Loeb reclaimed a lead he had conceded to his compatriot on Saturday. He stayed calm through the final test to seal his eighth Monte-Carlo success in a Ford Puma by 10.5sec. Loeb, starting his first WRC event for more than a year, was competing for the British M-Sport Ford squad in a one-off appearance. He joins Ogier at the top of the Monte-Carlo roll of honour with eight wins.
His victory means he has topped the WRC podium in three different decades. Co-driver Isabelle Galmiche, a 50-year-old schoolteacher who was making her first top-tier start, became the first female winner of a WRC fixture since 1997. The duel between the most successful drivers in the sport’s history proved a fitting start to the new hybrid-powered era in the championship’s 50th season.
Ogier led initially after Thursday’s short opening night in his Toyota GR Yaris but a run of four consecutive fastest times on Friday put Loeb ahead. He failed to find the same pace on Saturday and Ogier moved back in front before Sunday’s breathtaking finale. Craig Breen finished almost 90sec further back in third in another Puma, giving the British-based M-Sport Ford squad an early lead in the manufacturers’ championship.
Kalle Rovanpera languished outside the top 10 after the opening night, but after set-up changes improved the balance of his GR Yaris, he soared up the order to secure fourth. Despite losing time with engine issues on Saturday, Gus Greensmith claimed fifth in another Puma after winning his first special stage at WRC level. Thierry Neuville was sixth in a Hyundai i20 N after a lacklustre weekend for the Korean manufacturer.
The Belgian fought problems all rally, including a broken damper which punched through his bonnet on Saturday. Team-mates Ott Tanak and Oliver Solberg both retired. Elfyn Evans, championship runner-up in 2021, was on the edge of the fight for victory until he beached his GR Yaris on a bank and remained stranded there for 20 minutes. The Welshman ended 21st.
WRC2 winner Andreas Mikkelsen finished seventh ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, who regained ground after slipping into a ditch on Saturday. WRC2 podium finishers Erik Cais and Nikolay Gryazin completed the leaderboard.
Here’s full results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The above is as per release with no edits made]