Sebastien Ogier dominates FIA WRC Rally Monte Carlo win in a Toyota 1-2 from Kalle Rovanpera and Thierry Neuville.
Sébastien Ogier outclassed his FIA World Rally Championship peers to end Friday at Rallye Monte-Carlo with a commanding lead. Driving a GR Yaris for Toyota Gazoo Racing, the eight-time world champion won four of the six French Alps speed tests to lead the opening round by 36.0sec from colleague Kalle Rovanperä after 145km of competition.
The Monaco-based fixture holds fond memories for Ogier, who was born and raised in the Hautes-Alpes. He is chasing down a record-breaking ninth victory this week. Ogier set the tempo on Thursday night’s short opening leg and continued to assert the same dominance in the morning, stretching his advantage into double figures over team-mate Elfyn Evans despite nursing a hybrid unit fault.
When Evans dropped back after leaking 40sec with a rear-right puncture on SS5, Ogier was afforded room to breathe. He took less risks in the afternoon, even carrying an additional spare tyre, but still extended his buffer regardless. Rovanperä topped an intense battle with Hyundai i20 N driver Thierry Neuville. The pair were rarely split by more than a few tenths of a second, but Rovanperä found a slight edge in the afternoon to end 1.9sec clear.
Fourth overall went to Ott Tänak after challenging day spent learning the intricacies of driving M-Sport’s Ford Puma in competition for the first time. In the Estonian’s own words, his new steed did not feel “racey” enough, although he did admit to being comfortable in the car. Tänak sits 16.3sec adrift of the podium heading into Saturday’s penultimate leg and faces increasing pressure from Evans, who put in an impressive recovery drive after his puncture to end 8.1sec behind.
Another 27.9sec in arrears and rounding out the top six is Dani Sordo, driving another Hyundai. The Spaniard appeared frustrated and felt that his times did not match up with the risks he was taking out on the stages. Takamoto Katsuta was hampered by a handbrake issue on Thursday evening but enjoyed a trouble-free run aboard his GR Yaris. A series of top-four stage times promoted the 29-year-old to seventh overall ahead of Esapekka Lappi, who shared similar frustrations to Sordo in his i20 N.
With no mid-leg service, Puma hotshot Pierre-Louis Loubet was forced to complete more than half of the day’s stages without power steering. WRC2 frontrunners Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel profited from the Frenchman’s woes and completed the top 10 at close of play.
Sébastien Ogier sits on the brink of a record-breaking ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo victory after producing another faultless drive in the French Alps on Saturday. Having built up a sizeable advantage of over half a minute on Friday, Ogier’s attentions switched to lead preservation as the Monaco-based fixture headed into the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence for six asphalt speed tests totalling 111.78km.
With today’s running order based on reverse rally classification, Ogier had to contend with the most polluted road conditions as gravel, rocks and mud were swept onto the stages by those running higher up the field. Ogier, who drives part-time for Toyota Gazoo Racing, took a vigilant approach. He was in no mood for risk-taking and desperate not to repeat last year’s disappointment, where a sharp rock caused a late puncture which put the brakes on his victory bid.
But, as a result of his caution, the 39-year-old saw his buffer more than halved by charging GR Yaris colleague Kalle Rovanperä. He heads into Sunday’s finale 16.0sec clear at the top. Ogier is confident he has enough time in hand but, with four treacherous stages still remaining, anything could happen. Victory here would put him top of the Rallye Monte-Carlo roll of honour, beating the record he currently shares with old foe Sébastien Loeb.
Reigning champion Rovanperä started strongly and won two of the morning’s three stages to put some distance between himself and Hyundai i20 N star Thierry Neuville. Neuville responded by claiming two benchmark times himself, but a big push from the former under the darkness of Ubraye – Entrevaux left Neuville 16.0sec adrift of his rival in third.
Elfyn Evans made it three Toyotas in the top four with a solid comeback drive following his Friday puncture. The Welshman leapfrogged Ott Tänak in the day’s second stage and never strayed outside the top-three times for each test, ending 24.5sec off the heels of Neuville.
For M-Sport Ford returnee Tänak there were feelings of both relief and disappointment after a technical fault left his Puma with heavier steering than normal. Although it left him unable to put up a fight against Evans, the flipside of Tänak’s issue was that the power steering did not fail completely – something he would have been dreading as there was no mid-leg service on the schedule.
Yaris youngster Takamoto Katsuta climbed to sixth overall after leapfrogging Dani Sordo on the first run from Le Fugeret to Thorame-Haute. Sordo, who now holds seventh, continued to feel puzzled by the lack of competitiveness in his stage times. Eighth-placed Esapekka Lappi made overnight set-up tweaks and felt much more comfortable with his new i20 N. A rear-right puncture on SS12 was a minor source of frustration but, importantly, did not affect his overall standing.
Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel both moved up the order at the expense of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who retired with rear suspension damage after hitting a bridge on SS9. The WRC2 frontrunners complete the top 10 with four stages remaining.
Sébastien Ogier celebrated a record ninth triumph at Rallye Monte-Carlo, confirming a lights-to-flag victory at the opening round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship on Sunday afternoon. Ogier is undertaking selected drives for Toyota Gazoo Racing this year and kicked off his part-time campaign with a stellar performance in the French Alps, mastering twisty asphalt roads to head GR Yaris team-mate Kalle Rovanperä by 18.8sec in a dominant 1-2 for the Japanese squad.
His nine victories span three decades and have been achieved with five different manufacturers. Topping off Ogier’s perfect weekend was the fact that co-driver Vincent Landais celebrated his maiden win at world level. The Frenchman led the season opener from start to finish after charging to a lead of over 30 seconds during Friday’s first full day of action in the mountains above Monaco.
Rovanperä reduced that deficit to just 16.0sec heading into Sunday’s finale, but Ogier, who was denied glory by a late puncture 12 months ago, kept his cool to maintain the buffer throughout the final four speed tests. Rovanperä finished on a high by winning the Wolf Power Stage to add five bonus points to his tally. As the highest-placed full-time driver, the young Finn’s title defence is off to a solid start.
Heavy tyre wear prevented Hyundai i20 N driver Thierry Neuville from making any gains on Rovanperä. After 18 stages, the Belgian was forced to settle for third overall, 27.8sec ahead of Elfyn Evans. For Evans, there were thoughts of what could have been. Were it not for a rear puncture which cost the Welshman over 40 seconds on Friday, a 1-2-3 finish for Toyota could well have been on the cards.
Ott Tänak went easy on his soft compound tyres in preparation for an all-out attack on the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage, but he missed out on the benchmark time by just half a second. Ending his M-Sport Ford Puma debut with a top-five result, Tänak felt like he’d made positive steps. Takamoto Katsuta was lucky to finish the event after limping through the finale with damaged rear suspension.
The Yaris youngster held onto sixth overall by 14.9sec from Dani Sordo, whose Hyundai was plagued by a hybrid unit fault all day. A subdued Esapekka Lappi finished eighth overall on his Hyundai debut, while WRC2 stars Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel completed the top 10.
Here’s WRC Rallye Monte Carlo result: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The story is as per press release]