Failure – thanks to a penultimate-stage puncture – to win the 2022 Rallye Monte-Carlo was all the “reason” Sebastien Ogier needed to go for a record-breaking ninth triumph in the principality 12 months on.
Report featured in Motorsport News. Words by Graham Lister.
After finishing second to long-term adversary Sebastien Loeb by a mere 10.5 seconds last January, Ogier was soon firming up plans for revenge, although he did suggest at the time that Mrs. Ogier might not be too keen on her husband coming back for another shot at a rally he’d already won eight times.
Following his ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo victory last weekend, Ogier’s rivals will be wishing he’d stayed at home, such was the ease at which he triumphed in the mountains above Monaco.
Fortunately for them, Ogier’s only planning another bit-part WRC campaign with the factory Toyota squad in 2023. Otherwise, based on the results of the World championship season opener, a year of Ogier dominance could well have ensued.
Seb Ogier Wins Rallye Monte-Carlo in Style
Along with Vincent Landais, the 31-year-old Ogier recruited for co-driving duties ahead of Rally Japan last November, the eight-time World champion led from start to finish. And he could have registered a more dominant winning margin had he not traded pace for a spot of risk-prevention on the event’s longest leg.
“I knew that today’s stages had the greatest risks in terms of cutting and, in our position, I didn’t want to take any risks,” Ogier said after completing Saturday’s penultimate leg. At the time, he was leading his Toyota team-mate and defending World champion Kalle Rovanpera by 16.0s, having been 36.0s in front on Friday night.
“You get nothing extra for stage wins and we had a gap that we just had to manage. I accepted that we would lose some time and just minimised the risks. It was a very clean drive and that was the plan. I’m happy to get to the end of the day, but we still have to finish the job.”
Two stage wins, including the first on Sunday morning, ensured he did just that, although it was his performance in the Hautes-Alpes on Friday – terrain where Ogier learned how to drive – that made the difference.
Who Needs Hybrid?
Despite his Yaris being down on power due to a hybrid fault, Ogier, the only frontrunner to opt for one spare Pirelli tyre when all his rivals went for two, swept to a trio of fastest stage times, a performance that put him 32.7s in the clear after five stages.
But as well as his opening salvo on Friday, Ogier’s Thursday night charge was also worthy of admiration. While stages one and two were largely dry and free of ice, by starting sixth on the road the 39-year-old was better informed than his rivals of the pitfalls in store.
“It’s never easy to start this rally at night, but at least the conditions were not so inconsistent,” Ogier said after he’d opened up an advantage of 6.0s over fellow Toyota driver Elfyn Evans. “There was only one really tricky corner and for once I was not starting first on the road, so I could benefit from seeing the lines from the others. That helped.”
Early Teething Issues
While Ogier and Evans had little cause for complaint when they returned to Monaco for the Thursday night halt, Ott Tanak reported his Ford Puma had no working fifth gear after the first stage. However, M-Sport’s returning Estonian was 0.1s ahead of Thierry Neuville in third after the Belgian stalled his works Hyundai after sliding on black ice on SS2.
Toyota’s development driver Takamoto Katsuta also had a difficult Thursday. Fourth quickest following the opening run, Katsuta was almost a minute off the lead by the completion of stage two thanks to a faulty handbrake. Meanwhile, Jourdan Serderidis lost more than a minute in a ditch at the same corner where Neuville hit trouble.
While Evans had enjoyed a trouble-free Thursday, the fifth stage on Friday would prove his undoing. After going second fastest to Ogier through the rally’s first four stages, Evans started the Brianconnet / Entrevaux test 11.3s off top spot. But a rear-right puncture cost him more than 40s and a shot at his first Rallye Monte-Carlo win.
Evans was fastest on SS6, the first after the midday tyre-fitting zone, and second to Ogier on SS7. But he reported not feeling “so comfortable” on SS8, which he completed in fifth overall, 8.1s behind Tanak, after going seventh quickest.
Fifth became fourth on SS10 when a fault left Tanak’s Puma with heavy steering. With no midday service scheduled for the second day running, Tanak was unable to stop Evans pulling clear.
Loubet’s Rallye Monte-Carlo from Hell
At least Tanak could manage the problem though, unlike his M-Sport team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, who endured a full-on power-steering failure after an off on SS5.
Loubet, in his first full season of top-flight action, spent the first four stages dialling himself in before turning super-human to haul his stricken Puma through Friday’s final three runs.
He made it back to Monaco’s harbourside service in 29th place but confident that he’d be able to recover a chunk of time on Saturday with a fully functioning Ford.
But Loubet’s troubled Rallye Monte-Carlo would only get worse. With the finish of SS9 almost in sight, he lost control of his Puma on a slippery left-hander and struck a barrier. The impact was enough to break the right-rear suspension and would result in Loubet retiring for the day.
He tried again on Sunday, but a water leak ended his hopes prior to SS16 after he’d gone fifth quickest on the previous run.
The Final Push
Tanak did make the finish, something he’d failed to do in his previous three attempts, but his eventual fifth place could easily have been sixth after Katsuta slashed his advantage to 0.1s with just the Powerstage remaining after going second quickest to Ogier on SS17.
While Tanak made it through SS18 with the second-fastest time, 0.6s down on pacesetter Rovanpera, Katsuta was lucky to make it through at all due to a suspension breakage.
“After a tight corner something broke straight away, like the car was washing out into the mountain,” the Japanese explained. “After that we hit the rear, we were able to continue but we couldn’t open the throttle because there was something wrong with the car.”
Dani Sordo closed to within 14.9s in the Hyundai he’ll be sharing with Irishman Craig Breen this season, but earlier hybrid issues mean the Spaniard had to settle for seventh, one spot ahead of new team-mate Esapekka Lappi, who said he’d been “disappointed” with his performance on his Hyundai debut and his first Rallye Monte-Carlo since 2020.
Rovanpera vs Neuville for the Title?
While Lappi, who lost time with a puncture on Saturday afternoon, and Sordo struggled to make an impact, Neuville opened his account in third aboard the lead i20 N Rally1.
“I gave everything I could,” said Neuville, who spun after a hybrid issue struck on SS15. “The speed was not that great, but it also wasn’t too bad, so there’s no need to be too alarmed. We had more tyre wear than the others and even taking risks we weren’t in a position to match the lead times.”
Rovanpera’s title defence began with second place and five points for winning the Powerstage. He was fifth at one stage after struggling for grip on Thursday and also nudged the rear of his Yaris after sliding into a barrier on SS5. However, his comeback over the remainder of the weekend proved that Rovanpera is firmly in the mix for the WRC crown again this year.