It’s the super twisty round on the island that is Corsica. Whether or not it actually has 10,000 corners anymore is a moot point. It still has more corners than most! Last season the top three positions were taken by Seb Ogier, Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville. Any of those three could win this weekend, and you can add Elfyn Evans, Kris Meeke and Seb Loeb to that list as well. As championship leader, Ott will open the road on Friday’s stages. This will potentially give him an advantage, as the road will be at it’s cleanest, with no gravel and mud pulled onto the road.
This year sees 14 stages totaling 347.51km, with 133.34km featuring in completely new stages.
Citroen states in its preview-
“With the opening leg taking the crews from Porto-Vecchio to Propriano, then heading north on day two towards Castagniccia, Cap Corse and the Désert des Agriates, before finishing next to Calvi, this year’s edition of the classic island rally remains faithful to the recently-restored tradition of touring the whole of Corsica.
In addition to the various regions covered, the 2019 Tour de Corse has plenty of other ingredients to make it a serious test. The total competitive distance is now close to 350km (compared with 333.48km in 2018), Friday’s leg only has a tyre-fitting zone at the midway point, Saturday features some 174.50km with two runs on the 47.18km-long and especially demanding Castagniccia stage, all rounded off with a longer Power Stage (19.34km) than usual, set against the magnificent backdrop of the Fango valley.
The other major difficulty stems from the fact that more than 62% of the itinerary has been revamped. Of the fourteen stages, only three – Valinco (SS2/SS5, 25.94km), last contested in 2015 , Cap Corse (SS7/SS10, 25.62km) and Désert des Agriates (SS8/SS11,14.45km), both contested last year – are familiar to the current crop of world championship crews. This makes it all the more important for them to get to grips with and take good paces notes on the 133.34 new kilometres in just two passes during recce at a limited maximum speed (80kph). Recce looks set to be every more crucial than usual and will call for unremitting concentration throughout.”
Here we have the full run down of the stages-
THURSDAY 28 MARCH
9.00am: Shakedown (Sorbo Ocagnano)
FRIDAY 29 MARCH
7.00am: Start Day 1 (Porto-Vecchio)
7.05am: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)
8.29am: SS 1 – Bavella 1 (17,60 km)
9.24am: SS 2 – Valinco 1 (25,94 km)
10.32am: SS 3 – Alta-Rocca 1 (17,37 km)
12.41pm: Tyre fitting zone (Porto-Vecchio – 15 mins)
2.05pm: SS 4 – Bavella 2 (17,60 km)
3.00pm: SS 5 – Valinco 2 (25,94 km)
4.08pm: SS 6 – Alta-Rocca 2 (17,37 km)
7.38pm: Flexi service A (Bastia airport– 45 mins)
SATURDAY 30 MARCH
6.05am: Start Day 2 & service B (Bastia airport – 15 mins)
7.38am: SS 7 – Cap Corse 1 (25,62 km)
9.08am: SS 8 – Désert des Agriates 1 (14,45 km)
10.14am: SS 9 – Castagniccia 1 (47,18 km)
12.32pm: Service C (Bastia airport – 40 mins)
2.38pm: SS 10 – Cap Corse 2 (25,62 km)
4.08pm: SS 11 – Désert des Agriates 2 (14,45 km)
5.14pm: SS 12 – Castagniccia 2 (47,18 km)
6.34pm: Flexi service D (Bastia airport – 45 mins)
8.24pm: Parc ferme (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)
SUNDAY 31 MARCH
7.30am: Parc ferme out (Place Saint Nicolas – Bastia)
8.10am: Service E (Bastia airport – 15 mins)
9.45am: SS 13 – Eaux de Zilia (31,85 km)
12.18pm: SS 14 – Calvi Power Stage (19,34 km)
1.18pm: Finish (Citadelle de Calvi)
3.00pm: Podium (Citadelle de Calvi)
Here’s the thoughts of the crews.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I am looking forward to Corsica. Being first on the road there as championship leader should be a good thing, as this is the best place to be on asphalt where the road is cleanest. In the past, Corsica was probably the rally on which I struggled the most, but we had good pace last year on our first time there in the Toyota Yaris WRC. We know that we have a really strong package now on asphalt, so I believe that we can have a good performance. I’m sure that some of our rivals will be very fast too, but the aim is to continue our positive start to the season and keep scoring as many points as possible.”
“Corsica is a rally I always look forward to. The asphalt is abrasive so provides good grip, and the road is usually pretty clean. The island itself is very beautiful too. I like the changes to the route this year. A couple of the stages were used when I won the rally in 2015, so I have good memories of those. I had a good test earlier this week: We did 200 kilometres and tried a lot of things, not only for this rally but also development for the future. On Rallye Monte Carlo I struggled with understeer, so we worked on that and improved the turning, as well as the braking, and I’m feeling more confident with the car. Now I’ve got a couple of days of relaxing at home, and feeling ready for the recce to start on Monday”
“I’ve had good times in Corsica in recent years: My speed’s always been there. It’s always a huge challenge, and especially so this year with about 75 per cent of the route being completely new. For that reason, I think making good pace-notes on the recce is going to be an equally important part of the challenge. I had a good feeling with the Yaris WRC in asphalt trim in Monte Carlo, but it was a very different rally to Corsica – except perhaps for the Power Stage where we went pretty well! I enjoyed my pre-event test last Sunday, even though it was a lot to learn in just one day on just one road. But I think we’re quite clear on our direction for the setup, and I’m looking forward to the rally.”
Citroën Total WRT
“The route has been changed quite a lot again this year, but that has already happened before here, which has meant that I have often had to get to grips with new stages and that tends to suit me. It adds a bit of stress and adrenaline to the race, and it can lead to there being bigger gaps than usual. When the stages are new for everyone, obviously the difference comes from who does a very good job during recce and then has sufficient confidence in their pace notes to push right from the word go. We also know about the qualities of the C3 WRC on tarmac. Our pre-event testing was really productive and the feeling was good in the car. Clearly, I’m also very keen to do well at our home round of the WRC and keep our good run of form going.”
“I have always really enjoyed this rally and I can’t wait to get started. I love driving on clean tarmac like here or in Catalonia. The challenge will be to take good pace notes from the word go. I think pace notes are even more important on asphalt than on gravel in order to get the line right and to know what speed you can carry through corners. With the revised itinerary, we’ll all be in the same boat as regards familiarity with the stages. Although it won’t be easy, it’s an opportunity for us, since we generally have a bit less knowledge of the roads on the other rallies. In any case, our tests went well and I feel confident. I hope I can be at least as competitive as last year.”
“Corsica is a very nice event and I have great memories from previous years. I have won there twice, once in IRC and then again with Hyundai Motorsport in WRC two years ago. It’s a challenging event, with lots of corners, but a rally that I enjoy and relish. The recce is very long and demanding, but once you are in the car and can find a good flow it is a rewarding rally, one from which you can find a good sensation. As our first event of the season on tarmac, and following the less-than-straightforward weekend in Mexico, I hope we can get things back on track.”
“The first tarmac rally of the season, Corsica is a rally where I really feel comfortable and competitive. The stages are really nice, set against a postcard backdrop, but incredibly demanding too. Long stages and loops can make tyre selection and management quite tricky. The stages themselves put pressure on the car and crew with tight, twisty corners that require maximum attention and focus. Carlos and I won Tour de Corse in IRC back in 2012, while I also finished on the podium a few years ago with Hyundai Motorsport. I hope our past success and experience, together with the performance of our i20 Coupe WRC, can help us fight for a good result this year.”
“Corsica is a beautiful event, with stunning landscape close to the sea, and magnificent island setting. It’s a wonderful place for rallying and as the French round of the championship it is a very special atmosphere for me. An extremely technical rally, there are many different types of road with some bumpy places and some fast sections. In fact, it seems to get faster each year. It is tricky to find the right rhythm throughout each stage, and the weather can also play an influential factor – sometimes raining in the mountains but drier close to the coast. Not an easy one, but fun!”
“I’m looking forward to the first proper Tarmac event of the season, and this year’s Tour de Corse will be a real challenge with about two-thirds of the route made up of completely new stages. The recce is going to be really important and there’s going to be a lot of work needed on the pacenotes.
“This is a demanding rally but the stages themselves are really nice to drive. It was great to get a podium last time out in Mexico, and that really propelled us up the championship standings. It gives us a top-five starting position next week, and we need to capitalise on that and aim for another strong result.
“We spent two days testing together with Teemu and the car feels really good. Everything went to plan and I feel as though we should have some good pace. We’re all looking for another podium and will work as hard as we can to achieve it.”
“I’m really looking forward to the first pure asphalt event of the year. I started my career on this surface – but driving a go-kart is quite different to mastering a world rally car!
“In preparation, Elfyn and I split a couple of days testing and the car felt really good. On a rally like the Tour de Corse it’s really important to find a good balance with the car and I think we managed that.
“I didn’t compete here last year and the route is said to be quite different this year. From what I understand, the stages are slightly faster and a bit closer to the type we see in Catalunya.
“It will be interesting to see, but for us the most important thing is to finish the rally with a clean bill of health. If we can do that it will make the next part of the season mentally so much easier.”
I held a poll on twitter to get a feel for who you’d think would be likely to win. Here’s the result.
This event didn’t start in the normal way you’d expect. The Thursday night stage was cancelled, after a jump that had been added was causing cars to fly far too dangerously. It was a surprise then when it later emerged that Michelle Mouton had not actually checked the stage. What we don’t know is whether or not she was involved in that decision.
Anyway, with that out of the equation, the first real action was starting on Friday morning. 114km of stages lay in front of the crews, including a double run of El Chocolate which made up over sixty kilometres of the days action. The start list looked like this- Tänak, Neuville, Ogier, Meeke, Lappi, Evans, Mikkelsen, Latvala, Suninen, Sordo. It was the first time that Ott was opening the road, courtesy of the being championship leader.
Well, the first stage, SS 2 – El Chocolate 1 (31,57 km) saw under pressure Andreas Mikkelsen take a good stage victory and therefore assume the rally lead, using his good start position to effect, with Ogier and Sordo going well in second and third. British hopes Kris and Elfyn were also near the front of the field, holding fourth and fifth, only eight seconds or so from the Norwegian. This stage also saw the demise of Teemu Suninen who stopped 13km’s into the stage. He’d gone off the road, damaging the front end.
The shorter SS 3 – Ortega 1 (17,28 km) stage saw Ogier top the times, after finding more grip, and closed to just seven tenths of a second of overall leader Andreas. There was a swap further back as Elfyn moved ahead of Kris, with the pair of them battling over fourth place which Elfyn now held. Further back, Thierry was not having a very good day, already almost fifty seconds from the lead. He just could not get on the pace.
The short SS 4 – Street Stage Leon 1 (1,11 km) didn’t see any changes in the leaderboard, with Andreas, Seb and Dani still the top three.
After lunchtime service SS 5 – El Chocolate 2 (31,57 km) we saw a change in the lead after Seb won the stage from Dani and Elfyn. Sadly, Andreas good run in the lead came to an end. He’d stopped in the stage but got going again, only to stop again with 6km’s left in to go. Everyone moved up a single position apart from Jari-Matti who still held sixth as Lappi jumped ahead from seventh into fifth!
SS 6 – Ortega 2 (17,28 km), the penultimate stage of the day, and Ogier took it from Dani and Kris. Elfyn was holding the Toyota driver though, with their battle over third place. Esapekka made a mistake though turning in too early to a corner and hitting a tree the result being that he would lose 10 seconds and fall behind Jari-Matti.
SS 7 – Las Minas (10,72 km) saw Dani drop out of the leading positions sadly after a very consistent run throughout the day. He didn’t even start this stage after his i20 suffered some kind of electrical failure. A big shame indeed for Hyundai who were now down to just a single car, but way off the pace with Thierry a minute from the lead. Evans and Meeke were now in second and third!
SS 8 – V-Power Shell Stage 1 (2,33 km) was run twice to end the day’s action. Nothing of note really happened in these, other than Ott Tanak moving into fourth place. Latvala retired before the stage, after his car refused to start.
CLASSIFICATION DAY 1 (Friday)
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroen C3 WRC) 1h18’33”8
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 14”8
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 21”1
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 37”1
Lappi / Ferm (Citroen C3 WRC) + 39”1
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 1’00”7
Let’s hear from the drivers!
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (1st)
“It’s clearly a very good day for us, in very difficult conditions. The level of grip was low, especially in the morning, but I enjoyed having traces. It was important to place well today, to tackle the longest day of racing tomorrow with a good starting order. However, it will now be well exploited and also be careful because I expect some particularly tricky portions, narrow and even brittle. ”
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“I am learning little by little to drive C3 WRC on this low grip terrain where I still lack experience and the times have gradually gone in the right direction. I am now expecting a lot of sweeping for the future, but my direct rivals will benefit from a better position on the track, but we will continue to fight to bring back the best possible result. ”
Elfyn Evans (2nd)
“It’s been a good day out there – with the car and everything inside the car all working really well. It’s not been the sort of day to be on the limit. It’s been about staying clean, staying in the line, and trying to find the grip. It’s been very slippery out there today, but it should be a bit faster with a bit more grip tomorrow.
“There are some really nice stages to come, but also some really demanding ones. It’s a bit of a mix and you have to get it all right so I’m looking forward to the challenge. We’ve got to keep pushing because anything can happen and there is still a long way to go. We’ll keep giving it our all and see what happens.”
Teemu Suninen (DNF)
“We were driving cleanly, until we hit a big stone. We lost the front-right and spun into the side of the mountain. There was quite a lot of damage which means that we can’t continue, but the main thing is that both me and Marko are okay.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Kris Meeke (3rd)
“I’m quite happy tonight to be in third place at the end of my first day on gravel in this car. We were missing a bit to match the speed of the leader, but we had no dramas and the car has been perfect for me technically. We had a lot of dust get inside at times which made it hard to see, but the car has been performing well. Tomorrow is a long day with tricky stages and demanding roads again. We are not far away from second place and we’ll have a better road position than we did today, so let’s see what we can do.”
Ott Tänak (4th)
“I think we had a good day today. I did everything I could, I couldn’t have done much more. I had a good feeling in the car all day, so it was quite enjoyable and I had the confidence to push hard. During the afternoon I had a few moments, so we were driving on the limit. Our road position for tomorrow could have been better, because it was set before we gained a place in the super special, but at least the conditions will be more equal with the drivers we are fighting. The gap to second place is not so big and I believe we will have a chance to get it.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (DNF/Rally2)
“I started too cautiously in the first stage this morning but then I started to get the rhythm and the car was working really well. It was getting better during the afternoon and we were up to fourth place. Unfortunately, the alternator stopped charging. We managed to do two more stages and the road section but we couldn’t do the last two super specials. It is frustrating for this to happen, but this is how things go in motorsport sometimes. We just need to look forward and keep fighting for the rest of the weekend.”
Thierry Neuville (6th)
“The puncture this morning ended any real hopes we had of a positive weekend here in México. We could not hide our disappointment from the situation but still did all we could to catch up some places as the day progressed. About 5 or 6km into the stage we nearly went off trying to avoid some big stones and we hit one, which caused the puncture. There was nothing we could do. On these gravel stages, road position plays an important role and unfortunately, we aren’t going to benefit much as this weekend progresses. Of course, despite the huge frustration, we will never give up.”
Dani Sordo (DNF/Rally2)
“It has been a welcome return to the WRC for myself and Carlos. We hoped to fight near the front from the start, and we were able to do that for much of the day. I felt immediately comfortable in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and we set some very strong stage times. Running in second overall, just four seconds from the lead, we picked up an electrical issue after the Ortega stage. We had to stop on the road section to try and fix the problem but there was no chance. We had the genuine opportunity for a strong podium result here – and who knows what else – but that’s no longer possible, which is a really a shame for the whole team.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (DNF/Rally2)
“We had a positive morning, but the afternoon could not have been a starker turnaround in fortunes. We wanted to get a good start, and we did just that. We knew that the El Chocolate stage would play an important role; the longest stage of the day and one that everyone knows well. Still, it changes a bit each year but we put a lot of effort into getting it right – and we were rewarded with a stage win in the morning loop. We were in the rally lead, and fighting hard, but in the repeat of El Chocolate I hit a stone. We got a puncture so we changed the tyre but we could only continue for 10km before the suspension broke due to the impact with the rock, and in the end, we were forced to stop.”
A much longer day awaited the crews, with 138.37km of action! The start list looked like this – Mikkelsen
Now there was a controversial start to the day with SS 10 – Guanajuatito 1 (25,90 km) getting a red flagged. Esapekka Lappi went off the road. He was setting some fast splits earlier, but slid off the road. Meeke and Evans both finished the stage, with Kris setting a time 19 seconds faster than anyone else! Ogier was next in to the stage and just as Elfyn finished, that is when the stage was red flagged, as it was considered that Esapekka was stopped in a dangerous position. Also, Seb completed the stage having gained a puncture, after hitting some rocks on the stage. Now, all the times from this stage were deleted. I’ll cover the details about this later, but it’s fair to say if these things had not been changed, Kris Meeke would have been the new rally leader, with Elfyn in second place. Ogier at that point would have been fourth, 51 seconds from the lead.
The next stage SS 11 – Otates 1 (32,27 km), and there was a decision made to increase the time gap between the cars to four minutes. Jari-Matti took his first stage victory of the weekend. Sadly, Kris had a problem and dropped a minute and thirty-three seconds, after getting a puncture. He was now in fifth place. Meantime, Seb had got very lucky with the red flag in stage 10, as he was given a notional time for the stage and that did two things. First of all, the notional time was faster than Elfyn’s and also meant that kept him in the lead. It was odd that they’d done this, as Elfyn had been faster earlier in the stage.
The shorter SS 12 – El Brinco 1 (8,13 km) stage saw Seb and Jari-Matti share the fastest time, with Thierry just three and a half seconds slower with the third best time. There was now a fight between Elfyn and Ott developing over second place, and the Welshman was holding the Estonian at bay, the gap at 20 seconds.
Another stage victory for Seb followed in SS 13 – Guanajuatito 2 (25,90 km), with Elfyn increasing the gap to Ott by a little in their battle for runner up. Thierry was kind of in no-mans land with a two-minute gap over Kris, and 45 seconds behind Ott.
SS 14 – Otates 2 (32,27 km) saw the gap between Ott and Elfyn reduce to just six seconds after the Toyota driver took sixteen seconds out of the Welshman’s lead. Seb now had a half minute lead over Elfyn.
The repeat of SS 15 – El Brinco 2 (8,13 km) saw Seb increase his lead further, and with Ott winning the stage, he would close a little more on Elfyn, the gap between them reducing a further two seconds!
To finish the day, SS 16 – V-Power Shell Stage 3 (2,33 km) and SS 16 – V-Power Shell Stage 4 (2,33 km) saw Ott and Elfyn set the same time on the first run through and then Elfyn would increase the gap by three seconds on the second run.
The SS 18 – Street Stage Leon 2 (1,11 km) saw Dani come to the fore, winning the stage, with teammates Thierry and Andreas, but it was the gap between Ott and Elfyn that held our interest, with just 2.2 seconds between them!
“It was a long and difficult leg, which started with a puncture and finished with a minor technical issue at the very end, but overall, we drove well. I’m delighted to finish today’s leg with an increased lead, and I trust my team to make sure the C3 WRC is back in perfect working order for tomorrow. Because we need to finish the job and score maximum points.”
Esapekka Lappi (DNF/Rally2)
“I came into a tight, downhill left-hand corner and it was more slippery than I had anticipated. I ran wide and the car was left balanced at the edge of the road, in the ditch. There was no damage to the car, but we were stuck and had no chance of getting going again. Obviously, I’m sorry for the team, but the main thing is that I have learned a lot at this event, a lot more than last year. I’m starting to understand how you need to drive here and I’m going to try and keep adding to my experience tomorrow.”
Elfyn Evans (2nd)
“It was a pretty good morning for us and a good start to the afternoon, but I was disappointed to have given so much away to Ott [Tänak] on the second pass of Otates [SS14]. I was pushing quite hard, but I just couldn’t get comfortable and didn’t have the feeling to go much faster.
“The gap isn’t particularly big right now and there’ll be a big fight tomorrow, but if we have a good run, I’m confident that we can get the job done. You still have to drive quite smart to be fast here, but at the end of the day we want that second place and we’re going to fight for it.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (3rd)
“We’ve had a good day today. In the morning there was still quite a lot of loose gravel on the stages, but we managed to have a clean loop. This afternoon was our opportunity to fight and we managed to take some time back. The surface was constantly changing and the grip was unpredictable, so it wasn’t easy. It looks like it will be interesting tomorrow: We have something to fight for and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Kris Meeke (5th)
“I really enjoyed the first stage this morning, we had really good speed and we took the lead of the rally. Unfortunately, in the second one I picked up a puncture. I decided to continue, which was probably the correct decision in terms of time, but it damaged something in the rear suspension which I had to carry into the next stage. To drop to fifth and have nothing much to fight for was disappointing, but it’s important to hold on to these points and score a strong result for the team.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (8th)
“Overall, I’m happy with today. Compared to yesterday, the performance was much better. We made some small changes to the car and this helped, particularly coming out of the slow corners. Our total stage times have been close to the leaders so I can be satisfied with that. We are now up to eighth place and I think there is a good chance to get seventh tomorrow if we keep going with the same speed that we had today. I would like to get some Power Stage points too – that will be important for the championship.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“Our road position today has been slightly more advantageous with two cars running ahead of us rather than one, but it has still been far from an ideal situation. We knew we couldn’t do more in terms of our own performance, so we just drove and tried to enjoy the stages while taking care to avoid punctures. Yesterday we felt like we had no force to fight with the others, but today we were able to drive fast. After the morning loop we knew we were unlikely to catch any more positions, so we just watched to see what happened ahead of us. The afternoon was an improvement. Our car tends to respond well and perform better when the roads are more rutted. When the surface is harder, it is more slippery. We have three more stages to survive and see what we can salvage from this weekend.”
Dani Sordo (10th)
“We have done all we could have in some very tricky conditions. At times this morning there was a lot of dust hanging in places during the stage, which made driving that bit more difficult. We made some set-up changes during lunchtime service and I was happier with the car in the afternoon. Still, we struggled for traction with the hard tyre in the repeat of Otates, so it wasn’t easy. Seeing the performance of our colleagues has given us motivation to push, along with the fantastic support of the fans, so we will see what we can achieve on the final morning.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (11th)
“If there’s a time and place when you don’t want to be first on the road it is Saturday in Mexico – there has definitely been lots of cleaning today. Even considering that handicap, there are positives to take away. Our times have not been too bad and I have been quite happy with our performance overall. The result is gone but we’ve tried to enjoy the driving and to keep our motivation high. We’ve been able to explore some different things on the car for use in the future. The most unusual moment of the day came at the start of the afternoon loop when we arrived at a closed gate mid-stage. Thankfully we had ‘Anders the Gate Opener’ on hand to open the road in the most literal sense. It was one of those bizarre situations that perfectly illustrates the frustration of our Rally México.”
Well, with three stages still to run on Sunday, totaling 60.17km, we had the battle between Elfyn and Ott to watch and enjoy! The start list looked like this – Lappi, Mikkelsen, Sordo, Latvala, Meeke, Neuville, Tänak, Evans, Ogier.
SS 19 – Alfaro (21,01 km) got the action underway! Top three was Ott, Seb and Thierry. Kris Meeke was taking it easy, losing time but looking to the final stage and some power stage points. In the battle between Ott and Elfyn with the M-Sport driver setting the fourth fastest time, he’d fall behind Ott, but the gap was still very small at just two seconds between the former teammates.
SS 20 – Mesa Cuata (25,07 km) and Ott flew through the stage, increasing the gap a further five seconds over Elfyn. However, this was no capitulation from the Welshman, who was holding his own and driving brilliantly. Seb was second quickest. Kris Meeke was still taking it easy. He had other ideas. His plan was to win the power stage.
The final one, SS 21 – Las Minas Power Stage (10,72 km)… Early pace setter Esapekka saw his time eclipsed by Dani, but it was Kris who really set the stage on fire with a time that was five seconds faster, but it was Seb Ogier in the end that took the stage victory, narrowly beating Kris’ time by one tenth of a second. Incredible. Those taking extra points were Ogier, Meeke, Neuville, Sordo and Lappi.
“Mexico is definitely a special place for me and I’m especially pleased to secure this fifth win here and take maximum points for the championship! That was what we came for, and although it wasn’t a trouble-free weekend, we managed it well from start to finish. The potential I saw in the C3 WRC continues to be borne out. It enabled us to be top performers this weekend. It’s now up to us to keep working hard because the championship looks set to be even closer than ever before. In the meantime, I would like to thank the team for the great job done this weekend! We’ll now head for Corsica looking for a similar outcome.”
Esapekka Lappi (14th)
“I’m pleased to have learned how to drive on this specific surface with my C3 WRC and to have equally made progress in understanding the tyre strategy for these stages. We’re now going to concentrate on the Tour de Corse, with the intention of getting back among the frontrunners.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (2nd)
“It has been a good weekend. This has been a very demanding event: tough for the car, tough for the tyres and tough for the drivers inside the car. I believe we managed it well and I’m really happy to make it through without mistakes or problems. It really shows how strong we are. I had a puncture on the Power Stage, so there was nothing I could do there, but the first two stages were good and we managed to get the second place. It’s been a good start to the championship with three podiums from three rallies, and it would be great if we can carry on like this.”
Kris Meeke (5th)
“We were in a secure fifth place in the overall standings, so we had to balance protecting that with a push in the Power Stage. I saved my tyres through the first two stages, which I think was the right strategy. I then gave it everything in the Power Stage, while still making sure to bring home the fifth place. It’s been a tough rally for me after the puncture while we were leading, but to come away with 14 points is still positive. For the team and for the manufacturers’ championship it’s been a really strong rally.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (8th)
“I don’t think I’ve ever fought so hard to get four points! At the end of the second stage of the day, we hit some bedrock with the sump guard. We thought we had no chance to continue but I said we can’t give up at this point. The sump guard was only half-fixed so I couldn’t drive fast in the Power Stage, and we were late into the time control so we lost seventh place by four seconds. But at least we made it to the end. There have been a lot of things happening this weekend, hopefully the next rally will be a bit calmer!”
Elfyn Evans (3rd)
“It’s a good result, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed because second place should have been on the cards this weekend. Unfortunately, there were just a couple of things that cost us quite a lot. That second pass of Otates cost us pretty dearly, and then we made the wrong call on the tyres this morning.
“That said, it was still a good weekend and there are a lot of positives to take away. We didn’t make a single mistake and we’ve collected some good points that will give us a better road position in Corsica. Most importantly, we can see that we’ve made some good changes to the car and we’ll work hard to build on that throughout the year.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“That was not the weekend we wanted. From the puncture early on Friday morning, and with our road position, it has been a really challenging event from start to finish. We have been missing some speed at times and generally struggling. I felt I was driving on a good rhythm but we weren’t on our usual pace. Today, I tried to keep a good rhythm in case something happened to the guys in front but that meant we didn’t have enough tyre performance left for the Power Stage, unlike some of our rivals. We have to put this rally to one side and re-group ready for Corsica.”
Dani Sordo (9th)
“Our aim for today was to drive within our limits and to pick up some manufacturers’ points, which are so important for the team. At the start of the Power Stage, I was enjoying the car so we gave it a bit of a push but nothing too crazy. I have had fun driving the stages this weekend, and the support from the crowds has been amazing, even if the end result was not what we could have achieved. We were fighting at the front on Friday until our problems so the potential is definitely there. We’ll be back stronger at the next rally in Corsica.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (11th)
“It’s easy to dwell on the missed opportunities this weekend, but it is important that we look at the many positives. The i20 Coupe WRC performed much more to my liking on these gravel stages, and that was reflected in our competitive stage times on Friday. Obviously, we weren’t able to fight for the sort of result we were capable of scoring but that’s rallying sometimes. The final day was clean and we had a decent run through the Power Stage. It was my first attempt at Las Minas as I missed out on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t perfect but another useful lesson.”
Now, there you have it! A second victory for Citroen this year and their eighth in Mexico! Ott’s drive to second place was incredible and has kept him in the championship lead. Finally, Elfyn and Scott’s first podium together, coming at an event that neither of them had stood on the podium before. A very consistent drive had rewarded them with a great result which has lifted them into fifth place in the championship. Both Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke could have also stood on the podium, but they both suffered misfortunes that were not of their doing. Early leader, Andreas had a good event until disaster struck, not least the closed gate that Anders had to open! Another driver that went well was Jari-Matti, who did have a good event, but was hampered again with reliability from his Yaris.
Next up is Tour de Corse. Held over the weekend of the 28th to 31st of March. The first fully tarmac event of the year, meaning the closer you are to the leader, the better the road conditions for you.
The WRC season continues with Rally Mexico, a very tricky round. Road position will be key for the hopes of those further down the championship order and this could mean that drivers like Kris Meeke, Jari-Matti Latvala and Elfyn Evans could all feature in the top spots at the end of the first day. Last year in particular, Elfyn was going well having been second fastest in stage three before the roll that gave then co-driver Dan concussion, meaning that they’d have to retire on safety grounds.
Kris of course drove well, securing at the time his last podium for Citroen Racing. Jari-Matti was the best placed of all the Toyota drivers, getting eighth place. Of course, they had challenged near the front before problems with the cars had dropped them back.
Last years winner, Seb Ogier sits third in the championship and is also in a strong position to win for Citroen, although hopefully not like Kris Meeke in 2017, driving through a carpark on the last stage!
Now, here are the key points about Rally Mexico. There are 30km’s less this year, compared to last year’s event. Friday sees 114km’s of competitive stages, with Saturday 138km’s and Sunday around 60km’s.
21 timed stages covering a total of 313.87 km.
10% the percentage loss of power for every 1,000 metres above sea level.
2,756 metres – the peak altitude of the rally, located on the Ortega stage.
The stages are run six hours behind GMT.
THURSDAY 7 MARCH
10.00am: Shakedown (Llano Grande)
6.00pm: Start day 1 (Leon)
8.08pm: SS 1 – Street Stage GTO (1,14 km)
9.38pm: End of day 1 (Leon)
FRIDAY 8 MARCH
9.00am: Start day 2 and service A (Leon – 15 mins)
10.18am: SS 2 – El Chocolate 1 (31,57 km)
11.16am: SS 3 – Ortega 1 (17,28 km)
12.59pm: SS 4 – Street Stage Leon 1 (1,11 km)
1.34pm: Service B (Leon – 40 mins)
3.17pm: SS 5 – El Chocolate 2 (31,57 km)
4.15pm: SS 6 – Ortega 2 (17,28 km)
5.18pm: SS 7 – Las Minas (10,72 km)
6.58pm: SS 8 – V-Power Shell Stage 1 (2,33 km)
7.03pm: SS 9 – V-Power Shell Stage 2 (2,33 km)
8.03pm: Flexi service C (Leon – 45 mins)
SATURDAY 9 MARCH
7.15am: Start day 3 and service D (Leon – 15 mins)
8.23am: SS 10 – Guanajuatito 1 (25,90 km)
10.11am: SS 11 – Otates 1 (32,27 km)
11.08am: SS 12 – El Brinco 1 (8,13 km)
12.53pm: Service E (Leon – 40 mins)
2.31pm: SS 13 – Guanajuatito 2 (25,90 km)
4.29pm: SS 14 – Otates 2 (32,27 km)
5.38pm: SS 15 – El Brinco 2 (8,13 km)
7.03pm: SS 16 – V-Power Shell Stage 3 (2,33 km)
7.08pm: SS 17 – V-Power Shell Stage 4 (2,33 km)
7.51pm: SS 18 – Street Stage Leon 2 (1,11 km)
8.21pm: Flexi service F (Leon – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 10 MARCH
8.00am: Start day 4 and service G (Leon – 15 mins)
9.03am: SS 19 – Alfaro (24,38 km)
10.11am: SS 20 – Mesa Cuata (25,07 km)
12.18pm: SS 21 – Las Minas Power Stage (10,72 km)
1.53pm: Service H (Leon – 10 mins)
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Citroën Total WRT
“We had two good days of pre-event testing, on roads that were fairly representative of the kind of stages we’ll have to tackle this weekend. We were lucky with the weather during the tests, which was very warm, although obviously not quite as hot as in Mexico. After a tough Rally Sweden, where we weren’t able to express ourselves, I can’t wait to get started and realise our full potential. The stages are beautiful here but you do need to be careful on the afternoon loop, when it’s warmer. The second passes are always hard on the cars, especially as the high altitude means not only reduced horsepower but can also cause issues with cooling.”
“The tests held in Spain enabled me to feel even more comfortable in my C3 WRC, building on what we achieved at Rally Sweden. I feel increasingly at one with the car. Having said that, I know that my experience of Rally Mexico is very limited. I only have one competitive appearance here, at last year’s rally, in addition to completing recce in 2017. In light of that, a top-five finish would be a good result for me. Our starting order will give us an advantage over the first few crews so it’ll be up to us to make the most of it. You really need to be clean and efficient in your driving on these roads, given that we lose about a hundred or so horsepower due to the high altitude.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“It was a great feeling for us to win in Sweden, but we quickly changed our focus to Mexico. We flew straight to Spain for two days of gravel testing on the Monday and Tuesday after the rally. We worked on a number of different things, just trying to be as well-prepared as we can be. The whole team has been working hard and I believe we should be competitive in Mexico. As championship leaders, we will have to run first on the road on the Friday. It won’t be easy but we saw in Mexico last year that it is possible to have a good result from this position, so let’s see how it goes.”
“I am looking forward to being in Mexico: particularly the warm sun at the end of the Finnish winter! So far, it hasn’t really been the start to the season for me that I would have wanted. If there is one positive from this, however, it is that I will have quite a nice starting position for the first day in Mexico, as the eighth car on the road. I had a good test in Spain last week, using pretty much the same setup that I used to win in Australia, with just a few small tweaks. Most importantly, I am confident that as a team we are totally prepared this year for the altitude and the high temperatures.”
“I had two days of testing in the south of Spain last week, which was my first time driving the car on gravel outside of Finland. It was really useful for me and I came away feeling comfortable. Mexico is a place I’ve gone well in the last few years: I won in 2017, and last year I was in the fight for the victory and finished third. Now with a different car I hope to be competing at the sharp end once again. Monte Carlo and Sweden were events with very complicated conditions where it would have been easy to make a mistake. Mexico is usually a lot more consistent, and I’m looking forward to it.”
“We have got the 2019 season off to a solid start with two satisfying podium results. It’s early days in the championship but we have shown our pace and potential, as well as identifying areas of improvement. Mexico, as always, will be a different challenge. It’s the first rally of the year with hot temperatures, a real contrast to Monte-Carlo and Sweden, as well as being high up in the mountains. The reduction of oxygen at altitude will mean less horsepower for the engine, while the heat makes life more demanding in the cockpit for the driver and co-driver. It’s a rally where we’ve fought for podiums in the past, so we know what we have to do to be successful.”
“The difference in conditions from Sweden to Mexico could not be greater! It is one of the warmest rallies of the season, at high altitude and with some long, hard gravel stages. The combination of heat and height makes it a gruelling rally for crews and cars. The altitude reduces the engine power output, which means we are constantly looking for something more from the car. The start of the season has brought some positives for us as a crew, and for the team. We were fighting for second place in Sweden, so we’ll be hoping to feature near the front in Mexico too.”
“I am happy to be starting my first WRC event of the season, having followed the opening rallies very closely. The other crews have already warmed themselves up at Monte-Carlo and Sweden, even in the cold conditions. Now it’s time to begin our own season! Carlos and I used Rali Serras de Fafe as a way of preparing ourselves for Mexico, and we had a successful weekend in the Hyundai i20 R5. We will use this experience, as well as Thursday’s shakedown, to get quickly up to speed, as we aim to fight for the podium. Mexico is a tough event but one I enjoy and with incredible support from the fans.”
“I’ve always enjoyed Rally Mexico and have had some good results here in the past. I’ve come close to the podium a couple of times, and the aim will be to challenge for the top results again next week. The whole team showed good speed in Sweden, and we want to continue that in Mexico.
“We’ll have a good road position on the first day that we’ll need to make the most of. But this rally isn’t without its challenges. It’s a notoriously demanding event with high temperatures and rough stages. So, we’ll need to be fully focused to deliver the best results.
“We’ll also encounter the highest altitudes of the year, and the thinner air can see performance fall by as much as 20 percent. We’ll need to adapt our driving style to contend with that – being really smooth and not so aggressive behind the wheel – to ensure we’re getting 100 percent of the available performance.”
“Rally Mexico and Rally Sweden are two totally different events, but it would be nice to continue our strong performance. We drove a one-day test in Spain last week and, although the temperatures aren’t very close to what we’ll see in Mexico, it was a good opportunity to get a feel for the car at high altitude on gravel.
“The feeling was really good, but there is always a little uncertainty going to the events as we don’t know what our rivals have done. There was that same feeling before Sweden, but our pace was good and we had the speed to challenge for the top results.
“I don’t know if we’ll be able to challenge with the top guys next week, but we’re all working really hard and team have put a lot of effort into the development of the Fiesta. That hard work showed in Sweden, and I hope it will show in Mexico too.
“I’ll have a later start position, but that’s not always a good thing as there could be a lot of stones dragged onto the line. The key for me will be to drive neatly and have the consistency as well as the speed.”
Łukasz Pieniążek (WRC 2 Pro)
“I’m really looking forward to Rally Mexico which will be my first ever event outside Europe. Due to the high temperatures and potentially really demanding conditions, Kamil [Heller, co-driver] and I have been training really hard, and we’re ready for the battle.
“We left Poland on Thursday to give ourselves two days to acclimatise ahead of Monday’s pre-event test. I didn’t find a set-up that was perfectly suited to my driving in Sweden, but we have a few ideas of what we can improve next week. We want to continue the work we started in Sweden – to try a few things and get to know our Fiesta better.
“It’s a great pity that we’ll be the only WRC 2 Pro crew in Mexico, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight. Our goal is to be the first R5 crew so we won’t be cruising and we’ll try to go as fast as possible. On the other hand, there will surely be less pressure. Either way it’s still going to be a long and demanding rally, but the longer the stages the better for me.”
Well, we are set for an interesting event, with potentially five or six different winners. We could have a mixed podium with crews from different teams. In fact, this is what happened last year. The weather looks to be very hot and dry over the weekend.
Now you’ll also be able to listen and watch live with WRC+, and there’ll be highlights on Channel 5 as well. Finally, early next week you will be able to read a full review, stage by stage right here.
The young Estonian took his seventh victory of his career and has moved into the championship lead for the first time ever. Here’s the story of how it came together.
The first stage on Thursday evening saw Thierry take an early lead from Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen, whilst Ott was fourth, just 1.9 seconds after the short 1,9km opener.
It was a very early start on Friday morning, with service at six am! The start order looked like this- Ogier, Neuville, Tänak, Meeke, Loeb, Latvala, Suninen, Tidemand, Mikkelsen, Lappi, Evans, Gronhölm, Bertelli, Tuohino, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ostberg.
First stage, SS 2 – Hof-Finnskog 1 (21,26 km) saw some changes to the leaderboard. The conditions were surprisingly warm, with temperatures hovering around seven to eight degrees. Conditions in the stage were not what you’d expect for the only snow rally on the calendar, with slush and not much of a disadvantage for Seb Ogier who opened the road, but still managed to set the fourth fastest time, just 4.1 seconds behind Ott who won the stage from Teemu and Jari-Matti.
The next stage, SS 3 – Svullrya 1 (24,88 km) saw very different conditions, with fresh snow and a little longer stage giving those further back an advantage. Teemu used this, to take the stage and move up into second overall. Seb Ogier and Andreas both fell down the leaderboard. Elfyn had a better stage as well, moving into the top ten.
There was more light snow in SS 4 – Röjden 1 (18,10 km) and Ott took another stage victory with his lead increased over Teemu, whilst Latvala’s second fastest time moved him ahead of Thierry. Elfyn showed improved pace and confidence, setting the third fastest time and moving closer to Loeb who was holding ninth place.
SS 5 – Hof-Finnskog 2 saw Elfyn take his first ever stage victory in Sweden, moving into eighth place as well, with Jari-Matti and Teemu second and third fastest, whilst Ott could only manage sixth fastest and he fell from the lead to third with Jari-Matti and Teemu now in first and second overall.
SS 6 – Svullrya 2 (24,88 km) saw the exit of Seb Ogier for the day, as he spun after hitting snowbank, and with no spectators nearby, there was no chance to get back on road. The C3 was stuck fast. Teemu won the stage, deposing Jari-Matti from the lead and Seb Loeb and Andreas were second and third, whilst Elfyn climbed another two places, after setting the fourth fastest time.
We didn’t have to wait long for another stage victory for Elfyn, as he took SS 7 – Röjden 1 (18,10 km) with Latvala and Loeb setting the same time, 4.4 seconds behind the Welshman who was now in fifth overall. Teemu was still in the lead with Jari-Matti and Ott his closest challengers.
The final stage of the day was won by WRC2 Hyundai driver Jari Huttunen, beating Lappi and Tanak incredibly! Brilliant giant-killing performance, in a stage that rewards driver skill more than just having a faster car. Teemu was still leading, with Ott and Andreas having made it into second and third, with Elfyn having climbed now into fourth position.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:11:05.3
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.0
Mikkelsen / Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 WRC) +17.8
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +28.6
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +42.0
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +48.8
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +52.7
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +53.1
Tidemand / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:24.4
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Teemu Suninen (1st)
“To be leading my first rally is an amazing feeling. We didn’t make any big mistakes and had really good pace all day so we can be happy with that. It was just a shame that we made a small mistake with the lights on the last stage [SS8] – otherwise our lead could have been 10 seconds more than it is now!
“The car feels really good and I have really enjoyed the driving. We had a really good test in the lead-up to this event and the whole team was pushing the car to be better.
“Of course, everyone’s target is to be the fastest, but we need to remember that there are still two days to go with some very difficult conditions. We need to keep going and concentrate on the driving. For sure Ott will be fast tomorrow, but we are in front of him and we will try our best.”
Elfyn Evans (4th)
“We didn’t have the best of starts and it was a shame about the spin on the first stage of the morning [SS2]. By the third stage [of the day, SS4] we had started to get into it and it went pretty well from there with two stage wins. The afternoon was really good and we moved up to fourth, so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Pontus Tidemand (9th)
“We had some problems this morning but the car was working well this afternoon and I am quite happy with my driving. The speed of the guys at the front is really quick and I know that I still have a lot to learn. This evening we will try to look at what we have been doing well and what we can do better. We’ll keep going tomorrow and try to find some more.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (2nd)
“I really enjoyed it this morning: we had great conditions and it was a pure joy to drive. This afternoon was then completely opposite, but it is often like this on Rally Sweden. It was just about surviving and getting through, and then on the last stage we gave it a push to get closer to the leader. It wasn’t an easy stage with deep snow and with not many studs left on the tyres: I had a couple of moments myself. I think we did all we could today, and tomorrow we should have similar conditions to the drivers we are competing with.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (Rally2)
“For the most part, today was a great day. The car has been really good to drive and I was enjoying a big fight with Teemu Suninen. I was using my tyres a lot which was OK when we had the gravel ruts, but then the last stage was icy with more snow on the top of the surface. I was pushing too hard for the conditions on my used tyres and it caught me out. Now it will be important to get back out there tomorrow and to try and get a good feeling with the driving.”
Kris Meeke (8th)
“We struggled for pace this morning but it got better during the afternoon loop. The conditions were really tough. At one moment it looked like Rally GB with all the mud, and the next you’re in deep slush. Unfortunately, a stall at the start of one stage has cost us three positions, and three positions in the road order for tomorrow. There’s still a long way to go though, and tomorrow will be complicated again with the conditions, so let’s see what happens.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (Rally2)
“We had had a good first loop this morning. But we knew that the second loops here are always very tricky, especially when you are first on the road. I only had a slight impact with a snow bank, but we ended up stuck. With no fans nearby, we had no chance of getting going again.”
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“It was a difficult day, with quite a few errors among the crews and unfortunately, I was of the ones to make a mistake. I am nonetheless pleased with the way in which I ended the leg and with the progress I made in the handling of my C3 WRC on these stages. In recce, there was less ice on tomorrow’s stages than those we contested today, so I expect there will be quite a bit of gravel and mud on the roads. I’ll need to look after the studs more, but I’m going to keep pushing like we have done so far.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (3rd)
“We have finished a tough opening day in third overall, which is a pretty satisfactory position to find ourselves all things considered. It has been hard to feel comfortable to push in these conditions. We were managing our tyres so we could go for a good final stage of the day, but we still lost a lot of studs. This morning we were making changes between every stage to find a better rhythm and make the most of our road position. As always, it was great to drive in Norway and to experience the fantastic home support. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll focus on chasing down a podium finish.”
Seb Loeb (6th)
“It has been a day focused on finding improvements. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm this morning. These cars are very fast on these stages and you have to be completely confident. You need to trust the grip from the car to get the ideal entry speed for each corner, and to commit fully. We improved with each stage as our confidence was building inside the car. We have tried to regain some of the lost time, while also driving sensibly to make sure we don’t make any mistakes. Tomorrow, we will try to pick up our pace even more.”
Thierry Neuville (7th)
“We felt we were a bit too cautious this morning as one of the first cars on the road, and some of the guys behind us were able to go really fast. We made some good adjustments at lunchtime service but the afternoon did not get off to the start we had hoped. The conditions were more like a gravel rally than a snow one. Unfortunately, we hit a snowbank and spun the car, causing damage that then affected the rest of our day. Missing aero at the front of the car, we had to just drive gently and fluidly. We will aim for a more representative performance tomorrow and see what we can do to make up ground.”
It was another early start, with service once again at six am! The start order was thus- Gronhölm Ogier, Latvala, Bertelli, Tuohino, Tidemand, Meeke, Neuville, Loeb, Lappi, Evans, Mikkelsen, Tänak, Suninen.
Stage SS9 – Rämmen 1 (23,13 km) was won by Jari-Matti from Tanak and Seb. Teemu slipped from the lead, with Ott now back at the top of the leaderboard. It was a good stage for Kris as well, as he moved up into sixth place, now ahead of Thierry and Seb Loeb.
Ogier won the following stage, SS 10 – Hagfors 1 (23,40 km), from Ott and Thierry. There was the dramatic exit of Teemu from second though, who slid off the road. The gap between third place, held by Elfyn and sixth place was now just eleven seconds.
Ogier also won SS 11 – Vargasen 1 (14,21 km) from Thierry and Teemu. Thierry’s pace lifted him up into fourth place and was now just a second behind Elfyn. The gap from sixth closed a little more to third as well.
Ott Tanak continued his strong pace in SS 12 – Rämmen 2 (23,13 km), winning once more and taking his lead up to 40 seconds over Andreas. Esapekka was also on the move up, deposing Elfyn from third place and Thierry as well, who was now fifth.
SS 13 – Hagfors 2 (23,40 km) followed after service and it was another stage win for the ever-dominant Estonian in his Yaris, his lead now a little over fifty seconds. Lappi was also closing on second placed Andreas, whilst Thierry had passed Elfyn, moving into fourth place.
Top three in SS 14 – Vargasen 2 (14,21 km) was, Ogier, Neuville and Evans. Andreas lost more time to an ever closing Esapekka, with only two seconds between them on the leaderboard. Elfyn was keeping the pressure on Thierry as best he could, and had also increased the gap to Kris. Unfortunately, Teemu retired, after clipping a tree, which resulted in damage to the rollcage in his car.
Ott also won SS 15 – Super Special Stage Karlstad 2 (1,90 km), whilst Esapekka closed to within four tenths of a second of Andreas.
SS 16 – Torsby Sprint (2,80 km) was won by Thierry, thus increasing the gap to Elfyn and Lappi was second in the stage, bringing him level with Andreas on the leaderboard, now sharing second overall. Ott’s lead was standing at fifty-four and a half seconds, after a very strong day.
“I’m really happy with how today went. The conditions in the morning were really nice again, and it was just pure fun to drive. I wasn’t pushing to the maximum, I was just in a good rhythm. This afternoon was completely different to yesterday for me: the conditions were very smooth. It shows how important the job we did yesterday was, because today we have been able to take advantage of our good road position. Now we have quite a big margin behind and we just need to manage it through the first two stages tomorrow, and then hopefully it might be possible to get some points from the Power Stage.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (25th)
“It was good to restart this morning with the fastest time in Rämmen. It’s a stage I have very good memories of as it was where I celebrated my first win here in 2008. The conditions were really nice this morning but this afternoon it was very demanding, so we just tried to experiment with the setup in preparation for tomorrow. When the roads have been fast and flowing, the car has felt really good but we’ve been struggling in some of the more technical parts, so we’ve been trying to work on this with our sights set on the Power Stage.”
Kris Meeke (6th)
“It has been another mixed day for us. This morning when the roads were nice and frozen, we had good speed and we were moving into podium contention. The car felt good, I was getting more confidence and attacking a bit more. I expected that this afternoon would be difficult with our road position with the temperature going up and it proved to be. Now we just have to try and hold on to our position tomorrow.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (33rd)
“It’s always a different race when you rejoin after a retirement, but we tried to find a good rhythm and try out a few things with the set-up, especially as we had a wide variety of conditions again today. It also gave me the chance to gradually improve my knowledge of the C3 WRC and the times we set today confirm its potential. As one of the first on the road, I’m not sure I have a real chance on the Power Stage tomorrow, but we’ll at least give it a good go. “
Esapekka Lappi (equal 2nd)
“I think we can be pleased with our performance today! After a good morning, our afternoon was even more solid. I was comfortable in my C3 WRC in the ruts which had formed between the two loops. There are four of us that can realistically finish on the podium, so we’ll need to be wide awake tomorrow, especially as the Likenas stage, in particular, is so fast that you need to be fully committed. But as far as that is concerned, you can definitely count on us!”
Andreas Mikkelsen (equal 2nd)
“It is developing into a very intense battle in some very complicated driving conditions, but I am really enjoying myself. We had a good morning loop, and moved up into second place, but we were still lacking some top speed. Changes we made at lunchtime service worked well but we had a moment midway through the loop. We lost grip and went into a snowbank that lost us a bit of time. The times are incredibly close so we will keep pushing on Sunday morning and do everything we can to finish this rally on the podium.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“We have made good progress today and second place is now firmly in our sights. It’s going to be a close battle between many crews, which sets up another exciting final day – perfect entertainment for the fans! I have tried to focus on finding grip and traction in the difficult conditions. I was missing a bit of confidence in the faster sections but overall, we have had a positive day. The afternoon loop was about managing tyres. We were pushing hard in SS14 (Vargåsen) when I got caught out off the line and had a spin. We lost four or five seconds there but we got straight back on it to minimise the time loss. It’s definitely game on for second tomorrow, and we’re right in the hunt.”
Seb Loeb (7th)
“It has been another day of two halves. It has been quite some time since I last competed in Rally Sweden, and we only had one day of testing, so considering those limitations it has been OK. The car has felt good; the question is just about finding the right rhythm. The afternoon loop was an improvement, even if we had to manage the tyres, and we now need to focus on our fight with Kris Meeke for sixth place.”
Elfyn Evans (5th)
“There was more time to be found out there today and although we had some good stages it was disappointing to lose so much time on some of the others. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll keep fighting and looking forward.”
Pontus Tidemand (8th)
“I started to feel very comfortable in the car this afternoon so I am happy for that. But with this road position it was not so easy to get close to the top times. Hopefully if we have some freezing temperatures tonight, tomorrow will be a bit better for us.”
Teemu Suninen (DNF)
“We made some mistakes today but I think this weekend has still been a positive one. Last year we were struggling quite a lot with the pace, but this year we were able to increase the speed and fight for the top positions.
“The pace has been really good all weekend. Of course, we shouldn’t have made these mistakes, but there were a lot of mistakes from a lot of drivers in these difficult conditions – and it is better to have the pace and improve the consistency.
“The performance has given me a lot of confidence and I need to push more and prepare even harder for the next rallies. I want to thank the team – not only for repairing the car today – but also because everyone is pushing in the right direction and the car feels really good.”
Just three stages remained then to run on Sunday, and the start list looked like this – Gronhölm, Ogier, Latvala, Bertelli, Tuohino, Tidemand, Suninen, Loeb, Meeke, Evans, Neuville, Lappi, Mikkelsen, Tänak, Ostberg.
Jari-Matti won SS 17 – Likenäs 1 (21,19 km) from Seb Ogier and Esapekka, with the result that the young Finn was now in a clear second place, as Andreas fell to fourth place, now also behind Thierry. The gap had also closed between the Norwegian and Elfyn. The Welshman was not giving up on getting fourth place.
The re-run of – Likenäs 2 (21,19 km) as SS18 saw Elfyn take his third stage win in Sweden, taking 2.4 seconds out of Andreas in their continuing battle for fourth. Esapekka was widening the gap to Thierry, but up front, Ott Tanak was confirming his position at the top, whilst looking after his tyres for one final push in the powerstage.
The last stage then, SS 19 – Torsby 2 Power Stage (8,93 km) and the top five were, Tanak, Neuville, Evans, Ogier and Lappi and they picked up the points for their championship challenge. Ott Tanak moved into the lead of the championship for the first time ever.
“We have had a very good weekend. Friday was a key moment where we had to get through to minimise the time loss in the conditions, but after this we just drove with a good rhythm and as little risk as possible. Today it was about saving the tyres for the Power Stage and to give it a big push. We had a very good run and everything was working really well, so I was really comfortable in the car. We have a very strong team and it’s great for us to have this kind of result at the beginning of the season.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (21st)
“The first stage this morning was the best stage of the rally: nice, clean ice conditions with big snowbanks, and a fast, flowing road over the crests. It was really enjoyable to drive and nice to be back in a good rhythm. I hoped to get some points on the Power Stage and finish the rally on a high note, but the conditions there for me were very difficult, especially the last part where there was lots of snow and slush. Now we look forward to Mexico.”
Kris Meeke (6th)
“The conditions this morning were very nice with full ice: just what we really like to drive on. My objective today was to try and finish in front of Sebastien Loeb and we managed to increase the gap, so I’m happy with that. On the Power Stage I had a big impact on the front-left and I struggled after that. The mild temperatures this weekend have been so different to my pre-event test and I’ve lacked some speed as a result. But it’s good to get to the end and score some points for the team.”
Citroën Total WRT
Esapekka Lappi (2nd)
“I knew after testing that we had worked well and that was confirmed during this rally, which I really enjoy. The conditions this weekend were nonetheless quite a bit different so we gradually worked on improving the set-up of our C3 WRC, which helped us to feel increasingly confident in the car and to up our pace as we completed more of the stages. I’m delighted with this result. It kick starts our season and augurs really well for the rest of the year!”
Sébastien Ogier (29th)
“Obviously, I had hoped for a better result, but it’s always difficult to do well when you open the road here. A lot of the crews hit the snow banks, including us. We were also a bit unlucky in that we got stuck in one of the rare spots where there were no spectators. We did our very best on the Power Stage, even though once again the conditions were far from ideal for us. I’m already focused on Mexico. “
Thierry Neuville (3rd)
“We are pleased to be on the podium again; we couldn’t have done any more here at Rally Sweden. It was a big battle in these tricky conditions and we were on the edge for a lot of it. When you are pushing so hard, it is easy to make mistakes, so we have to be content with our third place – as well as taking four extra points for second in the Power Stage. We are still at the start of a long season with lots more to come, so it is important to get as many points in the bag in these opening rounds. As a team, we are all focused on pushing for more performance, and we will continue to work in this direction as we prepare for Mexico.”
“We gave it all we could this weekend, and it was an exciting right to the end. Of course, we would have preferred to finish on the podium but congratulations to Thierry for his result. It is a pretty good team result for here; third and fourth gives us important points, but we know it could have been better. In conditions like we have faced, it is a high-risk strategy to push too hard. Today, we wanted to maintain a good pace but not do anything crazy to jeopardise our position. As a team, we have all three cars at the end of the rally and we can take a lot of lessons forward into future events. Thanks to all the fans for showing us such great support this weekend.”
Seb Loeb (7th)
“It has been a complicated weekend, with a lot of ups and downs. I am happy to have made it to the end of the rally. We have set some good times during the event and we have been able to learn a lot more about the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, which is very useful for the future. In the end, looking at these positives, it has been a satisfactory weekend but with room for further improvement.”
Elfyn Evans (5th)
“We’ve had very good speed for the most part of this weekend. I would say that we can be happy with 75 percent of the stages we did, but I’m just kicking myself about the other 25 percent which didn’t go quite as well as they should have.
“We had the potential to be on the podium so we are left with a little bit of frustration, but there are still a lot of positives. We’ve made a massive step with the car compared to last year and we already know that we’re competitive on gravel so I’m really looking forward to the upcoming events.”
Pontus Tidemand (8th)
“It’s a dream to compete here on my home event with a world rally car. It has been amazing and I want to thank all of the fans and supporters and of course my sponsors as well as the whole M-Sport team and Ola who have done a fantastic job all weekend.
“It was a shame to have had the issues on Friday but these things happen and I have been improving a lot. I’m starting to feel quite comfortable with the aerodynamics and everything and I only wish this event could have been longer!
“I still need some time with this incredible car, and I really hope that we have an opportunity to do some more later in the year.”
Teemu Suninen (23rd)
“We had really good pace this weekend, and that gives me a lot of confidence. But there were a couple of mistakes and that means that we come away from this rally with no points.
“I have to work hard for the next event, but I still think there have been a lot of positives this weekend. I led a rally for the first time, and the car felt really good. A big thanks to the team who have been working really hard, and hopefully we can do better in Mexico.”
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Ott Tänak – 47 points
Thierry Neuville – 40 points
Sébastien Ogier – 31 points
Kris Meeke – 21 points
Esapekka Lappi – 19 points
Sébastien Loeb – 18 points
Elfyn Evans – 13 points
Andreas Mikkelsen – 12 points
Jari-Matti Latvala – 10 points
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Toyota Gazoo Racing – 58 points
Hyundai WRT – 57 points
Citroën Total WRT – 47 points
M-Sport Ford WRT – 30 points
Well, what we saw this weekend, confirmed what we believed after Monte-Carlo. Toyota really have the fastest car and the strongest team I believe.
The other teams expected to fight for the championships have a big battle ahead of them. What we won’t know is what would Seb Ogier have done if he’d not beached his C3. In the other Citroen, Esapekka Lappi scored a good podium finish.
Who else stood out? Well, the M-Sport team had its moments with Teemu leading at the end of day one, but what about Elfyn Evans? He certainly bounced back after Monte-Carlo with a very good drive, including three stage wins, his first in Sweden. A very good performance in other stages, included a number of top three times as well, including the all important powerstage where he went faster than Seb Ogier.
At Hyundai, the team started slowly, but they picked up time, and Thierry drove well, despite the 360 spin to a good podium finish. Not sure what to think of the others. Has Andreas turned a corner? Fourth for the Norwegian is a start, but still not amazing, and it’s a year since he last stood on a podium. Seb Loeb is a great driver, and he is still getting used to his Hyundai.
The next event is Rally Mexico, where we will see very different conditions. There’s a number of drivers who could win there and road position will be important. Put it in your diaries, March the 7th to 10th!
It’s time already for round two of this year’s championship! Rally Sweden is super spectacular, with snow and ice covering the stages, and the Michelin tyres being super skinny and fitted with studs to cut through and find the grip! The forests of Varmland will see the crews battle for the victory, and keeping out of trouble will be key!
Opening the road on Friday morning, Seb Ogier will be at a disadvantage, and last year we saw him and Julien finish in eleventh place. This year will see him in the same position, and we’ll have to wait and see how he fares in the Citroen.
Thierry Neuville won last season and with that, took the championship lead. Also, for Hyundai, there is Seb Loeb in the car, competing for the first time since 2013, at which point he and Daniel had taken five podiums including one win, plus Andreas Mikkelsen, who took his only podium in last year’s campaign in Sweden.
The team run by Tommi Makinen is very strong, and they won most of the stages in Monte-Carlo. Ott Tanak has to be favourite, but you can’t discount Jari-Matti who won in 2017, and Kris Meeke, who will almost certainly on the pace, as he becomes more familiar with the Yaris and Seb Marshall next to him.
The M-Sport team will have Elfyn, Teemu and Pontus in three cars. Elfyn will be looking to get a good result there, having picked up two sixth places in 2015 and 2017. It’s also worth mentioning that Scott guided Craig Breen to the second step of the podium last year, giving an extra dimension to the hopes within the team. Finally, there is Marko who guided last year’s WRC2 winner Takamoto Katsuta. What could he and Teemu do this year?
The stages that they face are very fast. Here is what awaits them. Nineteen stages totalling 316km, with just a minor change from 2018 with Rammen replacing Torntop on Saturday.
THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY
9.00am: Shakedown (Skalla)
8.08pm: SS 1 – Super Special Stage Karlstad 1 (1,90 km)
9.58pm: Parc ferme (Torsby)
FRIDAY 15 FEBRUARY
6.00am: Start day 1 and service A (Torsby – 15 mins)
7.55am: SS 2 – Hof-Finnskog 1 (21,26 km)
9.08am: SS 3 – Svullrya 1 (24,88 km)
9.59am: SS 4 – Röjden 1 (18,10 km)
11.34am: Service B (Torsby – 40 mins)
1.54pm: SS 5 – Hof-Finnskog 2 (21,26 km)
3.17pm: SS 6 – Svullrya 2 (24,88 km)
4.08pm: SS 7 – Röjden 1 (18,10 km)
5.14pm: SS 8 – Torsby 1 (8,93 km)
5.50pm: Flexi service C (Torsby – 45 mins)
SATURDAY 16 FEBRUARY
6.00am: Start day 2 and service D (Torsby – 15 mins)
7.44am: SS 9 – Rämmen 1 (23,13 km)
8.35am: SS 10 – Hagfors 1 (23,40 km)
9.37am: SS 11 – Vargasen 1 (14,21 km)
10.53am: Service E (Torsby – 40 mins)
1.02pm: SS 12 – Rämmen 2 (23,13 km)
1.53pm: SS 13 – Hagfors 2 (23,40 km)
3.08pm: SS 14 – Vargasen 2 (14,21 km)
5.45pm: SS 15 – Super Special Stage Karlstad 2 (1,90 km)
7.30pm: SS 16 – Torsby Sprint (2,80 km)
8.00pm: Flexi service F (Torsby – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 17 FEBRUARY
6.30am: Start day 3 and service G (Torsby – 15 mins)
7.50am: SS 17 – Likenäs 1 (21,19 km)
9.51am: SS 18 – Likenäs 2 (21,19 km)
12.18pm: SS 19 – Torsby 2 Power Stage (8,93 km)
12.38pm: Finish – Torsby, service park
1.00pm: Podium – Torsby, service park
Here’s the thoughts from the drivers.
Citroen Total Racing
“It’s a rally that I have always really enjoyed. You get a really nice feeling driving the WRCs here. I hope that we have good conditions so we can enjoy ourselves, although I’m aware that running first is very often a significant disadvantage, due to the layer of snow covering the ice. We’ll have to see how the roads evolve for the second passes, but I fear that with the layer of ice currently on the roads, the gravel will start to appear quite quickly. In testing, the feeling gradually improved as we covered more kilometres and as always, we are going to try and do our best.”
“If the conditions stay the same as those, we had in testing this week, then the layer of ice is so thin that it is likely to leave the gravel exposed pretty quickly, which means we’ll have to manage the studs on the second runs. Whatever happens, we have a good road position. The stages are fast, which I like and I feel that we worked well in testing. I just hope we’ll have a bit of luck on our side this time and our hard work will pay off.”
“Monte-Carlo was a good sign of potential for us and we can’t wait to get in the car again in Sweden. It has been a nice event for us in the past. We’ve had some pretty competitive performances in previous years, including our victory last season. It is a rally we enjoy as a crew. Our car has always worked well, allowing us to set fast times on the frozen roads and use the snow banks to push to the limit. We know our rivals will be strong, as they will be at all rallies, so we have to focus on ourselves and do the best job we can.”
“Rallye Monte-Carlo was a solid start in our new relationship with Hyundai Motorsport, particularly with our limited pre-event testing. We were in the fight for the podium all weekend, and we are ready to build from that. Rally Sweden is a very different challenge. It can be the most exciting rally of the season if it’s full ice with good conditions and sun, yet it can be very difficult if the snow is melting with rain – so naturally, we’re hoping to have good conditions.”
“Rally Sweden is a highlight in our calendar as we spend one day in Norway, so it is kind of a home rally for us. It’s the only event that is fully snow on ice. Driving with studded tyres on the stages gives you an incredible feeling, like you are floating. We were disappointed to retire from Monte but we had found a good rhythm with the car and we are confident we can be fighting at the front throughout the season.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing
“We are feeling well prepared for Sweden, but it’s always difficult to know exactly what conditions we are going to face during the event. Last year we had a lot of snow and big snow banks, which is usually what you want on a winter rally. It was hard for us to compete with our road position though, because there wasn’t a lot of grip available in the fresh snow. I’m hoping that we’ll have a better chance this year to fight at the front. When the conditions are in your favour, it can be a really fun event with such fast and flowing stages, and we know that our car can be really good there.”
“This year’s Rally Sweden is going to be very special for me. It’s where I became the youngest ever winner of a WRC round, and now I am set to become the most experienced WRC driver, on the same event, just 11 years later. At the moment we have a good amount of snow here in Finland and I am expecting the conditions to be similar in Sweden, so we should have a really nice winter rally. Hopefully we can be fighting for another great result like we had in Sweden in 2017 with the first win for the Yaris WRC. I just need to get the feeling for the driving that I was missing in Monte Carlo.”
“Monte Carlo was a positive beginning for me but it doesn’t change my immediate focus, which is on learning the car and enjoying my driving on the three very different events we have to start the season. I had a great three days of testing in Finland last week to prepare for Rally Sweden. It was really nice to experience the car for the first time with a snow setup. I came away with a really good feeling, but I’m keeping in mind that the conditions on the rally could be very different, depending on the temperatures. Hopefully we’ll have nice, consistent conditions and a rally everyone can enjoy.”
“As the only winter rally on the calendar, Rally Sweden is pretty special. We had a good test last week and it was important to get the sensation of driving on snow again. We reach incredible speeds and it’s an amazing feeling – making this one of the most enjoyable events of the year when the conditions are good.
“We’ll certainly be hoping that the conditions work in our favour next week and it will be important to make the most of the advantage if that is the case. We’ll have to wait and see what it’s like when we get there, but we have our fingers crossed for a classic Rally Sweden with plenty of snow.
“Monte didn’t end the way we wanted it to, and we need to remain focused and make good on our potential next week. We know that we have the package to achieve a strong result and both myself and Scott have had strong results at this event in the past.
“If everything works in our favour, there’s no reason why we can’t challenge for the top results and that’s what we’re all working towards delivering.”
“Last week we drove a good test day with more than 200 kilometres in Finland. We actually had a lot more set-up changes to work through this year, and I could feel we’d taken a step forward.
“Our competitiveness in Rally Sweden will of course depend a bit on the weather. There is always a chance to minimise the time loss when someone else is cleaning the road for the drivers behind. The key is to stay on the clean line for as long as possible.
“The speed in Sweden is close to the figures we reach in Rally Finland. Sometimes we may lean on the snowbanks as well, but it is not always intentional.
“We start this rally with the notes I made last year, and I expect the competition to be just as tough as it was in Monte. Everyone wants the top positions, and we will have to work hard to ensure we are also in the hunt.”
“Rally Sweden is the highlight of my year – the big one that I always look forward to and I feel one hundred percent ready to take on the challenge of my home event. And what makes it even better is that I’m behind the wheel of the most amazing car I’ve ever driven.
“To speed through the snowy forests and see all the fans, the bonfires and the Swedish flags waving is an amazing feeling that beats everything. And to know that I have family, friends and supporters out there really gives me a boost.
“I’m starting to feel very comfortable with the car and I already feel at home in the team. When we came to Monte-Carlo last month, more or less everything was new and it was all about learning. It was an extremely important experience for both me and Ola and it gave us a chance to get used to it all.
“I’ve said all along that Rally Sweden is where I want to be competitive and on top performance. This is my home event, I know it very well and I have a great feeling about it this year. It will still be very demanding and challenging, and we will have to step up our game and quickly find a good rhythm that we can hopefully keep throughout the weekend.”
Also competing for M-Sport are Gus Greensmith and Lukasz Pieniazek in WRC2 Pro.
“It took a while for my first win to sink in and I’ll admit to having to pinch myself a few times after being called a Monte winner! But this sport doesn’t wait for you to savour the moment and my mind quickly turned to Rally Sweden where I hope to go for another strong result.
“I have very little experience of this event and the driving style needed for winter rallying, so our pre-event test will be particularly important for our preparation. We’ve only got one day so we will have to be really focused and productive to try and get everything done.
“The route is pretty similar to last year so I have also spent countless hours studying the onboard videos to make sure that I am as prepared as I can be. I still don’t have a lot of experience on snow, but hopefully that will go some way to making up for it and I am definitely going to give it my all.
“It will be tough against the guys who have grown up on snow, but I have a great team around me and I feel at the top of my game – so we have every chance of continuing to challenge at the top.”
“This will be my second start in Sweden and only my third with a four-wheel-drive car on snow. I don’t have a lot of experience in these conditions, but I really enjoy them.
“To prepare, we had a good three-day test in Estonia where we completed around 450 kilometres and got a good feeling with the Fiesta and a good understanding of how it handles in these snowy conditions. We’ll have another test with the team on Monday and I’m really looking forward to the rally.
“I really like driving on snow. The studded tyres give great grip but it does take some getting used to which is pretty challenging. Then there are the snowbanks. You don’t want to get stuck in one of them so it’s important to be really precise – especially in the narrow sections.
“My number one goal is to give my best and go as fast as we can. It will be our first rally with the new team and with a new car so let’s see what we can do.
“The recce will be very important to understand the conditions and choose the right setup. If we do that, then I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun on some of the most beautiful stages on the calendar.”
Don’t forget, there’s lots of coverage on WRC+ and BT Sport showing every stage live. Who will win? It’s going to be fun finding out! Enjoy!
Not only did they take their sixth victory, it was Citroen’s 100th WRC victory. Poignant given the manufacturer is celebrating it’s 100th year since their first car was released.
Here’s the story of how it all came together.
Thursday evening after shakedown, saw two-night stages and they totalled just over 40km’s. There were some really tricky ice-covered parts, which meant that studded tyres were the way to go.
SS 1 – La Breole – Selonnet (20,76 km) was first up and we saw the world champion take care, setting the third fastest time, with Ott and Kris ahead in their Yaris WRC cars. Ten seconds covered the top three, with Loeb a further thirteen seconds back in fourth, making his first start in the i20. Elfyn also was going well, with Scott Martin alongside him sitting in sixth, it’s great to see two drivers from the UK going so well near the head of the field. Sadly, Teemu and Marko slid out on the first stage, after around three kilometres, but with overnight service, they would be able to return to the action on Friday.
SS 2 – Avançon – Notre Dame du Laus (20,59 km), saw some changes, with Thierry setting the fastest time and jumping up to third overall. Just behind him were the usual suspects of Ogier and Tanak, his rivals from last season. Sadly, Kris lost a minute in the stage, falling to seventh overall after he got a puncture. Elfyn maintained his sixth place, despite Lappi and Latvala passing him and moving into fourth and fifth.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1 (Thursday)
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 26:33.0
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +9.1
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +14.3
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +45.2
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +46.4
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +48.2
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +53.8
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 55.2
Mikkelsen / Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 WRC) +59.6
Tidemand / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:41.1
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (1st)
“It was a tough start to the rally tonight, as we were expecting. There were some extremely tricky and changeable conditions on the first stage, but I had a really good feeling in the car. It was still quite easy to feel the grip changes and this gave me good confidence. The second one was mostly dry asphalt which was a challenge with a mix of tyres, but we had a good run. Overall, I still think our tyre choice was the right one. Tomorrow will be a long day and we will be expecting more of the usual Monte challenges.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th)
“It was very challenging conditions this evening, in the darkness with a mix of ice and damp patches. When the conditions are difficult like this the time differences can be quite big. In the first stage I lost a lot of time as I wasn’t that confident. I didn’t have those type of conditions in my test, so I was missing the feeling. But we got through and that’s the most important thing. Tomorrow is another day and things can change very quickly in this event, so we need to be patient.”
Kris Meeke (7th)
“It was a tricky start to the rally with changing conditions, but I felt really confident with the car, I had a good feeling. On the second stage it was drier but it still felt nice to drive. Then for some reason we got a puncture. I don’t believe we hit anything. But we can’t let that get us down so early on a Rallye Monte-Carlo. I’m enjoying it and I’m confident in the car, so let’s see what the rest of the weekend brings.”
Citroen Total Racing
Sébastien Ogier (2nd)
“For my first two stages in the C3 WRC, clearly I’m pleased with the outcome, especially in these conditions. Perhaps I was bit too cautious on the first stage, but it’s difficult to really go for it when you are driving a new car competitively for the first time. But I certainly produced a decent time with the studded tyres on the second stage. I think that I made an intelligent start to the rally.”
Esapekka Lappi (4th)
“It was easy to make a mistake on tonight’s opening two stages, especially on SS1. I probably thought about that prospect a little too much and ended up being too cautious. We played it safe on the set-up as well. It was perhaps a little too soft. However, the confidence gradually came on SS2 and although there are already big gaps between the crews, I’m right in the mix, especially as there’s still a long way to go and plenty of things can happen yet!”
Thierry Neuville (3rd)
“We have started our season with the right mentality, trying to find our own direction and going with our feelings. The tyre choice this evening was a compromise. With the information we had, we felt we made a good choice, and at the end it was OK. I was perhaps expecting to gain more time on the second stage in the dry conditions but we didn’t, which was a shame. But it’s not too bad considering it’s so early in the rally. We will see what the weather does tomorrow and aim to stay in the fight for the win.”
Seb Loeb (8th)
“It has been good to make our debut as a Hyundai Motorsport crew, even if it was a tricky start. The opening has not been too bad, even if it is not easy to start in the night and in icy conditions. The first stage went OK but we didn’t select the best tyres for the second one and we suffered as a result of that. We perhaps underestimated the performance gap between the slick tyres and four snow tyres. We made it to the end and that’s the most important thing. Tomorrow, our aim is to get into a good rhythm on the slicks and take it from there.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (9th)
“A typically tricky start to Rallye Monte-Carlo! In the opening stage, about 1km from the finish, I thought the stage had ended and I started to back off. It was a silly mistake that cost us time. Other than that we just took things cautiously. The second stage was completely dry and we were on four winter tyres: we were sliding everywhere. We could have opted for crossed tyres but I don’t have much experience with this car in such conditions. We did the best we could.”
Elfyn Evans (6th)
“It’s been a typical start to Rallye Monte-Carlo with some really challenging conditions. We could have gone harder for sure, and I was kicking myself in a few places, but we delivered a clean run and are in a reasonably good position going into tomorrow – which is always the most important thing.”
Pontus Tidemand (10th)
“This car is amazing to drive, so I have to be clever and stop myself from pushing too hard! I really want to take the maximum, but I have to be careful as I need the experience from this rally and want to learn as much as I can.”
Also going well was Gus Greensmith.
Gus Greensmith (1st WRC 2 Pro)
“That was a proper start to Rallye Monte-Carlo and I now understand why Malcolm [Wilson, M-Sport Managing Director] kept telling me to come and do this rally! The conditions were extremely tricky and even though we weren’t fully committed, we made it through. We’ll step it up tomorrow and aim to get back on the good pace we showed in shakedown.”
Friday would see the longest day, but unfortunately the problem with spectators in the wrong places on stage, meant that stage three – Valdrome – Sigottier 1 (20,04 km), the first on Friday morning, would be cancelled. These individuals should really think about what they are doing, as they are really spoiling the event for those who are doing the right thing.
The action therefore would start on SS 4 – Roussieux – Laborel 1 (24,05 km), and Seb Loeb took his first stage victory for Hyundai, with Thierry and Seb Ogier in second and third, rueing the fact he was on studded tyres. The Belgian was now leading and its fair to say that Hyundai had made the best tyre choice, with Loeb and Mikkelsen moving up the leaderboard as well.
Seb Ogier hit back in SS 5 – Curbans – Piegut 1 (18,47 km), winning the stage and passing Ott and moving into second place again, whilst further back Andreas and Jari-Matti jumped up to fifth and sixth, passing Lappi, Evans and Meeke, who were now in seventh, eighth and ninth overall.
Ogier also won SS 6 – Valdrome – Sigottier 2 (20,04 km), despite his tyre choice meaning he’d struggle with the car. In fact, Latvala set exactly the same time, so they shared the stage victory. By contrast, Esapekka hit trouble unfortunately breaking his suspension on a rock. This would result in the Finn having to retire from the rest of the day’s action. Thierry’s lead over the Frenchman was now just 1.4 seconds. Loeb, dropped a lot of time, with the result he’d fall from fourth to seventh, with Andreas, Jari-Matti and Kris all benefitting, moving ahead of the nine-time world champion.
Loeb won SS 7 – Roussieux – Laborel 2 (24,05 km), from Evans and Ogier and with Thierry a further 14 seconds behind, and Ogier took the overall lead. Loeb’s fastest time moved him up to third place as well, whilst Evans’ great time, meant he moved up into sixth place. Both Tanak and Meeke suffered drama’s losing huge time to the leaders and now Toyota’s best placed driver was Jari-Matti in fifth place, just seven seconds behind Mikkelsen.
The final stage of the day, SS 8 – Curbans – Piegut 2 (18,47 km), saw Thierry throw caution to the wind, winning from Tanak and Latvala, and with Ogier taking it carefully, after having no studs left in his tyres, and a super slippery stage, the Belgian reduced Ogier’s lead by twelve seconds! Also going well were Andreas and Jari-Matti who both moved up ahead again of Loeb, with Andreas now in third overall.
“Obviously, I’m pleased to end the day leading the rally after another really difficult day, where there were some really significant changes in the conditions and the rhythm from one stage to the next. We perhaps didn’t have the ideal tyre set-up for this afternoon, but we nonetheless managed to cope with that. I’m driving with confidence in the C3 WRC and our strategy of taking an intelligent approach to the rally has paid dividends thus far, since we haven’t made any mistakes at all. I’m going to try and keep it up, especially as tomorrow’s leg looks set to be very tricky again, particularly on Saint Léger Les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve.”
Esapekka Lappi (Rally2)
“Like several other crews, our tyre strategy was seriously compromised this morning when the first stage was cancelled as it had more or less dictated our choice of going with four studded tyres. Then at the start of the afternoon, I hit something hard on a corner, probably a rock. It immediately broke the suspension wishbone and we were unable to repair it. It’s obviously a shame but we’ll now look to use the rest of the rally to continue to get used to the C3 WRC. We might even try out a few set-up options that we wouldn’t have dared to attempt under normal circumstances.”
Thierry Neuville (2nd)
“What a day! We had a good morning loop. The first stage was cancelled but we made the right tyre choice, and could catch some time back. Everything worked well: I was happy with my driving the pace notes were really good and I was confident in the car. Tyre choice has been key all day, as is to be expected at this rally. The start of the afternoon loop didn’t go as planned, as we approached a corner too fast and had to use the escape road. We lost around 19 seconds of time, which was frustrating because that mistake cost us the chance to hold the lead. We kept pushing hard and finished the day with a stage win to reduce the gap to Ogier. It certainly makes for an exciting rally! Thanks to our gravel crew for a great job today, which has allowed us to attack with full confidence. There’s still room for improvement.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (3rd)
“I am pleased to be in the provisional podium positions after another tough day. It is easy to make mistakes in these conditions so I am pleased to have had a clean and relatively competitive day. Tyre choice has been tough for everyone. We were helped with the cancelled stage first thing this morning but in the end, things turned out well. In the afternoon, it was hard to tell where we would compare with so many tyre variations being deployed. It’s a bit of cat and mouse in this rally, where you have to work out where you can find the advantage, or minimise the disadvantage. I think we’ve done that well today. We’re only halfway through the stages, so there’s a lot of hard work still ahead of us.”
Seb Loeb (5th)
“It has been good to secure my first stage wins in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. It’s not so easy to win stages in the World Rally Championship so this is a nice feeling. We’ve had a pretty good day overall. We are at least still in the game, even if it’s not for the victory. In the opening loop, we opted for slick tyres, so we were helped by the first stage being cancelled. In the afternoon, it was a similar situation where we knew we would lose time on the first stage but then gained back in the others. The feeling in the car has been encouraging so we aim to continue with this rhythm on Saturday.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Jari-Matti Latvala (4th)
“Overall, I must say it was quite a positive day. I think we had a good strategy for this morning, but when they cancelled the first stage it affected us quite significantly. Still, I started to get a good feeling with the driving. This afternoon we played it safe and ran with four snow tyres on two of the stages. On SS7 we had a mix of tyres and I was maybe a bit too careful, but SS6 and SS8 on the snow tyres both went well and in general I’m happy. It’s good to be in the fight for the third place on the podium.”
Ott Tänak (7th)
“It has generally been quite a challenging day. This morning our strategy was based mainly on the first stage, so the cancellation meant that we no longer had a good tyre choice for the loop. This afternoon, the first stage was quite tricky with a mix of snow, slush, and dry road. Then on the next one we had a puncture, so we had to stop and change the tyre. The last stage was more of a consistent run for us. There is still a long way to go and we will do everything we can.”
Kris Meeke (8th)
“Our road position today was not ideal the drivers ahead were pulling lots of mud out onto the road, which was making it very slippery for me but we could still set some good times and gain some positions. Unfortunately, we then had the damaged wheel rim and we had to stop and change it. Nonetheless, I am really enjoying the driving after nine months away, and with a bit more luck we could be sitting in a podium place. Now we’re relying on others having problems, but we’re looking forward to what’s to come.”
Elfyn Evans (6th)
“We had a pretty good day behind the wheel, but were maybe just a little bit too brave on the tyre choice this afternoon. It’s all part of the game and it was certainly nice to get a feeling for the car on pure Tarmac with full Tarmac tyres again [on SS7]. The rest of the day has been pretty tricky and we lost a bit too much time on the icy sections, but that’s what this rally is all about. We’re still here, and we’ll keep at it tomorrow.”
Teemu Suninen (22nd / Rally 2)
“Of course, I always want to be faster, but I think we have had a good day getting through all of the kilometres and learning a lot about this rally. We took four slick and two studded tyres this afternoon which might have been a bit of a risk. On the first stage there was a long snow section – about seven or eight kilometres – and we lost a lot of time there; but on the other hand we were fourth fastest on the next stage where I would say we had the best possible tyre choice.”
Pontus Tidemand (40th / Rally 2)
“On the inside of a corner I was just following the line, but there was something there and it broke the wishbone. I don’t know what it was, but it was the same corner where Esapekka [Lappi] also had some damage. Before that the pace was getting better and better. It will take some time to get there, but I felt like everything was going in the right direction. For sure we are just here to learn, and we plan to continue that tomorrow.”
Gus Greensmith (1st WRC 2 Pro and 1st RC2)
“We had a bit of a tricky morning with some overheating issues which meant that we couldn’t always run in full stage mode. We lost a bit of time there, but we were still able to reduce the gap to class-leader Bonato. “This afternoon we decided to take quite a risky tyre choice with four slick and two snow tyres. We knew we would lose time on the first stage [SS6] and we lost 22 seconds to Bonato in there. But on the next one [SS7] we were able to take back 36 seconds, and on the last one [SS8] we pulled back 29 which means that we now have a six second class lead going into tomorrow. “The car feels really good, I feel really good, and we just need to keep doing the same thing tomorrow.”
Saturday started much better, with no cancelled stages. SS 9 – Agnières en Devoluy – Corps 1 (29,82 km) was won by Ott with Kris setting a great time, just four tenths slower and confirming he was feeling comfortable in the Yaris and with Seb Marshall doing a great job alongside him. Ogier increased his lead over Thierry to 5.6 seconds. Loeb moved back into third as Andreas was thirty seconds off the pace and Elfyn dropped one place to seventh, after getting a puncture, now behind Ott. Unfortunately, Esapekka retired with a mechanical problem. There was a huge accident for Andreas though after he lost control of his car, powering out of a corner and ripping the entire wheel and suspension from the left-rear. He was out.
Ott Tanak set a great time, taking his second stage win in a row in SS 10 – St Léger les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve 1 (16,87 km), but it was the retirement of Elfyn which was such a shame. He lost control of the car on black ice, that pulled the car to the edge of the road and after that he and Scott were just passengers. He tried to power the car back onto the road, but ended up hitting a tree, which had the effect of spinning the car round and taking a wheel off as well. Jari-Matti passed Loeb, moving up into third place overall.
SS 11 – Agnières en Devoluy – Corps 2 (29,82 km) saw Ott take his third stage victory in a row, whilst the battle between Loeb and Latvala, saw the Frenchman move back into third overall, but there was only two seconds between them – This was certainly not over. Also, the gap between Neuville and Ogier remained very close at just around four seconds separating them.
Ott confirmed that the combination of him and the Toyota was now the best out there, winning SS 12 – St Léger les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve 2 (16,87 km). He’d won every stage on Saturday, and Kris was second fastest again, just half a second from his teammate. Not only that, he’d reduced the gap to the front by sixteen seconds and was just a further sixteen seconds from third place.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 3 (Saturday)
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:38:30.0
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +4.3
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:58.7
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:01.0
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:16.0
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5:26.8
Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta R5) +10:12.0
Bonato / Boulloud (Citroën C3 R5) +11:43.4
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (1st)
“I’m pleased with my day, because once again today we had to find the right balance between pushing when it was dry and being cautious where it was icy and more slippery. But there’s still a long way to go. I’m expecting the final leg to be really close, but perhaps the conditions won’t be so tricky, although the top of the Col du Turini always throws up a few surprises. The C3 WRC has proven it is a competitive car on these roads, so I have high hopes that it will work well on tomorrow’s stages. Obviously, I’m going to try to win this rally, which means so much to me.”
Esapekka Lappi (DNF)
“Obviously, it’s a shame that we had this terminal issue with the engine, but it’s just part and parcel of racing. I hope to have a bit more luck in Sweden. In any case, I’m going to try and make the most of my two days of testing, so that I’m fully prepared and ready to fight on the fast stages of this event. It’s a rally that I really like.”
Thierry Neuville (2nd)
“Overall it has been a good day and the game is still very much on. We have lost 2.3s compared to Ogier over four stages, which is not too bad. It was difficult to know what rhythm was best on these stages. I know I could have gone faster in some places, especially this morning, but if you push too much it’s easy to make a mistake. I didn’t want to take any risks but at the same time we had to keep the pressure on Ogier. It is his home rally so he knows the area very well. We will, of course, try to win tomorrow but we also have to be clever and think about the bigger picture.”
Seb Loeb (3rd)
“We have been in a great battle with Jari-Matti today, one time he was ahead and then it was me, things were constantly changing over the four stages. I’ve enjoyed it. This morning I wasn’t completely comfortable with the set-up of the car, so we made some adjustments at lunchtime service, which gave me a better feeling. The Toyotas have shown good pace today so the battle for third place will be tough. I will do whatever I can to push for the podium on Sunday, but we’ll have to see if that’s enough. I hope we will have less ice and more dry tarmac so we can get the slicks on the car for the final stages!”
Andreas Mikkelsen (DNF)
“I am really disappointed but there are positives to take away. It had been such a good start to the rally, and the feeling with the car has been fantastic. Unfortunately, at the end of the opening stage I lost the rear in a right-hand corner and the impact damaged the left-rear wheel. Game over for us and not the result we were going for. I’m really sorry for that on behalf of the team. Now we have to look ahead. We have been on the pace, fighting for the podium and that’s what we will bring with us to Rally Sweden.”
“It’s been a great fight with Sebastien Loeb over third place today. At first, he was ahead, then I was ahead, and now he’s ahead again, but the gap is very small. I was hoping that I could have kept him behind, but when the conditions were mixed, I was maybe not so strong. It looks as though tomorrow’s stages could be drier: I’ve been doing a lot of testing on dry roads so I’m quite comfortable with the car in those conditions. Hopefully that works in our favour and we can be on the podium in Monte Carlo tomorrow.”
Ott Tänak (5th)
“It’s been a good day today: a normal day in the office. This afternoon we did something a bit different with the tyres compared to the others to try and gain some more time. In the end we gained a little bit, not much, but every bit helps. Thanks to my gravel crew who pushed me to do something different, because it paid off. The car has been nice to drive and it’s giving me confidence. We didn’t need to change the setup at lunchtime, and everything’s been working as it should. We’ve gained almost a minute back compared to the two guys in front, and I will keep pushing tomorrow.”
Kris Meeke (6th)
“Even though the conditions were tricky, I really enjoyed it today. The Yaris just seems natural to drive, it does what you want. I’m gradually building in confidence. We were really close to Ott’s times on a couple of the stages: Over 30 kilometres of snow, ice, greasy, slippery conditions there were only a few tenths of a second in it, so I’m happy to be there or there about already. I’ve still got a bit to learn about the car, but when it comes so naturally, it bodes well for the future. When we get to the powerstage we’ll give it a go and see what we can do.”
Elfyn Evans (DNF)
“The first stage this morning [SS9] started off okay, but we picked up a puncture which was pretty unlucky. It was on the rear in a cut that everyone else had been in. It was just one of those things, and we made the decision to continue which I think was right in terms of time. “Then on the next stage [SS10] there was a pretty straight forward left-hander that’s been around for a number of years. I didn’t approach it any differently to how I usually would, but it seems as though the grip levels were particularly low. “Maybe there was some black ice as a few cars got caught out, but they were a lot luckier than us. There was quite a steep bank with some trees on the outside, the car got dragged down, and that’s where our Rallye Monte-Carlo came to the end. “Everyone comes to a rally with the best intentions, and it definitely wasn’t part of the plan to start the year on the bad note. All of our attentions are now fully focused on the next event and we’re looking forward to getting back on it in Sweden.”
“Today was a pretty good day for us and we didn’t make any mistakes. We showed good pace this morning, but in the afternoon, I was too careful. I was concentrated on looking after the studs, but actually the ice layer had become so thin that the studs didn’t give any extra grip. But I think I can be happy with my day and how my pace has improved throughout the weekend.”
Pontus Tidemand (24th)
“We have seen some very tricky conditions today so I’m glad to be here. We had a slow puncture after six kilometres in the first stage this morning [SS9] and, as we only had one spare, we took it really carefully after that. “It’s so easy to make a mistake in these conditions so I tried to be on the safe side this afternoon as well. We need time in the car to learn, and it was important to make sure that we continue to get more experience tomorrow.”
Gus Greensmith (1st WRC 2 Pro and RC2) said:
“Three out of four stage wins, so I would call that a good day. I’ve had this calm, quiet confidence with the car today I’ve never had before; and I’ve felt as though I can control the pace exactly as I want to. “I took the first two stages quite easy as I knew that they were tricky, but I was still able to open the lead from six to twenty seconds. We had a bit of a blip in the first stage of the afternoon [SS11] where I lost five seconds, but we were back on it for the last one [SS12]. “After Bonato made a mistake the lead went up to over a minute and a half so we’ve given ourselves a nice buffer for tomorrow. We don’t need to do anything silly. We can be conservative with the tyre choices and bring it home for the win.”
The first stage, SS 13 – La Bollène Vésubie – Peira Cava 1 (18,41 km) saw Ott continue to fly, winning the stage from Thierry who was starting to apply some pressure to Ogier as the gap between them at the top was now 3.3 seconds. Were we about to witness a similar result to last years Rally de Italia…? Loeb was losing time as well, as the gap to Ott was now just five seconds after the Frenchman lost eleven and a half seconds.
Ott conquered SS 14 – La Cabanette – Col de Braus 1 (13,58 km) as well, winning again and moving ahead of Loeb into third place from fifth! He’d jumped both Jari-Matti and Loeb in one stage! Ogier was driving with a problem with his throttle, and pretty much held off Thierry in this one, but how would he fare in the longer stage that followed?
Thierry won SS 15 – La Bollène Vésubie – Peira Cava 2 (18,41 km), bringing Ott’s run to an end and cutting Ogier’s lead to just four tenths of a second. The gaps behind were pretty static now, with Ott over two minutes behind Thierry, Loeb a further seven seconds behind and Jari-Matti three seconds behind Loeb. Despite having to restart under Rally2 regs, Suninen and Tidemand were in the points as well.
The final stage then, SS 16 – La Cabanette – Col de Braus 2 – Power Stage (13,58 km), and Kris set the best time from Ogier and Neuville. Seb and Julien had done it, with the gap between them and Thierry and Nicolas just 2.2 seconds!
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) 3:21.15.9
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2.2
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:15.2
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +2:28.2
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:29.9
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5:36.2
Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta R5) +13:04.6
Bonato / Boulloud (Citroën C3 R5) +13:56.5
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (1st)
“We certainly weren’t taking anything for granted. The final leg, in particular, was really stressful and difficult with our minor throttle issue, which meant the car kept on accelerating, even under braking. We got some good advice from the team and were able to perform some makeshift repairs on the road section. We then pushed really hard and, in the end, it worked out! It was an incredibly intense weekend. It was a non-stop battle, but we managed to come away with the win. Obviously, we’re very proud of this result in our first race with the C3 WRC, especially because, as I’ve often said, this rally is the one that is the most special for me. And it also means we can celebrate Citroën’s centenary in style. In other words, we couldn’t have hoped for a better start on our first race back with the team!”
Thierry Neuville (2nd)
“What an incredibly close fight! We can be pleased with this result, which gets our 2019 campaign off to a very positive start. Of course, when you are in with a chance of fighting for Monte-Carlo victory, you want to push for it but it wasn’t to be on this occasion. We gave it everything we had but a small mistake on Friday cost us the lead and we weren’t quite able to catch it back. That’s part of the game. We enjoyed the weekend a lot even if it wasn’t easy. We can now look ahead to Sweden, where we will be second on the road, ready for another nice battle. Thanks to the whole team for a great weekend in tricky conditions at times.”
Seb Loeb (4th)
“It has been an exciting weekend for WRC with an incredible battle for the victory and the podium. Fourth place is not so bad. I struggled with the set-up of the car on occasions, which is to be expected with such little time to test before the event. We made adjustments in between each loop in an effort to find our way, and we made good progress. We have to continue like this and see what we can achieve in Sweden. To be fighting for the podium in my first event for Hyundai Motorsport gives us all the motivation we need for the next rally. It’s a pleasure to be part of this team, and a positive way to start a new relationship.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (3rd)
“I am very pleased with this podium. After Friday I didn’t have such high hopes. I’m surprised we could catch all this time back on asphalt in relatively dry conditions. We had a good run this morning and then we just had to maintain our position to the finish. I’m really happy with the team, with my gravel crew and with the car. We did a perfect job on Saturday and Sunday and we should all feel proud of ourselves.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (5th)
“It was a close fight for the whole weekend, but I wasn’t at my best, I must say. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t take fourth place today. But I realise now that I made a mistake in our test and I developed the wrong sort of setup for the rally. Because of that, my car was understeering too much for my driving style, and the confidence wasn’t there to go faster. But we had a clean weekend with no errors and we have scored some good points, which is important to start the season. We know that the car is capable of winning.”
Kris Meeke (6th)
“To win the Power Stage was an incredible way to finish our first rally with Toyota. We only set one fastest time this weekend but we did it when it counted. Other drivers were still fighting for their positions until the end, so to put it on the line and come away with the five points is great. We had technical issues this weekend that affected our result – fourth might have been possible – but to show our speed is really nice. The feeling with the car is really good. Finally, everything seems to be coming together for me, but we’re only one rally in, so we have to stay concentrated now and look forward to Sweden.”
Teemu Suninen (11th)
“It’s a shame that we went off on the first stage because the rest of the rally has been really good. But we got a lot of good experience and I had some pace on the snow sections. The more we learnt, the more we were able to build our pace and I was happy to get a Power Stage point today – beating Latvala and Loeb who were both fighting for position.”
Pontus Tidemand (20th)
“This car is amazing to drive and I have had a lot of fun this weekend. I’ve learnt a lot and need to thank the team and my route note crew for a really good job. We’ll analyse where we were good and where we weren’t quite so good. On the slippery sections we set some really fast splits, but on the dry Tarmac we weren’t on the pace and I need more time behind the wheel to use the full potential of the car. But it was good to get the kilometres and the experience. And we’ll have a good test before Rally Sweden where I hope to show another improvement.”
WRC 2 Pro Winner
“I’m pretty sure this is the best day of my life so far! It took us a while to get here, but it’s an amazing feeling and there are so many people I need to thank. It was almost a perfect rally from beginning to end and we did everything we needed to do. When we needed to push and build a gap, we did. And when we needed to control it, we did. It’s definitely been my best ever performance behind the wheel, and now I’m just looking forward to a beer and letting it all sink in!”
“It’s been a brilliant rally back with Gus and we couldn’t have asked for any more. Monte is always a challenge so I can’t say it was easy, but we managed the whole weekend really well. We showed speed when we had to, and were more cautious when we could afford to be. We couldn’t have asked for a better start and here’s hoping for more good results as the season continues!”
Just incredible. Clearly, 2019 has picked off from where 2018 ended. The three fastest crews are the same. Also, we can see how that group could grow, with Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall and Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin looking comfortable in their cars.
Next up is Rally Sweden, from the 14th to 17th of February.
Here we go again! Time to get the WRC season underway! The teams have been testing and they are ready to go! It’s the 87th running of this classic event, and it promises to be just as incredible as ever!
Now here’s the full stage info! Based in Gap as usual, shakedown will be very interesting, particularly if its snowing, or icy which is certainly possible. Some proper stages get the event underway on Thursday evening, with over 40km’s of competitive kilometres over the two evening stages. These are very interesting, as they’ve never been used before, making local knowledge very important! Perhaps Seb Ogier will use these to his advantage?
Friday sees the longest day of all with 125km’s of action, and although there are just four stages on Saturday, these add up to 93.38km’s. Whilst Sunday will see the Col du Turini form part of the morning stages.
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY
10.00am: Shakedown (Gap)
6.50pm: Start day 1 (Gap – Place Desmichels)
7.38pm: SS 1 – La Breole – Selonnet (20,76 km)
8.41pm: SS 2 – Avançon – Notre Dame du Laus (20,59 km)
9.41pm: Flexi service A (Gap – 48 mins)
FRIDAY 25 JANUARY
7.30am: Start day 2 and service B (Gap – 18 mins)
9.11am: SS 3 – Valdrome – Sigottier 1 (20,04 km)
10.14am: SS 4 – Roussieux – Laborel 1 (24,05 km)
11.37am: SS 5 – Curbans – Piegut 1 (18,47 km)
12.27pm: Service C (Gap – 33 mins)
2.23pm: SS 6 – Valdrome – Sigottier 2 (20,04 km)
3.26pm: SS 7 – Roussieux – Laborel 2 (24,05 km)
4.49pm: SS 8 – Curbans – Piegut 2 (18,47 km)
5.44pm: Flexi service D (Gap – 48 mins)
SATURDAY 26 JANUARY
7.37am: Start day 3 and service E (Gap – 18 mins)
8.48am: SS 9 – Agnières en Devoluy – Corps 1 (29,82 km)
10.06am: SS 10 – St Léger les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve 1 (16,87 km)
11.21am: Service F (Gap – 33 mins)
12.47pm: SS 11 – Agnières en Devoluy – Corps 2 (29,82 km)
2.08pm: SS 12 – St Léger les Mélèzes – La Batie Neuve 2 (16,87 km)
3.18pm: Service G (Gap – 48 mins)
8.06pm: Parc ferme (Monaco)
SUNDAY 27 JANUARY
6.22am: Start day 4
8.20am: SS 13 – La Bollène Vésubie – Peira Cava 1 (18,41 km)
9.08am: SS 14 – La Cabanette – Col de Braus 1 (13,58 km)
10.55am: SS 15 – La Bollène Vésubie – Peira Cava 2 (18,41 km)
12.18pm: SS 16 – La Cabanette – Col de Braus 2 – Power Stage (13,58 km)
1.58pm: Parc ferme (Monaco – Quai Albert 1er)
3.00pm: Prize giving (Monaco – Quai Albert 1er)
Citroen Total WRT
“I had a wide variety of conditions during my three and a half days of testing, which was pretty good and enabled us to work on achieving the best possible compromise. The feeling was good, but it’s always difficult to estimate your level of performance for the first race in a new car. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and trust my feeling. This is especially true because Monte is a rally that you are more likely to win by driving intelligently, rather than on the limit, given how many places there are where you can get caught out. In any case, I’ve always done well here and I hope that my experience will help me again!”
“I’m pleased with our tests since we were able to try out everything, apart from completely dry tarmac. With the team, we found a set-up that suits me and I felt comfortable in the car. Having said all that, the Rallye Monte-Carlo is still a huge challenge. It’s an event you have to treat with great respect, especially as it’s never really the same rally from one year to the next, given the way the conditions are constantly changing. I hope to have amassed enough experience in the past to be able to fight near the front. A top-five finish would be a good start to the season for me.”
“We are revved up and determined to get the 2019 WRC season off to the best start possible. The tricky, demanding nature of Rallye Monte-Carlo is well documented. The combination of tarmac roads with unpredictable snow and ice conditions makes it a rally like no other. It is an event I enjoy. We’ve built up competitive pace in recent seasons, even if the results have not really been there. I expect – and hope – to fight for the podium, and I will even be looking to go for the victory if at all possible. There will be lots of strategies at play, especially with tyres, and we will need to be absolutely precise with our notes. We will give it our best shot and aim to get a good haul of points to start our 2019 championship campaign.”
“Here we go again, starting a brand-new championship with two of my favourite events in a row – Monte-Carlo and Sweden. Anders and I have worked hard over the winter to learn from our first full season as a Hyundai Motorsport crew, as we aim to build a consistent and strong assault for 2019. Monte-Carlo is always a special rally, and a very difficult one to begin the year. I have often been quick in this event, having taken two podiums. We were also competitive in 2018, despite the final result, scoring a stage win and Power Stage points. Hopefully, we can get a positive start to the new season against another strong field of WRC entries.”
“Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of our favourites. Daniel, my co-driver, is Monegasque, so it’s his home rally for him, while it is also something of a home event for me as all of the stages are in France. Conditions can affect the road a lot at Monte, whether it’s full tarmac, snow or ice. The most complicated thing is to find the right rhythm and not to fall into any traps: there is every possibility of finding ice plates as the temperature drops overnight. You always have to adapt to the changing and unpredictable conditions. I have always been quite good in these circumstances. This year will be a particularly special one with a new team and a new car. We won’t have had a lot of testing time ahead of the rally, and there are lots of tough, new stages for me, but I am very motivated.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I am feeling much more relaxed heading to Rallye Monte-Carlo this year. Twelve months ago, everything was new for me, but now I am going into the season with the same car and the same people and I believe that we are a really strong team now. All of the knowledge and experience we gained last year will only make us better. Personally, I am hungrier than ever, after having come so close in the championship last year. We know that we just need to be smart, particularly on an event that is as unpredictable as this one. Second place was a great result on the Monte last year and it would be nice if we can go one better, but we are up against some really strong opposition.”
“Together with my co-driver Miikka, we are about to start our 13th full season in the WRC. There is still a lot of motivation to fight for rally wins, and maybe the drivers’ championship too: this is still the ultimate dream. The second half of last season was really good for us and if we can continue that trend then we should be right up there. We know the car is reliable and fast, so it is up to us drivers to get the most out of it. I have finished on the podium in Monte Carlo in both of the last two years with the Yaris WRC and it would be ideal to keep that run going, but the key is to have a clean weekend and minimise the mistakes.”
“I am really excited to get going with what is a new start for me, with a new team, a new car, and even a new co-driver. What the team was able to achieve last season, particularly in the second half of the year, gives me a lot of confidence in the car that I am going to have underneath me. Driving the car, myself, I have been impressed by what it is capable of. I am still learning though, so I am not setting any big targets for Rallye Monte-Carlo. My immediate priority is simply to enjoy driving again, and the Monte is certainly an event I have enjoyed in the past.”
“I’m looking forward to getting this season underway and seeing what myself and Scott can achieve together. We’re both really motivated and determined to secure some strong results this year – and I see no reason why we shouldn’t be doing that from the very first event in Monte.
“We know from last year that we have the speed and the team have been working really hard to improve the car even further. It felt good on the test and we managed to get a feel for a lot of different conditions – damp to wet Tarmac on the first day followed by full snow on the second.
“I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of an event like Monte, but I tend not to look at the forecasts too far in advance. The weather is constantly changing and you need to be able to adapt to the conditions and make the correct tyre choices at short notice – something we’re very much focused on doing next week.”
“I’m really excited to start this new season, and the expectations are greater than ever! We’ve completed a lot of test kilometres and I’m feeling really well prepared. Last week Elfyn and I shared a couple of days and we both managed to get a lot of kilometres. We also drove two days at the end of last year, so when you put it all together our preparation has never been better! “The car feels really nice and really easy to drive – something I think is important in Monte as it’s a rally where the driver makes the biggest difference. Starting the rally with two-night stages is always a big challenge and we will need to be alert. It would be nice to start the rally with a good stage time, and that is what we’ll be aiming for. “We’re using the same notes as last year and I have to say that my preparation with Marko has been really good – everything has been perfect before the start of the season and I hope it stays that way as I tackle this famous rally for the first time with a world rally car!”
“This is a really exciting time for me and I’m looking forward to making my debut in a new-generation world rally car. Last week we had a pre-event test with a lot of snow and ice and the feeling was really good. But in Monte you never know what the weather is going to do and we’ll still need some time to learn the team and the car. “The conditions make this one of the most challenging events on the calendar. On dry Tarmac the grip is quite high, but when there’s ice and snow the grip is zero and it looks as though we could experience a proper Monte with all kinds of conditions next week. “Ola has a lot of experience so it’s great to have him alongside me, and I know the team will give us a lot of guidance and advice throughout the weekend. We spent some days in the workshop this week – getting to know the team and the car – and I think we’re as prepared as we can be. The goal is to get to the finish with as much knowledge and experience as possible.”
Also running the full season of WRC 2 Pro for M-Sport is Gus Greensmith. He contested the event in a Fiesta R2 last year, setting some good times and winning stages before a mechanical problem put him out. He is partnered by new co-driver Elliott Edmondson.
“The conditions at Rallye Monte-Carlo are so unpredictable and you have to be very aware and focused to pull together a winning performance. It’s crazy. One second, it’s dry and the next it’s full snow! And the thrill of driving on snow with a Tarmac set-up is second to none!
“A win in Monte is something that every driver wants to achieve, and we’ll be pushing towards that goal. I’ve got a good feeling for the rally, and just need to bring it all together next week.”
Well, we are set then for an exciting season and I for one cannot wait!
Continuing my recap of WRC Super Saturday, I then spoke to Toyota WRC driver Ott Tanak and team boss Tommi Makinen.
I asked Ott Tanak to rate his first year at Toyota.
We had a strong year, but at the start of the year it wasn’t easy, I didn’t know what to expect and there was a bit unknown, I believe everything went well, went better than expected, but in the we lost the championship, but still we can say it was a strong year and definitely got a good relationship in the team and we improved and developed over the season pretty well. For the future it’s definitely looking good and I believe this year, going into the season already for the second time with the same car same team same people it feels more relaxed.
I then spoke to Tommi Makinen
I asked him for his thoughts on the 2018 season and in particular how satisfying it was for the team to win the manufacturers title in the second season back.
Well, it was not looking so good in the middle of the season, but then the absolutely constant R & D brought improvements and then Ott Tanak at the same time learned the car and he was clearly fast. Now it is looking good, with reliability looking good, but there are some areas we need to improve the backup ideas, but then how it fits in with the regulations, how you do something with software, but we’ll keep working and developing.
I asked him what is it that makes the Finnish and Japanese work so well together?
I don’t know what it is, they are different cultures, but also the closest distance to the European, but I don’t know from my own career was just going with them. There was Mitsubishi and some others at the beginning of my career, there was Ford and Citroen as well. There was no target to go with the Japanese and I remember in 2001 I wanted to go somewhere and there were two possibilities, either Citroen or Subaru and I made a very careful analyst of which one would be better and followed that which is when I went to Subaru and continued with Japanese and that was the moment when it turns because when it decided the direction and I just did two years with Subaru and they wanted to continue somehow, and the co-operation and we started our racing team in 2004, started building and learning from that time.
Just thinking to this season, how was it that you came to be in touch with Kris, how did that come together?
Kris and I spoke together in 2016 and at the time he decided to continue with Citroen, which I totally understood, as we were completely new and now. Now Esapekka decided he wanted to change to Citroen and wanted something new, so after that we had to start with the different possibilities. I could see Kris there.
I asked if it was Kris that came to him, or was it an ongoing chat all the way through?
We have known each other for a long time and it was easy to go for him.
Now then, here’s a reminder of the full calendar.
Monte Carlo Rally January 24-27
Rally Sweden February 14-17
Rally Mexico March 7-10
Tour de Corse March 28-31
Rally Argentina April 25-28
Rally Chile May 9-12
Rally Portugal May 30-June 2
Rally Italy June 13-16
Rally Finland August 1-4
Rally Germany August 22-25
Rally Turkey September 12-15
Rally GB October 3-6
Rally Spain October 24-27
Rally Australia November 14-17
The calendar has grown, with the addition of Chile, which will be run after Argentina as a double header. The summer break follows Rally Italy, with Rally Finland six weeks afterwards at the start of August.
We are set then for a very interesting season! Can Seb Ogier win the title again this year, or will Thierry and Ott come through to dethrone the Frenchman? Can Andreas Mikkelsen show improved form, given his terrible season, or might we see Hayden get a recall to the team to replace the Norwegian?
How will the new driver, co-driver partnerships go with Teemu, Marko, Elfyn, Scott and Kris, Seb? It all starts this week!
Look out for my Rallye Monte-Carlo preview coming this week! It’s time to get this championship going!