Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024 – Day Three Report, Sunday

The final day then of the opening round of this iconic rally and with the new points system in place this added to the uncertainty as to how the points table would look following the final stage. Just three stages remained ahead of the crews and just a few seconds separated the top two in both the top category and also Rally2. Gregoire returned to the action and would open the road.

The third run of SS15 La Bréole / Selonnet 3 – 18.31 km saw Thierry set the fastest time from Seb and Ott. Former rally leader, Elfyn was fourth fastest and appeared to be back closer to the pace. In WRC2 there was yet another lead change with Pepe moving back ahead of Nikolay, now holding a 3.7 second lead over the C3 driver. Meanwhile, Yohan was fastest in the stage and was now just 6.7 off the new category leader.

Into SS16 Digne-les-Bains / Chaudon-Norante – 19.01 km and Thierry was fastest again from Elfyn who was just two tenths of a second from the Hyundai crew and Ott third. The stage was a little damp and frosty in places giving some a tricky time. Thierry had pulled more of a gap over Seb and was looking comfortable. In WRC2 Yohan was fastest again and also gained a position, passing Nikolay as well. Pepe was 5.8 seconds slower than Yohan and took a slender lead of just nine tenths of a second into the final stage.

The final stage then, SS17 La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini[Power Stage] – 14.80 km and the top WRC2 runners went first. Yohan flew up the road beating Nikolay’s time by a huge 9.8 seconds. As category leader, Pepe would start last and although going faster than Nikolay, would ultimately drop to second place. Then the Rally 1 runners were unleashed and first in was Gregoire, who finished his first Monte in the top category. Takamoto set the early pace and Ott, Andreas, Adrien and Elfyn didn’t beat his time. Finally, Seb and Thierry came through and eclipsed Takamoto’s time. Thierry took victory and maximum points from the weekend.

Let’s take a look at the final finishing positions and hear from the drivers.

Final Overall Classification – Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid  3:09:30.9
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +16.1
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +45.2
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:59.8
5 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:36.9
6 A. Mikkelsen T. Eriksen Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +5:34.6
7 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +8:28.5
8 J. Rossel A. Dunand Citroën C3 +10:29.8
9 P. Lopez D. Vazquez Škoda Fabia RS +10:33.8
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Citroën C3 +10:45.2

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I don’t have the words to be honest. It was just so great this weekend, I felt so comfortable in the car. The team has done an amazing job and I think the whole package was working very well. It was the first time that we had the team in place like this, and I think this has been a good sign for the future. There’s always some work left so we need to continue working hard, but I’m very happy to win this rally. We were the boss this weekend. The car was amazing so I’d like to say a big thank you to the team.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 1,
Rallye Monte Carlo 2024, 24-28 January 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Podium during Day 3 of WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“We need to take fourth but obviously it was not an easy event. We had a lot to learn and discover about the Hyundai i20 N Rally 1 Hybrid. It hasn’t been the most consistent event but we got through the weekend, and let’s see what we can do next. We’re looking forward to Sweden and another adventure. It is coming round very quickly so we are hoping that after some pre-event testing we will be even more ready than we were this weekend.”

Andreas Mikkelsen

“We have enjoyed this weekend. Yesterday we made a good improvement in our speed, but we were cautious today because we were in the middle of no man’s land. We tried to give it a push on the Power Stage, and we were only 0.3 seconds off the pace per kilometre, so we are getting closer and closer. These cars are awesome. To use the maximum potential of them you really need to be used to how they drive, and I am still learning how quick you can go, especially in medium-high speed places where I’m not using the downforce enough. I’m just missing that extra bit of knowledge but with some more seat time, we should be good to go.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I think I can be proud of my weekend, I tried everything I could. It’s been a difficult week for me with a big rollercoaster of emotions. On Monday I had to say goodbye to someone very important to me who basically introduced me to motorsport. The start of the event was not easy for many reasons, so I’m happy that we managed to stay in the fight the whole way, and I think it was a super exciting fight for all of the fans to follow. In the end, Thierry was faster this weekend, and he deserved the win. I still managed to bring strong points to the team. It’s also my 15th Rallye Monte-Carlo and 13th time on the podium, so I can be proud of my record on such a challenging rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“We showed that the potential was there to win this weekend, but we just missed the feeling on Saturday afternoon for some reason. Today was much better. There was a real mix of conditions again, but we had to keep pushing to score some more points under the new system and it turned out OK. It’s been a solid enough weekend. We always want to win, but above all I really wanted to finish this rally with solid points, and we’ve done that. Long term we want to win rallies and we will see what’s possible on the next rally in Sweden.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“My rally changed after my mistake on Friday morning when we lost the opportunity to fight for a good result, which was a big disappointment. I’m happy that I could bring the car to the finish in seventh and also score some extra points on Sunday and in the Power Stage. The car was working very well, and I enjoyed the driving. When I felt comfortable and the risks were not so high from the conditions, I felt able to push and the times were pretty good, so that’s positive. The next rally in Sweden is one of my favourite rallies so I will try my best to get a good result there.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m happy to be finished in fifth overall, for sure I would like to do better, but I think it’s a good start to the season. I’m quite happy how we managed it, we were just behind the top four guys, and even on Sunday we showed that we could be up there with them. It’s very positive, we are taking some good points for the championship, and we hope the results will continue to come.”

Grégoire Munster

“The goal was just to get experience on this tricky rally in Monte-Carlo, and I think we managed to do that. Unfortunately, we had to retire on Saturday and restart today, but I think we grabbed a lot of experience and showed great pace. Thanks to the RNCs and weather crews, we managed to get a third fastest time, which is our best result so far on a WRC stage. We also managed to be within 0.5s/km of Thierry on Saturday morning, while he was the fastest car on the loop, which was a real positive. We also managed to grab our first point in WRC, we could have achieved more without the mistake on Saturday, but still great learning and thanks to the team the car was working perfectly throughout the weekend.”

 

Škoda Motorsport

Oliver Solberg

“It’s always disappointing not to get through all of the stages on a rally, but it was our choice to take only one spare tyre on Saturday. If we’d had two, it would have been OK, and we could have continued – but the rules are clear, and you have to have four inflated tyres on the car. We accept this.

“I would say this event has been a little bit mixed. The first night on Thursday didn’t go perfectly for us. It was a challenge to try to find the comfort and the feeling from the car. We made some changes for Friday and the car was really nice.

“Winning those stages was good, but I still felt there was more to come from me and the car – we weren’t nearly to the limit of what we could do or what the car could do. When we came back on Sunday, there was no point to take any risks.

“We did not register for WRC2 points for Monte Carlo, so this doesn’t affect our championship season. The reason to come here was to take more experience and learn even more about this great rally – from that side of things, this week has been a success.

“I want to thank the team, Elliott, my ice note crew Eric [Camilli] and Stéphane [Prévot], my partners and, of course, Škoda Motorsport for this very cool car. From here we look towards Rally Sweden… my home event. Now, that’s a special one, like you can imagine for me.”

 

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 1

1 T. Neuville 30
2 S. Ogier 24
3 E. Evans 21
4 O. Tänak 15
5 A. Fourmaux 11
6 T. Katsuta 9
7 A. Mikkelsen 6

2024 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 1

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 46
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 45
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 12

 

Summary

Well, what a rally we were treated to this weekend. We had a real fight in both categories for victory and new crews fighting with some making their return to the top of the championship. Thierry and Martijn took victory with a good drive, even though there was the spin. Seb and Vincent did what they could to take victory, but ultimately took a strong second place. Elfyn and Scott set great pace early on taking two stage wins and leading up to stage nine as well.

Away from the podium positions Ott and Martin apart from their issue on Friday morning had a good rally and dealt with the engine issues well.

The two M-Sport crews had a very solid results. Adrien and Alex had a well-managed event, showing some pace when possible and then just driving through when there was nothing to fight for. They took a well-deserved fifth place. Their teammates Gregoire and Louis also had a very good debut in Rally 1 machinery in Monte-Carlo with a top three time and solid drive. The mistake that saw them exit on Saturday afternoon was just one of those things. The car was not damaged, which is a good thing.

Takamoto and Aaron in their Yaris had a good rally even excepting the mistake that saw them lose well over five minutes on Friday morning.

The WRC2 category fight was amazing with Pepe, Nikolay and Yohan all fighting for victory. Pepe took the most stage wins and ultimately took second place from Yohan with Nikolay third in his first outing in a C3 Rally2.

The next round is Rally Sweden from the 15th to 18th of February, the only round to run on snow and ice covered roads.

Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024 – Day Two Report, Saturday

The second full day of the season opener saw mixed conditions on all six stages. The first also saw frost on the roads. There were 120km’s ahead of the crews, meaning this would be the longest day of the rally. Takamoto would open the road throughout the day. Elfyn held the lead from his teammate, Seb, whilst Thierry was holding third place.

First stage then, SS9 Esparron / Oze 1 – 18.79 km and Andreas who was one of the early crews into the stage slid off the road on the frost losing a few seconds as he got his i20 turned around. Thierry was fastest from Elfyn and Gregoire, who drove really well to his first top three stage time and also moved ahead of Andreas and into sixth place. Surprisingly, Seb was quite off the pace, a full 18.8 seconds slower than the Belgian crew who now moved into second overall. Meanwhile, Elfyn actually had increased his lead by two seconds. In WRC2, Pepe was fastest from Nikolay and Yohan. Nikolay continued to lead, and the gap was just 1.1 seconds between him and Pepe.

Next up was SS10 Les Nonières / Chichilianne 1 – 20.04 km and this stage had not been used since 1997. Yep, twenty-seven years. Seb mastered the stage to go fastest from Thierry and Takamoto. Unfortunately, Elfyn could only manage the eighth best time and fell from the lead to second place with Thierry now in the lead. The top three in WRC2 was still Nikolay from Pepe and Yohan as they continued to dominate the top three positions in the category. Unfortunately, Oliver and Sami both suffered punctures in the stage and whilst Sami could continue, Oliver would have to retire as he did not have a spare after having to use that following the previous stage.

The final stage before service and the lunch break, SS11 Pellafol / Agnières-en-Dévoluy 1 – 21.37 km. Ott and Thierry shared the fastest time and Takamoto was third. The stage was damp in the shaded parts giving the crews some tricky parts to navigate. In WRC2, Yohan was fastest from Nikolay and Pepe. The Spanish crew remained in the lead of the category, just 5.9 seconds ahead of Nikolay.

After the break SS12 Esparron / Oze 2 – 18.79 km was next and Seb was fastest from Thierry and Ott. Meanwhile, Gregoire sadly slid wide on a corner and although his Puma was not damaged, the car was beached on the edge of the road against the barrier, and he could not continue. There was a change in the lead though for WRC2 as Pepe was 10.8 seconds faster than Nikolay and moved past the C3 Rally2 driver. Yohan remained in third place.

There was a change in the overall lead in SS13 Les Nonières / Chichilianne 2 – 20.04 km with Seb showing he’d mastered this stage and pushing Thierry down to second overall. Former leader Elfyn was third in the stage and remained in third place overall, the gap to fourth placed Ott a minute and fifteen seconds. There was no change in WRC2, the top three still Pepe, Nikolay and Yohan.

The final stage of the day then, SS14 Pellafol / Agnières-en-Dévoluy 2 – 21.37 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Ott. The Belgian crew retook the lead from Seb and Vincent. Meanwhile Nikolay was also on the move, going 4.9 seconds faster than Pepe and retook the lead of WRC2 by just two tenths of a second. What a hell of a battle we were treated to in both categories.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Saturday

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 2:37:58.5
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +3.3
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +34.9
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:46.9
5 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +2:54.0
6 A. Mikkelsen T. Eriksen Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +4:21.2
7 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +7:34.0

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“It doesn’t get better than this. The final stage was pure perfection from beginning to end. I could feel the time was great, and Martijn was even telling me during the stage we should keep this rhythm until the end, so I knew it was working. We left this morning in third place with the target to close the gap, but we didn’t expect to be in front so quickly. It is testament to the car working well and the gravel crew doing a great job. They gave me a lot of trust and the opportunity to push harder in that last stage. We only have a three-second advantage so we need to drive fast tomorrow, we can’t risk everything. We need to be clever and see how many points we can get, but if we can keep first place and take the maximum points by being consistent, that would be a great result.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 1,
Rallye Monte Carlo 2024, 24-28 January 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 2 of WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“A solid day, altogether not too bad. I have been struggling with my engine again, but we will see tonight what can be done, but I would say it’s definitely holding us back. When we are faster and the stage is flowing, it doesn’t have as great an effect, and we have been improving step-by-step. We have a lot of options available for our tyres, so we can adapt to the situation in the morning. In some ways, the rally starts again tomorrow; we want to score points, but you really need to follow what the others are doing – something to keep an eye on. The notes were good, and the team did a good job with the information about the stages today.”

Andreas Mikkelsen

“I think we’ve improved even more today. There is a lot of things to process as these cars are so different, and I didn’t want to push too much. It felt natural to drive like this today, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. We’re still a bit on the safe side, especially in the tricky places, but I’ve to explore the limit a bit more when the conditions were easier. Even still, there’s plenty of areas where the car can go so much faster, so we’ve still a lot to learn to be at the full potential of the car. A positive day, and I’m gradually getting back in the rhythm.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I think it’s been an exciting day for everyone to follow and also for us in the car, we had a lot of fun. The only negative was the first stage this morning where we were too careful and lost quite a bit of time. After that it was a good day with decent pace, we pushed as hard as we could to try and come back into the fight and we are still in this fight. With just a three-second difference I think tomorrow will also be exciting to follow, especially the first stage in the morning which will be a big challenge on the third pass. I’m looking forward to it, let’s try and make it a perfect day.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s not been the best day for us. The morning was a bit mixed: the first stage was difficult to judge with a lot of black ice, and then in the middle stage we didn’t have the hybrid power, which was not ideal. Then this afternoon we just didn’t seem to have the pace for some reason. We need to look into why. The feeling was not where it was before, but it was also maybe not as bad as the times suggested. Anyway, with the new format tomorrow is sort of a new day and that’s how we’ll treat it, and we’ll try to be ready to fight again.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“I had a very good feeling in the car today. I was able to push more than yesterday, and the times were also looking pretty good. This afternoon there was of course more gravel and mud on the road, and I’m not so comfortable in those conditions so maybe I was not quite on the pace I really wanted. But this gives me more of an understanding of what I need to do for the first stage tomorrow morning. We got back to seventh overall today which should hopefully give us some points and we’ll carry a good feeling and confidence into tomorrow and try to push to score some more.”

Sunday

The final day sees the crews tackle three stages. It will be a different day of points allocation with the top seven being awarded extra points on top of those secured by the top ten at the end of today.

Of course, the top ten have to finish all the stages tomorrow to be awarded these. Can Seb get past Thierry and take his tenth Monte-Carlo victory?

Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024 – Day One Report, Friday.

After two stages on Thursday evening in the dark, the full first day of action got underway in the roads near Gap.

First into the stages throughout the day would be Elfyn and Scott in their GR Yaris Rally1. They held a 15 second lead over second placed Thierry and Martijn with Seb and Vincent holding third.

The first stage of the day and stage three overall, SS3 Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve 1 – 16.68 km was won by Thierry who reduced the gap to Elfyn to 9.8 seconds. Further back Adrien passed Ott who along with Takamoto and Gregoire went off at the same place, with the Japanese star losing around five to six minutes as the fans tried and then succeeded in getting his GR Yaris back on the stage. Thierry was fastest from Elfyn and Seb. The Welshman saw his lead over the Hyundai crew trimmed a little to 9.8 seconds.

Next up was SS4 Champcella / Saint-Clément 1 – 17.87 km and Elfyn completed the stage and set the early pace. Then Thierry was coming through and 2 seconds up on Elfyn’s pace. It all changed near the end of the stage as the Belgian spun on a left hander, spinning a full 360 degrees, before getting back underway. However, this caused him to lose his time gained earlier and a further nine seconds. Seb came through to set the fastest time from Elfyn and Ott. Meanwhile in WRC2 Pepe Lopez was fastest from Yohan and Nikolay who was doing well and getting to grips with his Citroen C3 Rally2 and led the category by just eight tenths of a second from Pepe and Yohan a further five seconds back.

The final stage before service, SS5 La Bréole / Selonnet 1 – 18.31 km saw the crews tackle the longest stage of the day, which also had a section with ice and snow on the road. Seb was fastest after his teammate set the early pace and Adrien was third in the stage, just six tenths from Elfyn. Seb’s pace took him ahead of Thierry and into second place overall. In WRC2 Pepe was again fastest from Yohan and Nikolay. The Spanish drivers pace took him ahead of Nikolay and into the category lead.

After the lunch time service SS6 Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve 2 – 16.68 km was next up and Thierry who was fastest in the stage earlier won this stage from Seb and Elfyn. These three remained at the front of the field with Elfyn still leading by a reduced margin of 9.7 seconds. It was all change again in WRC2 with Nikolay moving back ahead into the lead from Pepe. Yohan remained in third place.

Next up was SS7 Champcella / Saint-Clément 2 – 17.87 km and Thierry was fastest from Seb and Elfyn. The Welshman remained in the lead with the gap to his teammate reduced by a further second, whilst Thierry remained in third overall. Once again it was all change again in WRC2 with Pepe moving back into the lead after setting the fastest time. Nikolay was holding second place and Yohan third.

The final stage of the day then, SS8 La Bréole / Selonnet 2 – 18.31 km was run in the night and Seb was quickest again from Thierry and Elfyn who remained in the lead by a reduced margin of just 4.5 seconds from Seb and Thierry now 16.1 seconds from the Welshman. In WRC2 Nikolay was fastest from Yohan and Pepe. Unfortunately, Nikolay gained a 1 minute 50 second penalty for a late start at the stage. He was 11 minutes late to a time control.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Friday

1 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 1:25:28.9
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +4.5
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +16.1
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:13.6
5 A. Fourmaux A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:38.0
6 A. Mikkelsen T. Eriksen Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +2:58.9
7 G. Munster L. Louka Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:27.1

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“It was a difficult day out there with very mixed conditions. There was a big contrast in grip levels with a lot of dry sections but also some ice in places and a lot of dirt around the place, so that makes it quite tricky. So, it’s been a challenging day and I’m happy to get through it without any issues. The two guys behind have been closing in and driving very quickly but we’re still in a good position. We’ve found ourselves in this kind of position with Seb and Thierry here a few times in the past and it’s nice to be in the fight again. We’ll keep going the way we are, stick to our rhythm and see what happens.”

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m pleased of course that we could manage to fight back a bit today. I was still fearing that we would be at a disadvantage from the road position after struggling a bit last night, but we never give up and it’s very nice to be much closer to the lead now. The last stage of the loop was a difficult one, but it seems like I managed it well today. Still, we will need to drive it once more on Sunday and that will be a big challenge with so much dirt already on the road, but before that we have a long day tomorrow. The rest of the weekend looks interesting and I’m happy to be in this fight.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“The conditions were very tricky this morning and in one corner there was quite a lot of ice. On the entry it had melted quite a bit, so I was carrying a bit more speed, but then in the middle of the corner the ice was very polished. So, I lost grip and was just a passenger and we got stuck in the ditch on the outside. Luckily there were lots of spectators who helped us to get back on the road and continue, but it was very frustrating. I will keep going and try to improve my driving and find a good setup for Sunday. We will still have some opportunities to score points, so this is my target for the moment.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“The speed is there but not everything went without trouble today. The afternoon went well, but the morning was a bit more of a struggle despite our fastest time on the opening stage. We had some trouble after the spin, our steering well was bent, and we lost valuable time to Ogier. We are still within the fight; hopefully we will have a perfect day tomorrow and can get a bit closer to the lead. With only a 16-second gap, we are well within that target.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 1,
Rallye Monte Carlo 2024, 24-28 January 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 1 of WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“It was a consistent day for us. The afternoon was quite solid, although the last stage was a bit more tricky, but other than that it was quite OK. This morning we were carrying maybe a bit too much speed and we paid the price, but the spectators made a good effort to get us back on the road. The car has been running smoothly with no troubles; I’m just trying to find a bit more feeling. I think I’m 80% there, I feel quite relaxed and comfortable in the car.”

Andreas Mikkelsen

“Today we continued our big learning curve from yesterday but there is still so much more room for improvement. It’s getting more natural for me to carry that momentum into corners, so we will build on that tomorrow and try to increase our speed. It’s like night and day compared to what we have been driving for the last four years, and we are not even close to our potential – this is good to know, and something we can explore on Saturday.”

 

Oliver Solberg

“It’s been a better day,” said Oliver. “This morning was a little bit complicated with some ice around. In some places we were slowing down for some patches of ice which had melted.

“We have a new ice-note crew in Eric [Camilli] and Stéphane [Prévot] and they’re doing a fantastic job for us, but in some places maybe we had a little bit too much detail this morning. Honestly, it’s such a tough job what they do – I wouldn’t want to do it! This afternoon, perfect.

“OK, it’s nice to win the four stages, but I still can’t be completely happy with my driving today. It didn’t feel like it was flowing like I would like. I think we can work some more on the car tonight and maybe find some more speed for tomorrow.

“But this is the Monte, it’s fantastic to be here driving this Škoda. To see so many fans out there in the stages, so many flares and barbecue fires at the side of the road – the atmosphere is always super-cool here.”

Saturday

The second full day of action sees the crews tackle 120km’s over six stages. Can Elfyn remain in the lead, or will Seb move past his teammate?

 

Rallye Monte-Carlo 2024 Preview

The World Rally Championship returns this weekend with the first round of this season. The 92nd running of this absolute classic and legendary round will actually see the two-time and reigning champions Kalle and Jonne sit this one out.

Let’s take a look at the stages facing the crews for this first round then. They have 324km’s over seventeen stages. Shakedown is happening on Wednesday afternoon with a short 3.28km stage. The first run as always will be shown on the WRC YouTube channel. The first two stages happen on Thursday evening. Saturday sees the longest day of stages with 120km’s over six stages.

Of course, this is the first round with the new points system in place and there is a lot of opinion about this change. It will be interesting to see what the result of this all will be in terms of the championship points standings.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“It’s always exciting to start a new season, especially with Rallye Monte-Carlo. The 2023 season was a nice progression for us that showed we’re going in the right direction. Of course, we want even more in 2024 but it’s not going to be easy to achieve that. We know that the competition will be tough like usual, so as a team we’re always working to continually improve and we’re ready to give this season our best shot. With Rallye Monte-Carlo moving north again this year, we’re much more likely to see wintery conditions forming part of the challenge. We had some tricky conditions in our pre-event test, so that provided some good practice, but this rally is all about adapting to whichever conditions we face during the weekend.”

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m happy to be at the start of another season after all these years, and I take this opportunity with both hands. The last couple of years have been good fun with the team and we managed to secure some good results. I think we want to keep going this way as long as we can and that’s the plan for 2024, starting with Rallye Monte-Carlo of course. For me this is a must-do event and there’s a lot of hopes for this first rally. I think it’s the rally that you need to respect more than any other as the conditions can be so challenging, which means that nothing is guaranteed. Numbers are never my main motivation, but if I could get a 10th win on this event it would be something very special.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“It’s always nice to be back in the mountains around Monte Carlo ready to start a new season. Every year there is more expectation, but I like this pressure and I want to fight at the front, so I will try to have even better results in 2024. I want to be consistently in the podium fight, and to try to get a first victory. I will enjoy it and keep pushing the limits and working hard. The engineers are pushing a lot to improve the car further and I can feel in the factory that everybody is working hard, so I’m confident that we can be even better than last year. Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of the trickiest rallies in terms of the conditions with difficult tyre choices, but we’re up for the challenge.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I’m glad to be able to continue my journey with Hyundai in my 11th season with the team. They have shown me a lot of trust and I have helped them develop the car over the last two years. Our 2024 targets are to push hard for both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships, and the first step to achieving that is to perform well at Monte Carlo. It’s a challenging event due to the unpredictable weather conditions and varying surface profile, especially on the night stages. We have been competitive there in the past and know what it takes to stand on the podium. This year we are going to try for the best possible result, which we hope will be towards the front of the field.”

Ott Tänak

“Starting the season at Monte-Carlo is always a challenge. This year the event is moving back to the Gap region, so we are expecting the conditions to be mixed and tricky, with the potential of more snow and ice than we have had the past few seasons. Although we only had one day at the test, we were quite lucky with the conditions, as we were able to run on slick tyres in addition to experiencing wetter and icier roads. Overall, the feeling in the car was good and we found a nice rhythm. Our target at the rally itself is to achieve a podium finish, but of course we will push for the best result possible.”

Andreas Mikkelsen

“Coming back to the top class of rally from WRC2 is really exciting, and it feels really very good to return with Hyundai Motorsport. A completely new car and regulations creates a different environment for me, but it I am ready to take on the challenge. I’m very happy to be starting with Monte-Carlo this year – it’s an exciting rally with so many factors at play. Tyre choice and strategy plays a big part in success there, which means it is possible to achieve a good result even when you don’t know the car so well and haven’t found maximum pace. I want to finish the rally in the best position possible, and after a win here in WRC2 in 2022, I am determined to push until the very last stage to collect as many points as we can.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux

“Our Monte-Carlo test went really well, and I had a really good feeling with the car on the mixed conditions that we had on the first day. It’s been positive and I was really happy to be back in a Rally1 car. On the second day we had a full snow stage, with some tarmac also, but it will be a really interesting drive if the snow comes for the rally. It doesn’t seem like we will have that much snow, but at least we are prepared, we never know in the mountains!

“So now we feel really prepared, but we know that at Monte Carlo you need to be humble. You need to have a lot of respect for this rally; especially this year as we go back into the Alps in the proper mountainous areas, where you can have really difficult conditions with snow and ice. So, for sure it will be a tough one, as it normally is in this area of France, but the real challenge will be the weather and the condition of the stages.”

Grégoire Munster

“During pre-season testing we had two good days, one in the snow and one on tarmac. On the snow it went very well, and even though we are not sure if we are going to have those conditions on the rally, if it does then we are fully prepared. For the tarmac testing we got some good mileage, and we tried some different settings and tyre combinations.

“We are fully motivated to start the season well and we are looking forward to getting moving. We want to start the season properly and try to finish the rally by not making mistakes. If we kick off the year on a positive note, we can carry on the momentum and build up the pace throughout the season.”

 

Rally2

Škoda Motorsport

Oliver Solberg

“Rallye Monte-Carlo…” said Oliver. “Just saying the name is exciting. I think everybody in the world knows about this rally – it’s just so famous. And just so difficult!”

“I want to carry on where I left off last year,” he said. “I felt good with the car, everything was comfortable. Now I have more experience with the car and the team, it would be nice to go and set some more fastest times for the Rally2 cars and see what we can do.”

The route has changed significantly from last year, meaning some unfamiliar territory for Oliver. It’s also almost four months since he competed in the Škoda, so pre-season running has helped reacquaint him with the car.

“While we start and finish in Monaco, the rally is actually based out of the town of Gap in the mountains,” Oliver explained. “That means the roads we’re using are further north than where we have been in previous years. I don’t know these places so well, but this is a good opportunity to take more experience of these stages.

“For sure, I think we can expect more changeable and more winter weather, which should make it a real challenge. I’m excited to get going now. We have completed some testing in the off-season which was a good opportunity to be back in the car – it’s quite a long time since I was competing with the Fabia.

“We’re so happy to be working with Škoda Motorsport this season – it’s going to be a good one.”

Summary

Well, here we go again!! First round of thirteen and the challenge of Monte-Carlo never changes. The move to stages based around Gap may bring the snow and ice to the stages, something that the fans will love with the added spectacle when the cars are on the stage.

 

Let’s see who fights for the win!

Safari Rally Kenya 2023, Day Three Report. Sunday

The final day then of this epic round of the championship and we had 75km’s over six stages to bring the event to a close. EP re-joined the action and would open the road throughout the day’s stages.

Into SS14 Malewa 1 – 8.33 km and when Esapekka got to the finish it emerged that he had another propshaft had failed. What, again?! Unbelievable for the Finn. Meanwhile Kalle took the stage win from Seb and Takamoto. Elfyn suffered a spin in the stage and with his Japanese teammate setting such a good time the gap between them came down to 11.4 seconds. Another gap that reduced was that between Kalle and Seb. Just 8.6 seconds was now separating them. The top three in WRC2 remained Kajetan, Martin and Carl.

Next up was SS15 Oserian 1 – 18.33 km and Seb won the stage from Kalle and Ott. The Frenchman doubled his lead as well over his younger teammate to 17.2 seconds. Their teammate Elfyn also increased the gap to Takamoto by 10 seconds.

The final stage before service then, SS16 Hell’s Gate 1 – 10.53 km and the first look at the power stage. EP struggled through with what he thought was front wheel-drive. His Spanish teammate also had technical problems after his powersteering failed. The Toyota’s had their problems, with Takamoto getting a problem with his hybrid system. There was a bigger problem for Seb though as he went wide and removed his rear wing and hatch completely. However, he only lost around four seconds of his lead. He was lucky that this happened on the stage before service. The top three were Ott, Thierry and Kalle.

After service SS17 Malewa 2 – 8.33 km was won by Kalle by just 6 tenths of a second from Seb and Takamoto third. Further back, Thierry was closing on eighth place overall which had been kept by Kajetan for most of the rally, the gap was just 13 seconds now.

Time then for the penultimate stage, SS18 Oserian 2 – 18.33 km and Takamoto took his second stage win of the weekend, beating Elfyn to the top spot, whilst Kalle was third. Once again, the gap reduced to just 9.2 seconds between the top two. Thierry made it past Kajetan and into eighth overall.

The final stage then SS19 Hell’s Gate 2[Power Stage] – 10.53 km and early pace setter EP’s time was eclipsed by first Thierry then Ott went second fastest and Kalle third. Rounding out the top five were Seb whose car crossed the line with a smashed windscreen, courtesy of a rock that flicked up near the end of the stage and Esapekka.

Let’s check out the final finishing positions and hear from the drivers.

Final Overall Classification –Safari Rally Kenya

1 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 3:30:42.5
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +6.7
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:58.5
4 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +3:23.8
5 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +5:05.4
6 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +9:14.4
7 P. L. Loubet N. Gilsoul Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +16:15.7
8 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +24:47.0
9 K. Kajetanowicz M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia Evo + 26:33.4
10 O. Solberg E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia Evo + 27:04.0

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“This was a hell of a rally and a hell of a fight. I really enjoyed it but I would have liked to have a few less incidents because it could have been a much more comfortable race: the pace was really good, the car was great to drive, I had a good feeling and it seemed that we had everything under control. But we were hit by some little things here and there, including today when we lost the tailgate, and we had some overheating in the fesh-fesh sand. But I’m happy that we could bring it home. I think it’s a deserved victory and result for the whole team and we need to enjoy it.”

Kalle Rovanperä (2nd)

“The battle with Seb got quite tight at the end, and when you miss out on the win by a small margin like this then it’s not always the best feeling for a driver. But at the end we still scored good points for the championship. I stuck to my plan for the whole weekend, driving with quite good pace but not taking huge risks. So to still finish like this is quite nice. The final day was really tough for the cars: the penultimate stage especially with a lot of deep sand and ruts. It’s good that our cars were so strong and made it through, because to have the 1-2-3-4 finish for the team again here in Kenya is amazing.”

Elfyn Evans (3rd)

“It’s been quite a rally with a lot of challenges, so I think the team can be very proud to again get four cars in the top four. It shows both the speed and the strength of the GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID and I’m proud to be a part of that and of this team. Of course, from a personal perspective I can’t be totally satisfied to be third in the order at the finish, but I’m very pleased for the team and of course to be on the podium in third means we take some reasonable points for the championship as well.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo (5th)

“Safari Rally Kenya was a really tough event, but at least we took home some points. In the end it was not as bad as it could have been, but we did expect a little bit more. Today was quite ok, quite rough in some places but the car was really strong – it is amazing how much you can put these cars through. We were running well and trying not to make any mistakes to bring car the home in fifth, which we achieved.”

Thierry Neuville (8th)

“A tough and challenging weekend. Obviously, we tried what we could but unfortunately, another time in Kenya where it didn’t work out for us. There’s a lot of frustration to be honest, because it is not good for our championship aspirations, but it is what it is. We did our best in the car, took the five points in the Power Stage and fought back to eighth place, which was the maximum we could do today.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Safari Rally Kenya, 22-25 June 2023
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 3 of WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2023
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Esapekka Lappi (13th)

“It was an interesting week in many perspectives. The result is not what we all wanted but that’s a different story; I need to be pleased with the pace that we had and that we were really fighting for the podium positions until our technical problem yesterday. At least in the Power Stage I could try to drive more normally, but overall, I have to say it has been a good experience.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tänak (6th)

“Altogether a great safari with a lot of passionate fans a people who clearly love rally. So far it’s been a bit tricky this year, so we need to find a bit of speed for the next rally as it is all about the speed now.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet (7th)

“A lot of things happened! A couple of punctures on Friday unfortunately meant we missed the opportunity to do good things, and after that we were missing a bit of confidence and pace. We struggled to find good balance. It was a bit disappointing with the power stage, I wasn’t able to do a good run because I had an issue with the turbo pressure. So, I’m a bit disappointed about that, but it’s part of the game.”

Oliver Solberg (10th)

“What a fantastic rally. Before I say anything else, to Daniel [Chwist], thank you my friend for helping us this week – and to all of the Eurosol team. We couldn’t have managed to do this rally without you guys.

“And I’m so glad we came here. The roads have changed a lot from last year to this and it’s so important to keep up the knowledge base for next year.

“For the performance, I’m really happy. We weren’t pushing near the limit, that wasn’t what this rally was about for us. Of course, it would have been nice to win [RC2 class] but maybe that would have made the story too perfect.”

“Like I said, it would have been nice,” said Solberg, “but winning so many stages and even making fifth fastest time overall in the second run at that crazy Sleeping Warrior stage on Saturday afternoon was cool for me.

“I’m sure there will be time and chase a bigger Safari Rally Kenya trophy in the years to come. For me, this is really mission accomplished. It only remains to say congratulations to all of the organisers and thank you to the beautiful people of Kenya.”

 

2023 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round 7

1 K. Rovanperä 139
2 T. Neuville 102
3 E. Evans 98
4 O. Tänak 97
5 S. Ogier 97
6 E. Lappi 68
7 D. Sordo 46
8 T. Katsuta 35
9 P.L Loubet 20

 

 

2023 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round 7

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 283
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 241
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 174

Summary

Well, what an epic rally we were treated to and another victory for the eight-time champion, his fifty-eighth as well! Just amazing. His decision to run throughout Friday with just one spare showed his intent that he wanted a second victory in Kenya. It was a brilliant drive.

 

Kalle had a great run and deserved a podium which he got. Not only that, but he increased his lead over Thierry and in fact all his challengers for the championship.

 

Elfyn took third of course and although he didn’t take a stage win, should be happy as the championship heads for two very fast rallies. He will have a good road position indeed.

 

Takamoto rounded out the top four with a very good drive which included two stage wins. Third place slipped away after some spins in the tricky conditions yesterday, plus the hybrid issues on the final day.

 

The next round is Rally Estonia on the weekend of the 20th to 23rd of July. Look out for my preview in the days ahead. The teams will enjoy something of a summer break till then.

Safari Rally Kenya 2023, Day Two Report.

Coming into the second full day of competition and there was 150km’s over six stages for the crews to tackle. Thierry returned to the action after his early retirement on Friday’s second loop and would open the road.

Into the first stage, SS8 Soysambu 1 – 29.32 km and Seb hit the top of the timesheets going 7.6 faster than Kalle, thus increasing his lead to over 30 seconds, whilst EP was third fastest. The Finns pace took him ahead of Elfyn and into third overall. This came about because Elfyn’s GR Yaris engine cut out after the water splash, and he lost 40 seconds. Gregoire continued to lead WRC2 from Kajetan, but the fastest WRC2 runner was Oliver.

The shorter SS9 Elmenteita 1 – 15.08 km was taken by Kalle with Seb just six tenths slower and Elfyn was third. However, EP was just 2 tenths slower and holding the Welshman at bay at around 20 seconds ahead. In WRC2 things were pretty static in terms of positions.

The final stage then before lunchtime service, SS10 Sleeping Warrior 1 – 31.04 km, so called due to the rising hill that the road ran almost and alongside. Kalle took a good stage win from Esapekka with Seb setting the third best time. Elfyn suffered a puncture in this one giving EP an even more secure position in third. There was a change in the WRC2 lead though as long-time leader Gregoire losing the lead to Kajetan. Meanwhile further back Thierry was on the climb back up the leader board, moving into fourteenth place.

After the lunch break the second run of SS11 Soysambu 2 – 29.32 km and the top three was Seb, Kalle and Takamoto. Unfortunately, EP dropped out on this one. After he drove through the water splash there was a loud noise from the underside of his car. The problem was terminal, and he pulled his car off the stage and was out for the rest of the day. This meant that Elfyn was back into third overall. In WRC2 Gregoire retook the lead from Kajetan.

We had a new stage winner in SS12 Elmenteita 2 – 15.08 km, with Takamoto going fastest from Seb and Thierry. The pace from the Japanese star took him ahead of his teammate Elfyn and into third place. Meanwhile Thierry had made his way into the top ten at the end of this stage. In WRC2 Gregoire fell from the lead again with Kajetan benefitting from a problem for the M-Sport driver. A mechanical problem put him out for the day.

The final stage of the day, SS13 Sleeping Warrior 2 – 31.04 km had a sting in its tail as the rain that was promised finally arrived. Takamoto set the early pace even though he went off the road and also damaged his rear wing. The rain was in the middle of the stage, but by the time the crews made it to the end it was dry. Of course, Kalle won the stage and with Seb taking it easy the gap and lead was reduced to just 16.7 seconds. The other news was that Elfyn moved back ahead of Takamoto and into third overall, the gap being the same, 16.7 seconds! Kajetan was firmly in the lead of WRC2, the gap between the top two was 10 minutes with Martin Prokop holding second and Carl Tundo now third in the category.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 2:43:49.2
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +16.7
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:23.3
4 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2:40.0
5 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +3:52.3
6 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +8:38.9
7 P. L. Loubet N. Gilsoul Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +13:56.6
8 K. Kajetanowicz M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia Evo +19:53.1
9 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +24:06.2

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“We had a good morning with really good speed in the first stage, even though we lost a bit towards the end with a puncture. Then I was a bit more careful for the rest of the morning, especially in the last stage which was the roughest part of the rally, and it was so easy to damage something there. In the afternoon I think we did a good job and did everything we could in the first two stages. Then the last one was challenging for everyone with heavy rain and a lot of water on the road. I took it easy in those sections and just tried to manage. The most important thing is we’re still in the lead tonight. It’s not a big gap to Kalle now but hopefully we can have a smooth finish tomorrow and another result like this in Kenya for the team would be amazing.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“The whole of today was a big battle and it’s not easy to find the balance between trying to fight for the win here while also being on for really good points at the moment compared to our championship rivals. Seb was pushing really hard, but our plan was to drive smooth and not push too much in the rough places. I was maybe not so brave in the first stage this morning but after that I think we managed to stay on the pace and out of trouble. When the rain came in the last one it was a proper challenge just to stay on the road, but we could again take some time there so it was a good day overall. It’s pretty special for the team to be in this position going into tomorrow. It will be quite a long and tough day, but we’ll try to make it a clean one because the points are important for us.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s been a challenging day and we had a difficult start this morning. The feeling in the car was fine initially in the first stage but then we took on some water in the watersplash; maybe I didn’t take the best line into it. Then we unfortunately got a puncture in the Sleeping Warrior stage, so we had quite a lot of time loss this morning. In the afternoon, the first two stages were clean for me, but Taka was on a big push: he was driving well and driving quickly. The conditions in the last stage were extreme and sometimes there was no grip at all, but we got through it with an OK time. There’s still a big task ahead of us tomorrow but hopefully all goes well and we can bring this result home for the team.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Dani Sordo

Honestly, it was really tricky conditions out there. I was hoping to have a good time on that final stage as we didn’t make many mistakes. We were trying to push in the heavy rain, but it was as slippery as ice. I was trying to get through this rally with no problems. We’ve had some bad luck as a team, but we hope that is the end of our issues. The speed of the cars in front of us is a step up from where we are, and it is difficult to match their pace. Tomorrow’s stages will be a little bit faster, with different profiles from today. We might not be able to do much about our position, we just have to survive like we have today.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07, Safari Rally Kenya, 22-25 June 2023
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 2 of WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2023
Photographer: Vincent Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“It was a wild day in general. We had some muddy sections this morning and then some big rain and standing water this afternoon. I have to say it is what we were hoping for today; to be able to have some fun. My motivation wasn’t very high this morning, but we followed the target of driving through and keeping up our speed. We were hoping the rain would come later on that final stage, but it came five minutes too early, and we struggled a lot, yet we had some smiles in the car. We still have eighth place in our sights, so we are going to chase that tomorrow. It’s a four-minute gap with six stages to go and we are going to push hard.”

Esapekka Lappi

“It was very frustrating to retire on the first stage of the afternoon. I pushed the throttle to accelerate and there was a big bang. It seems the prop shaft cracked somewhere underneath the car, so we pulled over into the junction in front of us. I haven’t had this problem before this week, clearly something is wrong, and we need to investigate very carefully. I’m sure we have a chance to return tomorrow to try to gain experience and fight for some Power Stage points. I think we were doing a really good job and prepared very well for this rally to have a good weekend, but it wasn’t to be.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tanak

“Every stage closer to the end is a relief. The short stage tomorrow is quite rough, and the others are bit more sandy.”

Summary

Well, what an amazing day, with an incredible ending. It was a big shame to lose Esapekka from the top positions. Considering that this was his debut at this event, he was really on the pace. Having said that the Finns have always gone really well at this event, so he will certainly be looking to coming back to this event in the coming years.

Now, will we see more drama tomorrow, or can Toyota take another win with Seb and all four Toyota’s take the top four positions again? There is just a little under 75km’s over four stages to complete this year’s edition of Safari Rally Kenya and find out!

Safari Rally Kenya 2023, Day One Report

The first full day of action saw the crews tackle 130km’s over six stages. Kalle would be opening the road due to being the championship leader. Of course, he won this rally last year from first on the road but did have heavy rain giving him the best conditions. After the super special on Thursday Ott lead from Seb and Kalle.

 

First stage of the day, SS2 Loldia 1 – 19.17 km and Seb was fastest from Kalle and Elfyn. The Frenchman moved into the lead and his teammates also all gained a position moving into second and fourth places respectively. Thierry moved into third overall as well, showing similar pace to Elfyn. In WRC2 Oliver was the fastest, but as he decided to run with no nomination for points, Kajetan was leading the category from Gregoire and Martin Prokop.

 

Into the spectacular SS3 Geothermal 1 – 13.12 km and EP was fastest from Seb and Takamoto. Elfyn moved into third overall as Thierry suffered a puncture and fell to sixth place. Also going the wrong way down was Ott who was not on the pace, and he fell to seventh. EP jumped two places and into fifth overall. In WRC2 and whilst Oliver remained the fastest in the category, Kajetan remained the category leader from Gregoire and Martin.

 

The longest stage of the day, SS4 Kedong 1 – 30.62 km and it was a really fast stage again. Kalle was fastest from Thierry and Seb. The Belgian moved ahead of Takamoto and Esapekka into fourth overall. There was a change in the WRC2 lead with Gregoire moving into the lead.

 

After the lunchtime service and Seb was fastest in SS5 Loldia 2 – 19.17 km and Seb was fastest again from Esapekka and Ott. Pierre-Louis lost a position falling behind Oliver after breaking a wheel. Gregoire remained in the lead of WRC2 from Kajetan.

 

The next one, SS6 Geothermal 2 – 13.12 km saw Seb fastest again from EP and Kalle. There was drama though for Thierry whose suspension on the front left broke. He pulled off the stage and was out for the rest of the day. It was a good stage for EP though who gained two places, jumping ahead of Takamoto and back into fourth overall.

 

The final stage then of the day, SS7 Kedong 2 – 30.62 km and Seb was again fastest from Kalle and Esapekka. The Frenchman had built a lead of nearly 30 seconds. Unfortunately, Oliver broke his suspension and stopped in the stage. Gregoire held the lead of WRC2 from Kajetan and Martin.

 

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

 

Classification after Day One

1 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 1:14:38.7
2 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +22.8
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +43.5
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +54.0
5 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:19.4
6 D. Sordo C. Carrera Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:28.4
7 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:03.3
8 P. L. Loubet N. Gilsoul Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +7:04.9

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s been a pretty good day for us, almost perfect in fact. We had very good pace and I’m happy to be in the lead tonight. This morning I tried to push on the first two stages, and I had good fun in the car. On the third one there’s always a bit of fear with a lot of rocks coming out of the sand, and we lost the hybrid after a few kilometres which cost some performance. This afternoon I felt it was possible to go with just one spare tyre, and that if I drive very clean and smooth, I can still be fast with the advantage of being lighter. It paid off and I’m happy with that. It’s the first time I’ve got through Friday in Kenya without major time loss, so let’s hope we can carry on like this tomorrow, which is the biggest day of the rally with very difficult stages to get through.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I’m quite happy with today. The first stage of the loop was the trickiest for us with a lot of cleaning and loose gravel in places. Then the next stages were much faster, and I felt I could push harder, and the time on the last one this morning was really good; I think we did some clever driving there. This afternoon I lost more time than I wanted on the first one: it was drying up and getting loose and my setup didn’t work so well for that. After that I tried to keep up a good pace and we didn’t lose too much time. Of course, I would like to be a bit closer to the lead, but tomorrow is still such a long day and will be much rougher than today, so we will try to stay out of trouble.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s been a bit of a steady day for us, but we got through it without issues. Of course, it would have been nice to have been a bit faster and, looking back, maybe we could have taken a few more risks this morning when the conditions were not so rough. But it’s a very difficult balance to find here, with a lot of rocks beinng pulled out by the cars in front. The afternoon was generally better, but the long Kedong stage had a lot of big holes and stones, and it was difficult to judge how hard to attack. There’s still a long way to go and tomorrow’s probably going to be a tough day, so let’s wait and see what happens.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“If you take our puncture out of the equation, today has been quite a decent day. We started carefully and then improved quite quickly; our afternoon was really consistent. The conditions are interesting, but I found them really fun. It’s a different kind of roughness we are facing, unlike anything I’ve seen before. On the soft fesh-fesh, you don’t know what to expect and it is so fast, so you have no time to react – you just have to drive and hope for the best. I need to keep improving on what we did today; I think the pace was brilliant this afternoon. We will concentrate on our own performance and the podium will be there if it is meant to be.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 7, Safari Rally Kenya
21 – 25 June 2023
Esapekka Lappi
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“Thankfully we had no real issues on the car today, which is good. It was a bit difficult on some of the stages, particularly on Kedong. It was really soft, and the car was moving a lot in the fast sections, so I didn’t have a good pace there. With so many rocks, it is easy to make a small mistake. We also had a unique situation in one of the hairpins on the final stage, where we had to stop to allow dust inside the cockpit to clear. It is difficult to calculate the speed of the corners as you need to be aggressive, but you could easily move off the line onto the really soft surface and struggle to find traction.”

Thierry Neuville

“I’m very disappointed to be honest. Unfortunately, we had to retire in the second stage of the afternoon, which isn’t good for our championship fight. There was no warning at all; just before a left junction, the damper came out of its position and the top mount came loose under braking, which was the end of the rally for us. It was a shame as we hoped our puncture in the morning was the end of our bad luck for the weekend. With the conditions here, anything can happen, and now we have to analyse if there is an opportunity to return tomorrow and get back into the points.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tanak

“The conditions have not been too bad, the last one had some soft place but overall, not too bad. Tomorrow will be more tough than today.”

Saturday

Day two sees the crews tackle 150km’s over six stages and there are two stages run as usual twice that are just under or just over 30km’s! What will happen?!

Pop back tomorrow and check out my day two report.

Rally Italia Sardegna 2023, Day One Report

The first full day of competition tackled 141km over six stages and to celebrate the 20th edition of this rally the stages featured a huge 49.9km stage, Monte Lerno, which included the famous Mickey’s Jump!

Esapekka led following the first stage on Thursday evening from Ott and Thierry. The start list for the first full day looked like this – Rovanperä, Tänak, Ogier, Evans, Neuville, Lappi, Sordo, Katsuta, Loubet.

Into the first stage of the day then, SS2 Tantariles 20Ris 1 – 10.71 km and the overnight leader Esapekka was second fastest behind new overall leader Seb, whilst Pierre-Louis was third fastest and climbed up six positions and into third overall. In WRC2 Oliver held the lead from Andreas and Teemu.

Takamoto made it two stage wins in a row for the Toyota team as he set the fastest time from Dani and Thierry. There was a change for the lead with EP passing Seb who could only manage the seventh best time. In addition to that, Takamoto after setting the fastest time also gained some positions, moving into third overall. There was a change within the WRC2 leader, with Andreas moving ahead of Oliver. The Swede had a huge problem at the end of the stage that featured a really challenging final section that still had large standing water following the rain earlier in the week. Somehow the front right suspension spring ended up becoming detached and was sticking outside the top of the wing!

The first run then of SS4 Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda 1 – 49.90 km and Kalle who of course was opening the road could only manage the eighth best time and over 40 seconds slower than his teammate, Seb who won the stage from Elfyn and Esapekka. There were a few changes in the overall standings with Elfyn moving into fourth, Pierre-Louis into third. Takamoto’s brief third place came to an end as the Japanese driver slid straight onto some rocks. He finished the stage though dropping two places into fifth. It was not as big as Dani’s moment though! He went off the side of the road nose first and the car rolled as well. However, he got going again and finished the stage with huge damage to the front and a heavily damaged rear wing.

After lunch time service the second run of SS5 Tantariles 20Ris 2 – 10.71 km was won by EP from Pierre-Louis and Thierry. However, it’s important to report the Frenchman was given a notional time with a number of other competitors. This was done due to some safety issues in the stage and therefore the stage not being able to be run in full leading to the notional times for the later crews. This is where it was really strange for the Frenchman to be given a time as he was not allowed to start the stage due to being unable to engage any gears. In the WRC2 category Gus Greensmith went off the stage and into a bush.

Into SS6 Terranova 2 – 8.41 km and Thierry was fastest from EP with Takamoto third. With the Belgian setting the best time and Elfyn only ninth fastest the Hyundai crew moved into third overall. In WRC2 Teemu was leading from Andreas and Adrien.

The challenge of SS7 Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda 2 – 49.90 km remained as the final stage of the day and the rain was falling at different points in the stage. Top three fastest were Kalle, EP and Thierry. As you can tell the best place to be was either first on the road or driving a Hyundai. EP took the lead by just one tenth of a second over Seb and Kalle’s pace brought him into fourth overall with both Elfyn and Ott falling down the leader board to sixth and seventh overall. We also had a new WRC2 top three with Sami gaining three positions, Adrien one place and Emil two places.

Let’s take a look at the top positions and hear from the drivers.

Classification after Day One

1 E. Lappi J. Ferm Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 1:31:48.8
2 S. Ogier V. Landais Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +0.1
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +18.6
4 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +46.1
5 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +47.4
6 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +1:05.6
7 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:09.8

Hyundai Motorsport

Esapekka Lappi

“Today was a day of survival. There was a lot of surprises on that final stage with muddy braking points or corners that were hidden behind bushes. The mixed conditions meant you couldn’t really fully commit because you didn’t know what to expect, but on the other hand you had to commit in order to keep the speed, but we managed. You knew as soon as you entered the forest sections it was going to be muddy and slippery, but there were also some puddles in the open air which was a surprise – it was not easy at all. I hope to have a better start tomorrow than I did in Mexico, but first of all we have to make the right tyre choice in the morning. After that, we need to continue what we did today and see where we are after the final stage.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship Round 6,
Rally d’Italia Sardegna 2023, 1-4 June 2023
Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 1 of WRC Rally Italia Sardegna 2023
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Thierry Neuville

“It was a bit of a struggle out there; the confidence wasn’t that high in the tighter corners, but we managed to get into a good rhythm. I’m feeling a little bit better in the car as well in those conditions, and in the end, we had some good stage times this afternoon to finish in third, which is a good position for tomorrow. The weather is going to make it challenging tomorrow as well; anything can happen and we’re going to see a lot of changes in the stage times for everybody. Today we were lucky that we all had more or less similar weather conditions, but with a few minutes’ gap between the cars it can be a huge difference. Our tyre strategy this afternoon was good, and it paid off.”

Dani Sordo

“It was a little bit difficult today, to be honest. On the first pass of the longest stage we went a bit safe with the tyres, and at one of the corners I went wide, and after that we rolled. We managed to bring the car to service and to the mechanics to repair it. There was not a lot of time, so Cándido and I did our best to help. I want to say thanks to them, they did an amazing job at midday, and I’m really sorry for my mistake. Thank you so much for your efforts. For sure it will be difficult now, there was some really tricky conditions this afternoon and it was challenging to drive, but let’s see what the weather does. If it rains a lot, we have an advantage with our early road order, but we have already lost a lot of time.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m happy with my day and to be in the position we’re in tonight. I was surprised with the gap we made in the first stage this morning and in Monte Lerno, but the car was working well, and I think we made the right tyre call which helped us to be fast this morning. It was a bit more difficult this afternoon, but it was still an OK loop. I was happy with my driving, a bit less with the decision we made in service; we had a bit the wrong tyre choice and setup. But we still managed to get through without any drama in the slippery conditions and without taking too many risks. We are still where we wanted to be, in the fight for the win. The gap is very close and tomorrow we will push again.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“It’s been quite a good day overall. This morning the first two stages were actually quite OK. There was a bit of dampness, and we were losing less time opening the road than I was expecting. But Monte Lerno was drier, and we lost a lot of time, and there was a lot of action for us in that stage. This afternoon it was still quite tricky even on the second pass, as the lines from the smaller cars were not really suitable for us. Then finally some rain came properly on Monte Lerno, and I tried to push hard and keep at it. I always seem to enjoy the rain and the muddy conditions, and we could take some time back. Now we’ll have a better starting place for tomorrow and we’ll try to push more.”

Elfyn Evans

“We started the day with a tricky couple of stages with the rocks lining the road and I was keen to get through cleanly and have a good car for Monte Lerno. We had a clean run through there also; it was nothing spectacular, but we seemed to manage everything quite well and got to the end without trouble and made up some places overall. It was a difficult afternoon and pretty rough; the first one was quite OK, then we gave away far too much on the second one. Unfortunately, at the end of Monte Lerno we picked up a puncture with a fair bit of time lost. But the gap is not huge to the guys in front, and we have Ott [Tänak] close behind so there’s plenty still to fight for.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tanak

“We had some issues on the first stage that affected the engine quite a bit, some electric thing as we lost the hybrid as well. We also lost the water pressure and thought it was game over, but then the pump came back, and we slowly started to go again, and we in safe mode and I was able to bring it home.”

Day Two – Saturday

Tomorrow has 133km’s over eight stages and although the longest stage is the Erula – Tula stage at 21km’s in length but the challenge remains big. Let’s see who will be leading at the end of the second day. Pop back to read my report later in the day.

Rally Italia Sardegna 2023 Preview

Time for round six of this season’s championship and we come to the Island of Sardegna for the Italian round! Known for its extreme dusty roads and jumps this event is a favourite on the calendar.

Kalle and Jonne won the last round and come to this as championship leaders. They are joined as always in the Toyota team with their usual teammates, whilst Seb and Vincent are also entered. They will look to use their good starting position to set the pace throughout Friday’s stages and hope to hold on and take victory. However, Elfyn and Scott will want to do the same and it will be interesting to see how they get on.

Thierry and Martijn will have the same idea though and of course Thierry won this round in 2018. There is another Hyundai crew that will have the same idea. Yep, Dani won this round twice in recent years, taking victory in 2019 and also 2020. Let’s see what they can do this year! In fact, Esapekka and Janne will also be I believe challenging for victory. They showed great pace in Mexico and could do the same this weekend.

Meanwhile Ott and Martin at M-Sport Ford will definitely be in the fight this weekend. They took victory last year when at Hyundai and the Puma showed great pace in the hands of Craig Breen co-driven by Paul Nagle who of course took second place last year. For Pierre-Louis and Nicolas in the other Puma, the young Frenchman who has shown very good pace on gravel this year, they will want to take a great result and if things go well, could claim a top five finishing position. Of course, Nicolas won the event as co-driver in 2018 when with Thierry at Hyundai. Could he guide the young Puma driver to a podium this year? It will be interesting to watch!

Craig and Paul took second last year when at M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. Photo credit M-Sport Ford

Stage information

There is 320km’s over nineteen stages this year. Here’s the detail of what lies ahead throughout the weekend.

Following a shakedown in the morning, Rally Italia Sardinia officially begins on Thursday evening with the 3.23km Olbia – Cabu Abbas stage.

Friday is the longest day of the event with a total distance of 138.04km, which includes two passes of the mammoth test that is Monte Lerno – Sa Conchedda (49.90km).

Saturday’s itinerary consists of two loops of the four stages: Coiluna – Loelle (16.28km), Su Filigosu (19.57km), Erula – Tula (21.92km) and Tempio Pausania (9.96km).

Two passes each of Arzachena – Braniatogghiu (15.22km) and Sardegna (7.79km) bring the event to a close on Sunday.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“Portugal was a great weekend for us, and it was nice to get a victory again. We will try to continue like this in the next events, but we know that Sardinia will be a much more difficult job. Of all the rallies in the calendar, I think this one has maybe been the trickiest for me, and if the weather is dry and hot like it usually is in Sardinia, it can be very difficult to be the first car on the road there; perhaps even more so this year with the 50-kilometre stage to be driven on Friday. It will be a demanding weekend but, like always, we will push together with the team to get the best result that we can.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal was a disappointing weekend on my side, but we have to put that behind us now, move forward to Sardinia and see what’s possible there. Our road position will be more favourable than what we started with on the last rally, but we know that it’s a challenging event regardless and one of the rougher rallies of the year. It definitely needs a smart approach but I’m looking forward to it, nonetheless. Like always in Sardinia, they mix up the stages every year. A lot of the route is known from before but some of it has not been driven for many years, so there will be a lot of new pacenotes to write during the recce – and this very long stage on Friday will of course be key.”

Sébastien Ogier

“Sardinia is a rally that I have learned to love. At first, I used to struggle going there, but over the years I started to master it more and more. The most recent memories I have of Sardinia are really good from when we managed to win in 2021 after starting first on the road, which is not normally possible on this event. Having missed Portugal, we will have a bit of a better starting position this time, but it will still be a difficult challenge, especially with this very long stage of 50 kilometres that the organisers have made for this year. I quite like that challenge, honestly; it adds some spice to the rally and the need for tyre management. It will certainly be an interesting rally.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport 

Thierry Neuville

“Sardinia presents a lot of challenges, but the biggest are the heat and tyre wear. The stages are also difficult as the surface is rough, and they are quite narrow and technical too, so there is not much room for mistakes. Our target is to deal with the conditions as best we can and fight hard for a good result. Portugal was a tough weekend for us. I had a different set-up from Dani and Esapekka which we think is one of the reasons why I was struggling with traction and car balance. Switching my car to similar settings to those of my team-mates should be beneficial in the quest for improved performance and I’m looking forward to putting this to the test.”

Esapekka Lappi

“Sardinia is generally quite a slow rally with very technical stages. The second pass is particularly demanding for the tyres and car as there’s some bedrock and lots of loose rocks that get pulled onto the road. The usual high temperatures of around 30 degrees also add to the challenge. Personally, I sweat quite easily, so as a driver I need to concentrate more on nutrition and keeping myself well hydrated. At dry gravel rallies, Friday is always very crucial in terms of making a successful weekend, so that will be the key focus for us. Our hope is that we can deliver a consistent performance, avoid the rocks that could cause punctures, and bring home a podium for the team.”

Dani Sordo

“Sardinia offers a different challenge to previous gravel events this year, as the roads are narrower, more sandy and more slippery. Because of this, you cannot afford to make any mistakes. If you do so in Sardinia, you will pay. Road position can be very important at this event, as starting later in the order usually gives you a cleaner stage than those at the front. The almost 50km-long Monte Lerno stage will be a real challenge. We had one that was 37km in Portugal and even that was hard to stay fully concentrated the entire time. Our minimum goal for the weekend is to finish on the podium and hopefully we can be in a position to fight for the victory.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally Italia Sardegna
02-05 June 2022
Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai i20 N Rally 1
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tänak

“Sardinia is a unique rally in many ways, the roads are demanding with very low grip conditions but at the same time very narrow and fast between trees and rock faces. I always enjoy driving there!

“All the M-Sport team, together with the Ford Performance guys in the US, have been on it to bring on the next steps in our performance and we have a busy test day before Sardinia. We are looking into everything to extract some extra speed.

“The target is to get another step closer to our competitors. Things will take a bit of time, but I’m sure that improving step by step we will be there one moment!”

Pierre-Louis Loubet

“I think with the pace we showed on Friday in Portugal we can expect to do something good in Sardinia. It will be very important to avoid any mistakes this time, as even small ones can have big consequences. We know that the pace is there, we just need to put it all together to get a good result and we’re hoping that will all happen in Sardinia.”

WRC2 Category

Once again there is a huge entry for this category. M-Sport will be running three Fiesta Rally2 cars for Adrien, Grégoire and Robert and of course Oliver Solberg will also be competing in a Skoda Fabia Evo. Also joining these crews will be two cars from Hyundai Motorsport.

Let’s hear from these drivers.

Adrien Fourmaux

“Sardinia is a really rough event, with hot conditions, and this year we have a nearly 50km stage to look forward to! It’ll be a huge challenge for everybody, for the crews and the mechanics. But I like the challenge, and this will be my fifth time in Sardinia, so we have a good base knowledge of the stages.

“This is a famously difficult event, there’s no margin for error with rocks everywhere! When you hit something, you hit it hard. Let’s see what we can achieve.”

Grégoire Munster

“Sardinia is a new event for us, just like Portugal, so it will all be about discovery and gaining experience. Portugal didn’t go so well for us, but it was our first time on gravel in the car, so we will try to use that experience in Sardinia and do better there.”

Robert Virves

“This will be my first time competing in Sardinia, so there will be a lot to learn as it is a very tough event. Luckily, we have had some good experience in Portugal, and we can use a lot of that information on the stages in Sardinia. This is a big opportunity to learn a lot, it’s a tough event and we will need to manage the car and the tyres. But the experience in the Rally2 is all about learning, and it’s all beneficial to us going forward. Let’s see what happens!”

Oliver Solberg

“We’re back based on the east side of the island in Olbia again this year. The roads here are not usually quite so rough, they’re more sandy over here. We need to have a look from the recce – the conditions depend a lot on how hard the winter has been.

“The approach for this event is going to be the same as for the other gravel rallies: we just try to do our job. The car has been nice, it’s been fast and comfortable for me. The key here is really that, you want a comfortable car that’s easy to follow – and you have to make sure the rear of the car’s not sliding too much.”

 

“The long stage on Friday will be tough,” said Oliver. “It will be tough on the car, the tyres and the body a little bit as well. But I’m looking forward to it. These are great roads and to sit on the start line and know you have to drive a car as cool as the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 as fast as I can for the next 50 kilometres is really something special.

“And, of course, it’s always nice to win a rally my Dad has already won.  For me in Sardinia this week, I will try to do my job, like I have done all year. This has been enough so far.”

Teemu Suninen

“Sardinia is normally quite a lot warmer than other events, which makes the driving tougher and it can create higher levels of wear on the car and tyres. The surface is also hard and rough which can be more demanding for the suspension setups. It was clear in Portugal that the level in WRC2 is very high this year, so we must focus on every small detail and fight on every stage. We will also try to have a good pace and stay away from problems. If we do this, I believe we can get a good result. The goal is to win the rally, but with many top drivers in the class, it will be challenging.”

2023 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 05, Rally de Portugal
11-14 May 2023
Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, i20 N Rally 2
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Fabrizio Zaldivar

“We travel to Sardinia looking for a better result than we achieved in Portugal. It will be a difficult challenge, but I am determined to keep pushing and improving. We know there is pace in the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on this surface, hopefully we can find a good rhythm and show the car’s potential. The initial forecast shows it may not be as hot as last year, but we still expect the heat to play a part in the event. I hope we can come to the end of Rally Italia Sardegna without any incidents and having shown what we are capable of.”

Summary

Well, we are set for a cracking rally ahead this weekend! Keep an eye out for my daily reports!

Rallye Monte Carlo Preview – Round One of the 2023 season.

The championship returns after as always, a short winter break. This will be the 91st running of this classic event, and M-Sport Ford return as the winning team after their victory with Seb and Isabella.

Let’s take a look at the stages then. The rally has over 325km’s over the 18 stages.

Rallye Monte-Carlo begins on Thursday with two evening stages, including the longest test of the rally: La Cabanette / Col de Castillon (24.90km)

Friday’s itinerary consists of two loops of Roure / Roubion / Beuil (18.33km), Puget-Théniers / Saint-Antonin (19.79km) and Briançonnet / Entrevaux (14.55km), separated by a tyre fitting zone

Saturday is the longest day of the event, with the six stages boasting a total distance of 111.78km

The rally concludes on Sunday with two passes each of Lucéram / Lantosque (18.82km) and La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini (15.12km), with the second of the latter acting as the Power Stage.

We have already seen the detailed changes to two of the three teams. It will be interesting to see who has made the most of their testing schedule over the winter as they attempt to understand their new cars and how to get the most out the performance capabilities.

Let’s hear from the drivers.

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“My feeling is good before the start of the new season. We know that it will not be easy to defend the championship. We have seen that the competition level is getting higher all the time, so we need to try and raise our game also and keep pushing hard. The team is again doing a great job to try and maximise the performance and make the car faster and stronger. Rallye Monte-Carlo is a special event, and usually makes for a bit of a tricky and nervous start to the season. But I’m more confident going into the rally than I was last year when everything was so new with the car; now I know that we should have everything in the right direction and be able to have an easier start. It’s never simple to have a clean rally there, but that will be our plan to begin the season in the right way.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 01 / Rallye Monte Carlo 2022 / 20-23 January 2022 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans

“The WRC off-season is always pretty short, but I was still happy to take a bit of a break and now I feel ready to go into the new season. Last year fell short of my own expectations personally, but we managed to make some progress and I’m hoping to be able to put better results together this season. The team is always working to evolve the car, and twelve months in to the Rally1 era we understand things a lot better. Like always it should be a competitive year, but I definitely feel that we’re in a better place to challenge, and to fight for the title remains my goal. Rallye Monte-Carlo is a classic event and one that everyone wants to win. It’s always a big challenge, especially with the conditions, but it’s a challenge I enjoy and hopefully we can start the year with a positive result.”

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m still very excited at the start of the season, even though I’m no longer taking part in the full year. It’s always a pleasure to sit behind the steering wheel of a top WRC car. Last year I really enjoyed doing these few rallies. It was good to see I could still be competitive, and the target is to try and stay on a similar level this year and fight for some more wins. I know that the team is never relaxing; even though the last seasons have been very successful, they are still working very hard. Rallye Monte-Carlo is probably the one I want to win the most and I will do my best once more. Preparation has been more difficult as everybody is limited to one day of testing, which is difficult for such a complex event with different conditions and tyre options. But it’s the same for everybody, and I will try to make the most of my experience.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Ott Tänak

“Rallye Monte-Carlo is always a difficult one to expect something, but for sure it’s the trickiest rally of the season. It won’t be any easier this time as well to get into the rhythm right away, so we expect nothing less than another tricky weekend in the mountains.

“We tried to get the best out of our first test days and we were lucky to experience the car in different conditions. It’s never easy to start the season from the blank page and building up the setup, but the boys and girls from M-Sport are working hard and hopefully we are well prepared for the upcoming challenge. I’m really looking forward to our first race together.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet

“I’m really happy with this week’s test; we tried a number of things, much more than usual, and the car felt great. The car is built for these kinds of roads and it’s very enjoyable to drive. I hope we will see similar conditions to the test on the rally next week, that would suit us really well.

“I’m trying to stay calm, it’s a fantastic opportunity to have my first full season with M-Sport, but it’s also a big responsibility and I take that very seriously. So, I’m trying to keep a cool head, and we’ll see how we do throughout the season. We have all the tools we need to do well.”

Jourdan Serderidis

“Starting the WRC season with a Puma Rally1, with M-Sport at Monte-Carlo is first a privilege but also a major challenge. Considering the level of competition and the tricky snow and ice conditions, I will be more than happy to be in the top 20 of this fantastic rally. It’s not only the most beautiful event on the calendar but the most challenging as well. We had a good test in snowy conditions yesterday, so I believe we are ready for the fun!”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I always like starting the year with Rallye Monte-Carlo; it is an event where we have been competitive in recent years. I expect we will face some tricky conditions, despite the warm weather in the region at the moment. Monte-Carlo is always a bit of a surprise, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s nice to kick off a new season; everyone is on equal points again, and it’s up to us to make the best out of the clean slate. The package of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid has improved so much since its first round in 2022, which helps with our confidence going into this year. There’s been some slight evolutions on the car which will give it even more performance. We never know what our opponents have done during the winter, but I don’t think there will be any big changes. While everybody will have improved a bit, hopefully we are all on a similar level.”

2022 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo 2022
17-23 January 2022
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Esapekka Lappi

“Rallye Monte-Carlo changed location last year; it moved closer to Monaco and there was a bit less snow and ice than before. I don’t know whether that will be the case this year as well, but if it is, then it will certainly make things simpler for us, as we also have to learn a whole new car. Thursday night is always quite tense – I have to say it is not the nicest feeling climbing up the hill in the darkness on slick tyres in potentially icy conditions! There is excitement, but there is also a small bit of fear. However, it’s quite special, and the following morning you feel more at ease – at least in your mindset. I’m excited to start this adventure with a new team; I will only have one test day on tarmac, but I will go there with my mind open and not give up before we’ve even started. I am confident we can have good pace – maybe not from the very first stage, but certainly we will develop a lot during the weekend and hopefully finish well.”

Dani Sordo

“Rallye Monte-Carlo is a difficult event, but now it is based more around Monaco and the south of France it may be a little bit better in terms of the weather. It is always a challenge due to the conditions; normally it is cold, and you have the potential for ice, especially first thing in the morning. As a result, in the course of one stage you can come across so many different levels of grip on the tarmac, so it is very demanding. However, we need to be a little bit closer to the rally to see what the weather will do and understand what we are going to face on the stages. It is important to start the season well; every time you arrive to the first event you do so with full power and recharged batteries. Overall, I really like Monte-Carlo and its stages, so hopefully we can perform well and begin the year with a positive result.”

The WRC2 category is hugely supported as well in this round with Skoda, Ford, Citroen, Hyundai and Volkswagen cars being run.

M-Sport are running two Fiesta Rally2 cars for Adrien and Gregoire this year. Let’s hear from them both.

Adrien Fourmaux

“Rallye Monte Carlo is, of course, the most famous in the Championship, and it’s always a fantastic way to start the season. We’re hoping for a good result on this rally to give us the best start possible for the WRC2 Championship. It’s one of the most difficult rallies of the season, with tricky and changing road conditions, and we should have the full effect with some snow and ice conditions too. I’m looking forward to getting back out in a Rally2 and seeing what we can achieve.”

Grégoire Munster

“We’re looking forward to going to Monte Carlo for the first time with a car prepared by M-Sport. We’ve done the rally a few times in the past so we have some experience there, but I don’t think it would be realistic to say we will aim straight for a big result. We will just try to get familiar with the car, be consistent throughout the weekend and see where we end up. We want to start our campaign on a good footing.”

TokSport will also be running a number of the new Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 for the following drivers: Sami Pajari, Nikolay Gryazin and Marco Bulacia. In addition to those drivers, Oliver Solberg, Chris Ingram and lots of others will also be driving Skoda’s as well. Hyundai’s will be run by Motorsport Ireland for Josh McErlean and William Crieighton. Finally, there are also some C3 Rally2’s for Yohan Rossell, Stephane Lefebvre and Sean Johnson. It’s great to see this championship so well supported and this championship will likely be decided just like last year on the final round. The drivers get to choose the rounds that they enter, which brings an interesting element of uncertainty and unpredictability to the championship.

Summary

Who are the drivers that are likely to challenge for victory this weekend? It’s fair to say that Seb Ogier will be in the mix along with Thierry Neuville. Other drivers likely at be at the front include Kalle, Elfyn and Ott. Rising young stars Takamoto and Pierre-Louis will look to gain more experience for the future and the young Frenchman will certainly benefit from his new co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul who won this rally with Thierry in 2020.

The action starts on Thursday evening with the first two stages in the evening. Enjoy!

©2017 The Pitcrewonline