Five talking points from the Monte Carlo Rally

23rd January 2023
Damien Smith

Last year a late puncture thwarted him in his battle with old foe Sébastien Loeb. But this time nothing and no one could deny Sébastien Ogier, who led all the way to score an emphatic record ninth Monte Carlo Rally win. What a shame, then, that the eight-time World Rally Champion is sticking to his guns to run just a part-season on the special stages, as he did last year. A ninth world title to equal Loeb’s record just isn’t on his agenda.


Ogier stays cool in wake of Rovanperä pressure

As the record books show, Ogier has made the Monte his own, so he was never likely to be rattled by a chasing team-mate – even if it was the reigning champion, Kalle Rovanperä. Ogier stormed the first leg on Friday to lead by more than 30 seconds, only for 22-year-old Rovanperä to put in a charge on Saturday. By the end of the second leg the gap between the pair had been reduced to just 16 seconds.

But over the final four stages on Sunday Ogier showed all his vast experience to bat away any threat, winning by a comfortable 18.8 seconds, as Toyota Gazoo Racing began the new season with a dominant one-two finish.

The victory might have been his ninth on the most famous rally of them all, but there was an extra glow for his new co-driver Vincent Landais – as this marked his first at world level.

“It’s huge,” Ogier said with a smile. “I love this rally. It’s the one which gave me the dream right at the beginning and I am so happy for Vincent. For me it’s nice, but for him it’s a dream to take his first win.

“We still need to enjoy these moments and that’s why we are still here [in the WRC], to catch some victories like this. To win a famous one like Monte has no price.”


Good start for Rovanperä’s defence

“It was a good one,” Rovanperä admitted. “I think we can be quite happy with second place.” But he didn’t sound too convincing. No one likes to get beaten, especially someone as good and competitive as the young Finn – and especially when it’s his elder-statesman team-mate, 17 years his senior, who is up the road.

But as Ogier refuses to engage in a full-blown season-long duel, this really was a decent result for Rovanperä as he begins his first defence as champion. Five extra bonus points for the Power Stage win at the end of the rally only added to his early advantage, and the challenge to the rest of the full-season regulars is: can any of them step up to beat him?


Evans rues his luck

Thierry Neuville was best of the rest for Hyundai in third, the Belgian managing heavy tyre wear on his i20 N Rally1. But he was still 27.8 seconds ahead of frustrated Welshman Elfyn Evans who at least logged decent points in fourth. Evans knew this could have been a Toyota 1-2-3 and a podium would have been a positive note on which to begin the new season after a largely disappointing 2022. But a puncture on Friday cost him 40 seconds.

What might have been, eh, Elfyn?


Solid start for Tänak and M-Sport

As for Ott Tänak – arguably the best hope the WRC has of finding a world title challenger for Rovanperä this year – he played himself in carefully on his first appearance in M-Sport Ford’s Puma, to finish fifth. The Estonian left Hyundai disgruntled and without a drive to go to at the end of last season, but has been the cause of much cheer in rally circles after M-Sport agreed terms with the 2019 world champion. Expectations are high – but Tänak wasn’t about to get excited on his return to the team, in a car he’s still getting used to and on a rally that has bitten him hard in the past.

“It’s a long season ahead but this is a positive start,” he said. “At least we have scored some points already – unlike the previous three years!”

Takamoto Katsuta once again showed consistency to log another top six WRC finish, despite nursing rear suspension damage over the final stage, with Dani Sordo struggling with a hybrid unit fault to finish seventh. Esapekka Lappi was a low-key eighth on his debut for Hyundai and like Tänak will be expected to turn it up a notch or three from here on in.


Gryazin holds on for WRC2 win

Toksport Skoda’s Nikolay Gryazin found himself under pressure for WRC2 honours, but like Ogier ahead of him kept his cool to secure the victory. He’d held a lead of 45 seconds over Yohan Rossel on Saturday, but the Citroën C3 ace kept the hammer down to reduce the deficit to 15.2 seconds at the start of Sunday, making Gryazin sweat for his Monte win. “The front tyres were completely dead and I understeered a lot, but I just tried to keep it on the line,” he said at the finish. As for Rossel, he cursed losing around five seconds with a stall at the start on Thursday. The final gap between them? Just 4.5 seconds.

Britain’s Chris Ingram kicked off his 2023 campaign with a solid sixth in class and 15th overall in an older generation Skoda Fabia, while a glorious and familiar name won the WRC Masters Cup. Francois Delecour, winner of the Monte in an Escort Cosworth back in 1994 and a stone-cold cult hero of these stages, returned to his old stomping ground and won his class by more than five minutes. What a legend.

  • Monte Carlo

  • Monte Carlo Rally

  • Rally

  • Sebastien Ogier

  • Kalle Rovanpera

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