Sébastien Loeb wins 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

24th January 2022
Damien Smith

What a way to start a new era. As the new hybrid Rally1 cars took their bow, a blast from the past blew through the Monte Carlo Rally to show the younger drivers how it’s done. Sébastien Loeb, in his first WRC start since 2020, became the oldest driver ever to win a round of the WRC to score what will surely be the most memorable of his record-equalling eight victories on the most famous rally of them all.

Sure, he needed a dose of bad luck for his old rival Sébastien Ogier to do it – but no one was about to begrudge the nine-time world champion his record-extending 80th WRC victory, as M-Sport returned to the top of the sport with its sensational new Ford Puma. Just to add to the headlines, he was co-driven by a 50-year-old female school teacher, Isabelle Galmiche, on her first start in the top tier. Talk about feel-good motorsport at its best.

Day 1: Ogier ushers in the new era

The WRC’s ‘old guard’ showed the younger generations the way from the start when the Monte Carlo Rally kicked off with a pair of night stages on Thursday evening. Eight-time and reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier won both as the new hybrid Rally1 era took its bow. The Frenchman, bidding for his ninth victory on the Monte, opened up a 6.7-second lead over the ‘other’ Sébastien, making his first WRC start since Rally Turkey in 2020 in what’s supposed to be a one-off cameo in M-Sport’s Puma.

Day 2: brilliant Loeb storms to the top

But the following morning Loeb turned the tables to hit the front, in a manner that rolled back the years. He was fastest on the three stages that made up the morning loop, as a cautious Ogier dropped behind Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans, and the Hyundais of Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak moved into the top six. But Adrien Fourmaux became the first casualty of the new season when he dramatically rolled his Puma down a ravine, fortunately without injury either to himself or co-driver Alex Coria. A good early test for the FIA’s beefed up safety cells in the new generation of cars, although the Ford was badly damaged.

As for team-mate Loeb and his co-driver Galmiche, the rest of day one capped a glorious WRC return for statistically the greatest rally driver of them all. Hybrid problems on the final two stages gave him some cause for concern, but it didn’t stop Loeb ending the day 9.9s ahead of Ogier, who had worked his way back ahead of Evans. “We are feeling well,” said a happy Loeb. “For sure, it was a good day. The first stages were really great, then we had a little hybrid problem. I was really surprised when I was doing the best time in the shakedown… but since then we tried to push to get a feeling in the car. It’s not a big gap, but we are happy to be leading after the first day.”

There was also joy for Briton Gus Greensmith, who scored his first WRC stage win on the penultimate test of the day. The M-Sport driver was seventh overall at the end of the leg, behind the Hyundais of Neuville and Tanak, and team-mate Craig Breen.

Day 3: Ogier stamps his mark

Saturday on the Monte Carlo Rally was all about Ogier, who put in a typically dominant performance to overturn his old rival’s advantage. Having started 9.9s down on Loeb, the Toyota driver finished the day 21.1s ahead. He won two of the three stages in the morning, and really stamped his mark on the rally on the final test of the leg in mixed conditions featuring ice, snow and dry roads to open up daylight to his old rival. Choosing the same tyre option as Loeb, Ogier put in a remarkable performance to add more than 15 seconds to his lead and leave him with a comfortable advantage heading into day three.

Breen had a reasonable day to move up to third, albeit nearly a minute and a half off the lead as Evans’s challenge unravelled. The Welshman clipped a bank on the final stage of the morning, his Yaris ending up stranded on a hillside and any hope of a podium gone.

The Hyundai challenge also wilted. Neuville slipped down the order with a damper problem that needed a road-side repair, while Tanak retired after suffering two punctures and a crash. The rally was all about the two Sebs – as it had been from the start.

Day 4: the twist in the tale

Ogier looked well set for his ninth Monte victory in what will only be a part-season in the WRC for a driver who has chosen not to chase Loeb’s record of nine titles. He consolidated his advantage on the opening stages of day four and victory appeared to be in his grasp. Until it wasn’t. On the penultimate test of the rally, disaster struck as he picked up a left-front puncture as Loeb set the fastest time and suddenly found himself back in the lead.

The older Seb had trailed the younger by more than half a minute and looked beaten. But now all Loeb needed was to keep a cool head through the final Power Stage to beat Ogier by 10.5s and write a lovely piece of WRC history, both for himself and Galmiche. Sportingly, Ogier put aside his own disappointment to shake the hand of the man who now shares his record of eight Monte Carlo victories.

“I didn’t expect so much when I came here,” said Loeb with a smile. “It was a great fight, Ogier was really fast and I struggled a bit yesterday and even this morning.” He then admitted, with typical understatement, that his victory was “one of my best memories” in his long, illustrious and varied motor sport career.

Behind the pair, Irishman Breen delivered a fine third place on his first WRC start for M-Sport, ahead of Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera, Greensmith and Neuville with Andreas Mikkelsen the top WRC2 driver in seventh overall.

But all the attention focused on the two Sebs, plus Loeb’s overjoyed co-driver – the first woman to win at this level since 1997, when Fabrizia Pons navigated Subaru’s Piero Latti to victory on the Monte. “I think perhaps it might be the best day of my life,” she said.

What a way for Rally1 to start. The question is will Loeb and M-Sport reunite for more? We can only hope.

  • WRC

  • WRC 2022

  • 2022

  • Monte Carlo Rally

  • Ford

  • Puma

  • M-Sport

  • Sebastien Loeb

  • Isabelle Galmiche

  • ford-puma-hybrid-rally1-wrc-main-17012229.jpg


    Ford unveils Puma Hybrid Rally1 car

  • loeb-and-ogier-safari-rally-main.jpg


    Loeb and Ogier return for Safari Rally

  • pierre-louis-loubet-rally-greece-2022-mcklein-mi-03012023-main.jpg


    2023 WRC Drivers and Teams