Last weekend’s Monte-Carlo Rally, the first round of the 2022 WRC calendar, was significant in many ways, it was the 90e Monte Carlo rally, the 50e season of WRC and the dawn of a new era as the all-new hybrid-powered cars propelled the sport into an exciting and more sustainable future.
With an all-new safety cage and a hybrid powertrain, including energy regeneration and fossil-free fuel, the Rally 1 cars are powered by a 1.6-litre turbo engine combined with a 100 kW electric motor producing more than 373 kW. The cars were fast and caused a lot of starting problems for the teams this weekend.
The 75-strong field included rally legend Sebastién Loeb, fresh from his second position in the Dakar Rally, along with co-driver Isabelle Galmiche in the new M-Sport Ford Puma.
They faced stiff competition from compatriot and longtime rival Sebastién Ogier’s Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris with new co-driver Benjamin Veillas and during Thursday morning’s shakedown the gauntlet was thrown down as Ogier set the fastest time just 0.5 seconds ahead. on Loeb, the scene was set.
After the ceremonial start in Monaco on Thursday evening, the cars completed two stages, including the iconic Col de Turini, and it was Ogier who led the field on the return to Monaco for the overnight stop with a 6.7-second lead over Loeb.
Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin’s second Yaris finished in third place while teammate Kalle Rovanpera struggled to find the perfect setup, finishing 13the more than a minute behind the leader.
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Things were looking really good for the new Ford Pumas as Adrien Fourmaux, Gus Greensmith and Craig Breene5e and 7e places, well placed for Friday’s six special stages.
Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai Shell Mobis i20 was 6e with teammate Ott Tanak 8e and new signing Oliver Solberg 10e.
It hadn’t been a good day for the Hyundai crews who were all having some problems and Solberg had the added problem of a broken intercom, the young Norwegian unable to hear instructions from his co-driver Elliot Edmondson.
Friday morning and it was a very clear fight back from Loeb winning the first four stages of the day and taking the lead of the rally, Ogier took the last stage of the day but finished second overall at the end of the day, behind Loeb by 9.9 seconds.
It was an impressive day for Greensmith as he took his first WRC stage win 1.4 seconds ahead of Ogier to reach stage 7. Breen kept his Puma in the top ten all day, finishing 6e general.
Life was not so nice for team-mate Fourmaux, who cut a bank on the first leg of the morning and threw his Puma over the armco into a deep ravine, luckily without injuries to any of the crew, but most certainly out of the rally.
Despite some overnight improvements, it was another difficult day for Hyundai, with Neuville describing the first leg of the day as a nightmare, saying “I’ve never been so scared while driving”, a change in the suspension saw him move in 4e place.
Tanak managed to finish fifth, just ahead of Breen. Solberg had a terrible day, battling the car and battling smoke entering the cockpit.
Saturday was the penultimate day and it was Ogier who made a comeback and won four of the five stages, while Loeb took the opening stage of the day. But it was the final leg of Day 3 when Ogier saw Loeb’s tire choice and switched to the same combination at the last minute.
This decision was a winner for Ogier as he increased his lead into the night to 21.1 seconds, with just four stages on Sunday, it looked like the Toyota driver was on track for a ninth victory in the Monte-Carlo Rally.
Day 3 turned out to be a tough day for many. Neuville continued to battle with a broken front muffler in his Hyundai i20 N, which at one point smashed through the hood, lost a lot of time and finished sixth in the lead almost eight minutes.
Tänak disabled his i20 N after nosed into a bank and damaged his car’s radiator, while team-mate Solberg fell 35 minutes after locking his brakes and sliding off a bank.
It wasn’t much better for Elfyn Evans, who stayed third until he slid off the road and left his Yaris on the edge of a steep incline until spectators pushed him back onto the road, but it took the Welshman 20 minutes.
Teammate Katsuta’s fifth position disappeared when he found a ditch and fell off the standings. Rovanpera found the sweet spot with his Yaris and advanced by winning two stages and 4 . to takee Place.
The final day and Ogier looked poised to take the win as he started the penultimate stage with a 24.6 second lead over his main rival, but a puncture at the front left would cost him dearly as he finished the stage 9.5 seconds behind Loeb, a 31.1 second loss.
This provided an easy run for 47-year-old Loeb, who is 80 . grabbede WRC victory and became the oldest driver to win a WRC event. Co-driver Isabelle Galmiche became the first female winner of a WRC race since 1997 when Italian Fabrizia Pons, who drove for Piero Liatti in the Subaru Impreza WRC, won the same event.
A great battle between the two French legends for victory and a great result for M-Sport Ford’s new Puma, with Loeb in first, Breen in third and Greensmith in fifth and leading the Manufacturers’ Championship.
With Loeb and Ogier competing on a limited basis, the new era looks set to make for a very close rally in 2022.
1. S.Loeb/I.Galmiche M-Sport Ford WRT Puma
2. S. Ogier/B. Veillas Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
3. C.Breen/P.Nagle M-Sport Ford WRT Puma
4. K. Rovanperä/J. Halt tuning Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
5. G. Groensmid/J. Andersson M-Sport Ford WRT Puma
6. T.Neuville/M.Wydaeghe Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
8. T.Katsuta/A.Johnston Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Yaris
21. E. Evans/S. Martin Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 1 of 13)
1. S.Ogier 19
2. E. Evans 4
3. K. Rovanpera 17
4. T. Katsuta 4
5. T. Neuville 11
6. O.Tanak 0
7. O. Solberg 0
8. S.Loeb 27
9. C. Breen 15
10. G. Greensmith 10
11. A. Fourmaux 0
FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 1 of 13)
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 39
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 13
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 42
4. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG 8
The championship moves to Scandinavia next month for the Sweden Rally which will take place on 24 . takes place in Umeåe to the 27e from February.