Dominant Ogier scores record ninth victory

Ogier and new co-driver Vincent Landais clinched nine of the 18 stages in what proved to be an unusually dry WRC season opener to claim a comfortable win by 18.8s from world champions Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen.

Competing in only a partial campaign, Ogier once again outlined his supreme knowledge of the twisty Monte Carlo roads, and was never headed throughout the four days of competition.

After winning the first five stages, Ogier established a relatively comfortable lead initially over Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans, who appeared to be the only driver able to compete with the Frenchman.

Ogier’s streak of stage wins was completed despite losing hybrid boost for two stages on Friday morning, and after a late gearbox change due to a clutch issue.

Once Evans suffered a right rear puncture in Stage 5, Ogier was gifted a lead he would extend to 36.0s before Rovanpera found his rhythm and began to whittle the advantage down.

Rovanpera managed to score four stage stage wins across Friday and Saturday to slash the deficit to 16.0s heading into Sunday’s stages, but he was unable to halt Ogier and settled for second. The Finn did however snatch the full points on the final powerstage.

The victory means Ogier has now pulled one clear of nine-time world champion Sebastian Loeb in their private battle for most Monte Carlo wins. The triumph is the first WRC victory for co-driver Landais.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville claimed the final spot on the podium, 44.6s adrift of Ogier as the South Korean marque struggled to contend with the dominant Toyota team. Toyota’s upgraded GR Yaris claimed 16 of the 18 stages, with Hyundai only breaking the drought on Saturday’s Stage 12 courtesy of Neuville, who snatched two stage victories to cement third.

The Belgian’s rally began with a lucky escape on Stage 2 when he skated into a bank after being caught out by black ice. Neuville inherited third after Evans’ puncture but he couldn’t close in on the leading Toyotas. This was largely due to a set up direction taken by the team that had expected more wintry conditions prior to the event.

Having shown arguably the best pace outside of Ogier, Evans was unable to recover the 40s lost to the puncture on Friday and finished fourth. The Welshman did boost his points tally by finishing third on the powerstage.

Ott Tanak’s first outing in the M-Sport Ford Puma resulted in the Estonian finishing fifth overall. The 2019 world champion did run as high as third after Thursday’s opening stages, but then struggled to acclimatise to the Puma’s characteristics. An intermittent power steering issue on Saturday then dropped him from fourth to fifth.

Tanak made progress in extracting speed from the car to deliver an extra four points from the powerstage after being pipped to the stage win by Rovanpera by 0.6s.

It ultimately proved to be a challenging weekend for M-Sport’s sister manufacturer entry driven by Pierre-Louis Loubet. The Frenchman was holding eighth before an off on Stage 5 which severely damaged his power steering, and without a midday service, he had to continue for three stages without steering assistance.

Loubet returned on Sunday but a water leak followed by a lack of fuel ultimately forced him out of the event.

A solid run from Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta netted the Japanese driver sixth but it wasn’t without drama on the final powerstage. A suspected rear suspension failure created late drama, but he was able to haul the GR Yaris home ahead Hyundai duo Dani Sordo and Esapekka Lappi.

The Hyundai pair struggled to find the set up sweet spot aboard their i20 Ns. Sordo suffered from persistent hybrid problems, while Lappi struggled to adapt to the new car, and was hit by a puncture on Saturday.

The WRC2 honours were claimed by Skoda driver Nikolay Gryazin, who edged Citroen’s Yohan Rossel by 4.5s.

UPDATE: Rossel has been awarded the WRC2 victory after a protest made against Gryazin was upheld by FIA stewards following a hearing.

Officials have imposed a five second penalty to Gryazin after he was found to have breached Article 19.2 of the 2023 FIA WRC Sporting Regulations during Stage 14. During the test Gryazin cut a corner at the 13.2km mark.

Gryazin had suffered a front right puncture prior to cutting the corner. As a result of the penalty, Rossel has been declared the winner with Gryazin demoted to second, 0.5s behind the Citroen driver.

Monte Carlo results:

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