Neuville wins epic head-to-head with Ogier in 2024 opener

The Hyundai driver won nine of the 17 asphalt stages in one of the driest Monte Carlo rallies on record to claim his second win at the famous event, by margin of 16.1 seconds over nine-time victor Ogier.

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans completed the podium in third (+45.2s), while Hyundai’s Ott Tanak (+1m59.8s) and M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux (+3m36.9s) filled the top five positions.

In addition to Neuville’s outright rally victory, the Belgian claimed the maximum 30 points. He scooped the 18 points on offer for leading the rally on Saturday night and was fastest on Sunday to bag an extra seven points under the new-for-2024 points structure.

Neuville put the icing on the cake by claiming the five bonus Power Stage points and leads the championship by six points from Ogier with Evans third on 21 points.

The new rules mean the top seven across Sunday’s leg are awarded points, which were claimed by Neuville (7), Evans (6), Ogier (5), Tanak (4), Fourmaux (3), Takamoto Katsuta (2) and Gregoire Munster (1).

Slightly hampered by an engine issue on his lighter and upgraded i20 N, Neuville kicked off the rally by ending Thursday night’s opening stages in second, 15.1s behind an impressive, fast-starting Evans.

He was lucky to escape a brief brush with a snowbank after sliding on a sheet of ice in stage three that caught out several drivers. Neuville also rode his luck when he suffered a spin on the following stage but, had he avoided the error that cost him 10 seconds, he would have shot into the rally lead.

After ending Friday sitting third, 16.1s behind Evans, who had a 4.5s advantage over Ogier, Neuville hit the lead on Saturday morning in style.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

The 2020 Monte Carlo winner ignited his victory bid on a frosty stage nine where he took 9.6s out of leader Evans and was 18.8s faster than Ogier.

That blistering effort was followed up by series of strong times resulting in Neuville taking the rally lead after stage 10.

Evans’ challenge began to fall away with the Welshman unable to match the pace of Neuville and Ogier as an epic head-to-head developed. Evans wasn’t helped by a hybrid issue on his GR Yaris in stage 10.

In the afternoon, Ogier mounted an inspired charge that included his 700th career stage win. The Frenchman began to reel in Neuville before taking the rally lead by 0.8s after winning stage 13.

However, Neuville summoned what he described as the “perfect stage” to beat Ogier by 4.1s in stage 14 to end Saturday with a 3.3s advantage.

The stunning speed continued into Sunday as Neuville dashed Ogier’s hopes of a 10th Monte Carlo win by topping the two morning stages, which resulted in his rival conceding defeat.

Neuville sealed the victory by winning the Power Stage by 2.6s from Ogier.

Tanak’s first event back with Hyundai, following a 2023 campaign with M-Sport, proved to be challenging. An engine issue plagued all three Hyundais on Thursday night and, while it was resolved on two cars, it plagued Tanak’s i20 N during the rally.

But it was a mistake on stage three that effectively ended his victory hopes. Tanak was caught out by the same ice sheet as Neuville but, unlike his team-mate, he found a ditch, which required spectators to push him back onto the road, costing the Estonian 41.9s.

M-Sport Ford’s young driver line-up of Fourmaux and Munster impressed and were sitting fifth and sixth until Saturday afternoon when Munster – who also lost time to an incident on the stage three ice – found himself beached in the stage 12 barriers.

While Fourmaux produced a controlled performance to finish fifth, Munster benefitted from the new scoring system by picking up a point on Sunday.

New Hyundai signing Andreas Mikkelsen endured a challenging Rally1 debut adjusting to his i20 N. The reigning WRC2 champion survived a wild moment on stage nine to ultimately finish sixth overall (+5m34.6s).

Toyota’s Katsuta finished seventh (+8m28.5s) and showed flashes of speed across Saturday as he recovered from losing five minutes after running into the same ditch as Tanak and Munster on stage three.

In WRC2, Citroen driver Yohan Rossel snatched the victory by 4.9s from Pepe Lopez in the final stage with Nikolay Gryazin in third. The trio were locked in a battle that featured the lead change seven times.

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