Volkswagen Motorsport‘s Sebastien Ogier has claimed his fourth victory on the Rallye Monte-Carlo, becoming only the fifth driver to claim three wins in succession. The Frenchman joins Sandro Munari, Walter Röhrl, Tommi Mäkinen and Sebastien Loeb as three times consecutive winners of the season opening event.
The defending world champion stormed to victory after rival Kris Meeke and team mate Jari-Matti Latvala both retired on Saturday afternoon with mechanical problems. Ogier claimed two stage wins on the final day of the rally, placing seventh on SS15 after a careful drive through La Bollene Vestibue – Peira Cava and the famous Col de Turini.
An emotional Ogier said, “Winning here in Monte Carlo is such an emotional moment for me! It is just an indescribable feeling to win this iconic rally for the third time. The conditions were so tricky. It was so icy and slippery. I am really happy with this success. I would like to thank the entire team, which did a fantastic job this weekend.”
Volkswagen Motorsport didn’t have a completely blemish free Sunday though as Jari-Matti Latvala was fined as a result of the incident which ended his rally on Saturday. Latvala left the road into a culvert, breaking his suspension and hitting a spectator, before continuing to the flying finish and retiring on a road section.
“My co-driver Miikka Anttila and I fully accept the stewards’ decision. The safety of spectators and participants must take top priority at any rally. Miikka and I are in absolutely no doubt about that. We very much regret the incident and will do everything possible to avoid this kind of thing happening again in the future. At the same time, we are pleased that the spectator got off so lightly this time, and that nothing serious happened.”
Andreas Mikkelsen claimed second on the rally after the retirements of his two main rivals and an inspired tyre strategy on Saturday. Victory on SS15, with Dani Sordo and Stephane Lefeßvre filling the top three helped to secure his place on the final podium. The Volkswagen Motorsport II entered VW Polo R WRC battled with the New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC of Thierry Neuville throughout the rally until the lead Hyundai Motorsport machine hit problems on the power stage.
Neuville had to carry out some mechanical work under the car after the penultimate stage of the rally and hit serious difficulties in the final 12.07km of the 377km rally. The Hyundai crossed the final flying finish streaming smoke from a tyre, shifting manually and with only two wheel drive. Despite the problems he was happy with the result.
“We are happy to be here,” he told WRC Live at the end of the stage, “the first podium with the new car. Thanks to the team and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
The issue dropped the hard charging Hyundai to 25th on the final stage, 1:07.6 down on the champions Polo. The limping i20 still made it to third place on the podium with M-Sport World Rally Team in fourth thanks to Mads Ostberg.
Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team will be thinking of what might have been after the retirement of multiple stage winner Meeke left Lefeßvre as the best place DS3 WRC. The French driver finished in fifth on his home event, his first WRC top five finish, after Meeke led the rally at the end of day 1. He was trailed by Sordo in a distant sixth place after the Spaniard struggled with the new i20 early in the event.
“Obviously, I’m delighted to finish in the top five,” Lefeßvre said, “especially after such a difficult rally. I lacked experience when the grip levels were constantly changing and it was tough to find the right rhythm at that point. When the conditions became more consistent, I was able to make use of the experience I acquired at the end of last season.”
The final un-troubled WRC runner was the DMACK World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC of Ott Tanak. The team entered the rally knowing it would be an up-hill challenge. Over driving to compensate for under-developed tyres cost the Estonian time but he is confident of a strong return in Germany.
The privately entered Citroen of Re Felice and the recovering Hyundai Motorsport N entered 2015 spec i20 of Hayden Paddon rounded out the WRC top nine. All other WRC class cars retired.
In WRC2 it was a glorious return for Elfyn Evans, whose step back down to the R5 spec M-Sport Fiesta has brought victory on eight of the sixteen stages. The Welshman played strategy in the second half of the rally after suffering a pair of punctures which lost him two minutes to the chasing pack. A steady drive kept the two Skoda Fabia R5s of Esapekka Lappi and Armin Kremer behind at the end of the rally, bolstered by a surge in the final stage which netted the #35 Ford Fiesta crew a full 28 points from the event.
Lappi took second in the R5 class but doesn’t classify in WRC2. Despite this, the 2.9 second margin at the flying finish is the closest margin on the entire rally.
With Lappi out of the WRC2 classification, the final podium spot went to the Citroen DS3 R5 of Quentin Gilbert with the stage winning Yann Bonato dropping to eighth in class on the final stage. Bonato was saved the indignity of finishing ninth only due to a 1:40 time penalty for the Peugeot 208 T16 of Peugeot Rally Academy‘s Jose-Antionio Suarez. The #42 machine earned the knock back after arriving late to a time control at SS14.
The WRC3 class went to Ole Christian Veiby, who repeated Evan’s trick of eight stages over the three days. The Citroen started slowly, taking third on the opening stage but hit the top of the time sheets on the second night stage and took over the lead of the rally on the first stage of the second day. He was never toppled from the top spot after that and brought home a margin of 3:46.6 over the Peugeot 208 VTi R2 of his closest rival, Jordan Berfa.
ACI Team Italy‘s Fabio Andolfi took the final podium spot at the end of the rally having started the week on top.
The World Rally Championship now looks to Rally Sweden, where all three classes will again battle it out. The Rallye Monte-Carlo’s technically challenging mix of tarmac, snow and ice with multiple tyre strategies and compromised setups make way for a brutally simple question; how many snow tyres have we got? Action gets underway on 11th February with Volkswagen set to star yet again. The German marque hasn’t lost a Rally Sweden since rejoining the championship and in 2012 Jari-Matti Latvala ended the contest on top.