2018 Rallye Monte-Carlo: Day 1 – Normal service has resumed as Ogier dominates


Sébastien Ogier - Ford Fiesta WRC
Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

FIA World Rally Championship drivers are a breed apart, a tough bunch not known for being easily phased by the task at hand, making their collective sense of trepidation in the run up to the beginning of the Rallye Monte-Carlo all the more unique. The pair of stages run in the in the mid-winter darkness of a Monegasque January gave no room for error and nowhere to hide; Thoard – Sisteron (36.69km) run at 21:43, and Bayons-Breziers (25.49km) run at 22:51. Make no mistake, these are tricky stages at the best of times, and that’s before we factor in those other 2 variables – the darkness and the weather.

Sisteron was made more treacherous for being run in reverse format for the first time and for the whole field opting to tackle it on slicks. Largely dry at the bottom but liberally scattered with snow and sheet ice at the top of the col, Sisteron proved to be something of a monster, an old school relic in terms of character and sternness of test – and you thought your first day back at work on 2 January was a struggle!

Sébastien Ogier was his usual, disconcertingly brilliant self, and was comfortably the fastest through despite a spin midway on a tightening right-hander. The Frenchman made pirouetting backwards down an incline in the pitch dark look positively everyday, and was one of few drivers to emerge from Sisteron (relatively) unscathed. Andreas Mikkelsen, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo were also able to thread their way through and were rewarded with second, third and fourth fastest times as a result, with the young Finn’s tarmac pace serving to raise more than a few eyebrows. Sordo was able to overhaul Lappi on the largely dry Bayons-Breziers though, meaning the top 3 overnight comprised Ogier (extending his lead thanks to another fastest stage time), Mikkelsen and Sordo, with Lappi 11.8 seconds further back.

Ireland’s Craig Breen was fifth quickest through SS1 and at times looked spellbindingly fast, though a minor off saw him drop back to seventh overall. It was a situation compounded for him having to complete the run on less than ideal tyre pressures, with the resulting exacerbated tyre wear leading to a dramatic reduction in grip. Breen’s loss was very much Toyota’s gain, with Tanak recovering from a bank related mishap in SS1 to end the evening in fifth place, 5 seconds behind Lappi and 13 ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, the latter also recovering from a Sisteron indiscretion.

Credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Kris Meeke‘s now customary Monte Carlo blues returned once more, this time in the form of a costly spin, again on Sisteron. It was made far worse for then reversing into a ditch and shedding a good two minutes, meaning it was a visibly frustrated Meeke who arrived at the end of the second stage, Bayons-Breziers. He ended the evening in ninth overall, over 2 minutes off the leader and 21.7 seconds behind the man in eighth, M-Sport’s Bryan Bouffier.

Meeke’s issues were small beer compared to those of Thierry Neuville however, with the Belgian sliding off the road on one of Sisteron’s icy sections and into a snow-covered bank. This was hardly a unique scenario even amongst the ranks of the WRC’s elite, yet the error was rendered all the costlier for occurring in an area short of spectators to haul him out. He lost over 4 minutes and plummeted down the order, with even second fastest time through the following stage only good enough for 17th overall.

Neuville was far from alone in his Sisteron-suffering, and he was joined at the ‘wrong’ end of the leaderboard by a frustrated Elfyn Evans. The Welshman’s obvious pace was blunted by a puncture on SS1 and throttle response gremlins on SS2, issues which meant he went to bed an unhappy 16thoverall, just ahead of Neuville.

The chaos of the opening stages meant that a number of plucky WRC2 crews found themselves further up the leaderboard than they otherwise might have been, with M-Sport’s Eric Camilli leading the charge in 10th. He actually dropped down from ninth thanks to Meeke’s thunderous run through the second stage, but remains over 19 seconds ahead of the Skoda of Jan Kopecký in eleventh. The Hyundai i20 of Stéphane Sarrazin currently holds 12th, a scant 2 seconds ahead of Ole Christian Veiby‘s Fabia, with Teemu Suninen‘s Red Bull-backed Fiesta just 3 seconds further back in 14th.

WRC standings after SS2

1  Sebastian Ogier      Ford Fiesta WRC   38:09.8
2  Andreas Mikkelsen    Hyundai i20 WRC   38:27.1
3  Dani Sordo           Hyundai i20 WRC   38:35.4
4  Esapekka Lappi       Toyota Yaris WRC  38:47.2
5  Ott Tanak            Toyota Yaris WRC  38:52.2
6  Jari-Matti Latvala   Toyota Yaris WRC  39:05.2
7  Craig Breen          Citroen C3 WRC    39:12.1
8  Bryan Bouffier       Ford Fiesta WRC   40:00.8
9  Kris Meeke           Citroen C3 WRC    40:22.5
16 Elfyn Evans          Ford Fiesta WRC   42:22.7
17 Thierry Neuville     Hyundai i20 WRC   42:28.0

WRC2 standings after SS2

1  Eric Camilli         Ford Fiesta R5    40:52.0
2  Jan Kopecky          Skoda Fabia R5    41:11.1
3  Teemu Suninen        Ford Fiesta R5    41:30.9
4  Guillaume de Mevius  Peugeot 208T16    43:53.9
5  Eddie Sciessere      Citroen DS3 R5    44:41.9
6  Kevin Abbring        Ford Fiesta R5    48:11.5

WRC3 standings after SS2

1  J Franceschi     Ford Fiesta R2T   46:36.4
2  Taisko Lario     Peugeot 208 R2    47:30.6
3  Enrico Brazzoli  Peugeot 208 R2    50:33.5
4  Amaury Molle     Peugeot 208 R2    53:09.1

RGT Cup standings after SS2

1  Andrea Nucita   Fiat 124 Abarth Rally RGT  46:11.2
2  Nicolas Ciamin  Fiat 124 Abarth Rally RGT  53:26.9