Toyota Gazoo Racing with their all-new driver line-up for the year made a strong start on the two night-time stages at Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The first stage took place on dry asphalt, where Sébastien Ogier set the fastest time and led the rally, Elfyn Evans was third quickest, just 1.9 seconds behind. Kalle Rovanperä also shone in his first stage at this level, recording the fifth-best time ahead of the seven-time winner of the event Sébastien Loeb.
“It was a very good start for our team tonight. In the first stage, both Sébastien and Elfyn were excellent.” Tommi Mäkinen, Team Principal said.
“I know that they both have a good feeling in the car and they are confident. Kalle was very good too: he was with a softer tyre and he overheated it a bit.
“On the second stage the conditions were very difficult, but all the guys got through it and they are in a good position with a very long way still to go.”
Conditions were much tougher in the second stage with a mixture of snow and ice. Ogier still set the second-best time and ended the day 19.1 seconds behind the leader Thierry Neuville. Evans was fourth fastest and holds the same position overall, just 0.3s from Ott Tänak in third place. Rovanperä also made it safely through the second stage and he finished the first day seventh overall.
“We had a good start in the first stage, but it was probably one of the easier stages we’ll face this weekend with quite dry conditions and very constant grip.” Ogier said.
“We knew the second stage would be the biggest challenge of the night. The conditions were much more tricky, and I adapted my rhythm a little bit too much, I was a bit too cautious and lost a bit of time.
“But still we are here, we didn’t make any mistakes and the rally is very long, so I think it’s not a bad start.”
Evans knew the first stage would be dry enough to score a fast time but with a mixed tyre package, he was unsure if he took the right or wrokg tyre choice.
“It was a difficult evening with a very difficult tyre call. We knew that the first stage was more or less dry, and then we were faced with a stage that was quite damp and a few icy patches with plummeting temperatures down to below zero.” Evans said
“I’m not sure if there was a right or wrong tyre choice, looking at the times. With a mixed tyre package it’s very difficult to have a good feeling, but it was nice to get behind the wheel of the car and we can build on this for tomorrow.“
Rovanperä who is the youngest ever driver in the WRC adapted quickly to the car and was flying on the opening stage of the rally, but he believed he pushed too hard so the tyres started to overheat.
“It felt really nice to do my first WRC stages in a World Rally Car tonight. The first stage was a proper asphalt stage and there we had quite an OK time and I was enjoying the car a lot.” Rovanperä said
“Then the second one was proper Monte, with ice and snow and mud, and we went really safely there. But it’s better to be here than not. It was really tricky, I didn’t have these kinds of conditions in my test, and I was learning a lot, but it was a careful run. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”