Ott Tänak finished the opening day of the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship season in Monte-Carlo with the fastest time of the day as he looks to take crown back from Frenchman Sébastien Ogier. M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen was the only casualty of the of the top tier as he crashed out on SS1.
Young Finn Kalle Rovanperä continues to impress as he finished the day as the lead Toyota, just 3.3 seconds behind Tänak, and 5.2 seconds ahead of team-mate Elfyn Evans.
SS1: Saint-Disdier – Corps – 20.58 km
Reigning champion Sébasitien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia got the 2021 season underway at 14:08 local time and set a benchmark time of 12:09.3 in the Toyota Yaris WRC over the 20.58km first stage. It wasn’t long before his time was eclipsed by team-mate Elfyn Evans by just one-tenth of a second, guided by co-driver Scott Martin.
Following the stage Ogier commented “It was difficult. I was a bit careful at the beginning and I had a bit of a brake issue. The pedal is sometimes going to the bottom and I have no brakes, so I need to check.”
Despite having issues with their windscreen wipers through the stage, 2019 WRC champion Ott Tånak and co-driver Martin Järveoja fired a warning shot to his rivals from the word go, setting the fastest time of 12:05.7, a time that would stand up to the competition and leave them top of the timesheets after his fellow competitors had finished.
Thierry Neuville got his season underway with new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe by his side after the shock announcement last week that he would be replacing Nicolas Gilsoul, who had been with the Belgian for the last 10 years. Neuville commented at the end of the stage “It’s a strange feeling to be honest Martijn did a good job for his first stage in a WRC car. I did an okay stage and had a good feeling – the conditions are still slippery and it’s quite tricky.” as they finished fifth fastest.
Kalle Rovanperä ended the first stage as the fastest Toyota, finishing three seconds behind Tånak, outshining his more experienced team-mates with a time of 12:08.7. “I am quite comfortable with the car. It was a nice stage, but it was also quite tricky to learn the new tyres in the wet. The next one will be more tricky, so I’ll try to be careful but also be fast.” Said Rovenperä.
Suninen crashed out after a small mistake that almost caught out Evans earlier in the stage, the Finn slid wide out of a right-hand corner just before a flick to the left, unfortunately the rear of the Ford Fiesta clipped the bank and pitched Suninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula off of the road and in to the trees. Early indications point to a damaged roll cage following the incident, most likely putting the M-Sport team one car down for the remainder of the weekend.
Dani Sordo put in a strong and steady drive once again to finish just behind team-mate Neuville in sixth place, the Spaniard felt that he could have found more time on the stage, admitting “The feeling was okay, but the time is so bad! I don’t know – I had a good feeling with the car. I don’t know, maybe there is more grip than I thought.”
Gus Greensmith was disappointed with himself as he ended the stage in seventh place, 43.4 seconds down on the fastest time of Tånak. The Brit commented after the stage “One minute it was fine, another it would be terrible. I need to drive better – that was pathetic.”
Takamoto Katsuta survived a spin after clipping a kerb to end the first stage 7.7 seconds down on Greensmith, thankfully for the Japanese driver the damage they picked up in the accident seemed to be more cosmetic than mechanical. Pierre-Louis Loubet rounded out the Rally1 field in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC with a time of 12:57.3.
WRC top three after SS1
- Ott Tänak – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC – 12:05.7
- Kalle Rovanperä – Toyota Yaris WRC – 12:08.7 (+3.0)
- Elfyn Evans – Toyota Yaris WRC – 12:09.2 (+3.5)
WR2 and WRC3 round-up
In WRC2 Andreas Mikkelsen set the pace in the Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo with a time of 12:52.2, 14.8 seconds ahead of M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux. Eric Camilli rounded out the top three with a time of 13:09.2. Marco Bulacia Wilkinson , Sean Johnston and Enrico Brazzoli completed the WRC2 field.
Yohan Rossel and Benoît Fulcrand took the top honours in WRC3 in their Citroën C3 Rally2, Nicholas Ciamin and Cédric Cherain completed the top three. British driver Tom Williams ended the first stage in tenth place in the Ford Fiesta Rally2.
SS2: Saint-Maurice – Saint-Bonnet – 20.78 km
Following a small delay caused by an incident on SS1 that required attendance by an ambulance, Ogier got the stage under way. With the slight delay the temperatures had dropped both in the air and on the cars with the Frenchman sliding his way through the icy roads, choosing the supersoft compound over the winter compounds. After 20.78km he set a time of 12:25.1.
The reigning champion remained cautious after the earlier brake issues, commenting after the stage, “I was quite cautious again in this stage. Let’s have a look at it tonight, I’m sure the team will be able to sort something out.”
Evans would follow up his escapades of the first stage, out-shining his team-mate with a time of 12:16.8, following the completion of the stage the Welshman commented, “It was very difficult at the start with a lot of icy sections. We were stopped before the stage for so long that we started with zero grip and it took quite a long time for us to get some heat in during the stage to get any feeling.”
There was drama at the start line for Ott Tänak, he explained after the stage “My engine stopped two times on the start line and there was only a few seconds to go! I had a clean stage apart from that.” Despite the issues getting underway he would go on to set the fastest time of the day with a time of 12:11.8, giving the Estonian a lead of just over three seconds heading in to the first full day tomorrow.
Thierry Neuville ended the stage and the day in fourth place, despite outshining the reigning champion Ogier the Belgian seemed frustrated with his day as he refused to comment at the end of SS2. The former championship runner-up heads in to the second day 16 seconds down on leader Tänak.
Rovenperä thanked his team as he took the second fastest time of the stage to end the day just 3.3 seconds behind Tänak, “I was surprised how good the feeling was with the pace notes and everything. The gravel crew is doing a good job so we have to continue like this.” said the Finnish rising star.
Dani Sordo battled with a mechanical issue on the second stage, he would finish with the seventh fastest time, “I don’t know – there is some strange noise in the car. It’s like nothing I have heard before. In this stage I was not driving very well, but the one before I had a good feeling. It’s strange, we’ll try and fix it for tomorrow.” Despite the issues the Spaniard managed to hang on to sixth place heading in to the second day.
Gus Greensmith continued to struggle on the opening day, ending the stage as the eighth fastest Rally1 car, being out-paced by the top-three Rally2 cars. Greensmith drops to eight overall at the end of the first day.
Toyota’s Katsuta suffered another spin just before the finish of the second stage, “The feeling is okay, I just need to understand how the tyres are working. Two spins today – tomorrow will be even more about learning.” he commented, finishing the day as the slowest driver in Rally1, 1:34.9 down on Tänak’s time.
Pierre-Louis Loubet took advantage of Greensmith and Katsuta’s issues to leap-frog up two places overall as he ended the stage with the sixth fastest time, placing him seventh overall at the end of day 1.
WRC top three after SS2
- Ott Tänak – Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC – 24:17.5
- Kalle Rovanperä – Toyota Yaris WRC – 24:20.8 (+3.3)
- Elfyn Evans – Toyota Yaris WRC – 24:26.0 (+8.5)
WR2 and WRC3 round-up
Andreas Mikkelsen headed in to this weekend looking to maximise his opportunities and dominate Rally2 in the Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo, despite being outpaced by an impressive SS2 time by Adrien Fourmaux the Norwegian enters the second day with a 8.9 second lead over the Frenchman.
Fourmaux commented after the second stage, “I’m happy with my pace on this stage! We decided to push, so let’s see how it compares. It was very tricky, honestly, the grip was changing everywhere. A proper Monte-Carlo stage!”
Eric Camilli came home in third place ahead of Bulacia Wilkinson, Johnston and Brazzoli who rounded out the Rally2 field.
In WRC3 Yohan Rossel leads the way on the opening day ahead of Nicolas Ciamin and Yoann Bonato who took the fastest time of the stage for the class.
Tom Williams dropped down one place and out of the top ten to finish the day in eleventh place, 3:16 down of leader Rossel.
Oliver Solberg showed that he was quickly getting to grips with the Hyundai i20 R5, While he is not scoring points this weekend he finished the second stage third fastest of the Rally2 cars, moving him up the overall order to fourth place in class.