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Sebastien Loeb rolls back the years to win the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

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Sebastien Loeb and Co-Driver Isabelle Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) prevailed in a titanic battle with Sebastien Ogier and Benjamin Veillas (Toyota Gazoo Racing) that came down to the last stage of the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally.

2022 brought the start of the new World Rally Championship era with the new Rally1 regulations. The new cars now run with a hybrid power-train as well as enhanced safety improvements which judging by events on this rally, have already shown their worth in being implemented. M-Sport Ford come into the season with a wholly new car, swapping out the Fiesta for the new Puma, Hyundai have entered the new shape i20 and Toyota are using the GR Yaris body for their title defence.

Thursday

Thursday would provide the first running outside of testing that teams would experience. Anticipation was high as at this point, no one knows where they are relative to the competition and there is extra pressure to hit the ground running. Reigning champion Ogier, was fastest through the Shakedown stages before the Special Stages got underway in the evening. Loeb and Elfyn Evans rounded out the top 3 in what eventually be the story the first days of the rally.

The first 2 stages were held in the Monte Carlo night and it was Ogier taking his shakedown form into the start by building a lead of 6.7s. In his first WRC drive in over a year, Loeb kept pace with Ogier through the Col de Turini stages to end the night in second place. 2021 Championship runner-up, Elfyn Evans, was third in his GR Yaris with the Welshman struggling to acclimatise to the additional hybrid power. He returned to the overnight halt in Monaco 11.2sec off the lead. The top five were rounded out by Puma drivers, Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith.

Credit: World Rally Championship

Friday

Friday saw two loops of three stages in the Mercantour National Park covering 97.86km. Loeb rolled back the years to his prime as he took four stage wins out of the six to end the day in the lead of the rally heading into Saturday. Ogier dropped to third behind his team-mate Evans after a cautious approach on frosty roads in the morning’s final stage. But getting the fastest time on the afternoon repeat promoted him back to second.

Thierry Neuville topped an intense battle for fourth in his Hyundai. The Belgian driver had stiffened his car’s settings after a tough first morning stage and ended 8.9sec clear of team-mate Ott Tänak, with Craig Breen dropping 2.5sec behind the Estonian in the final stage in his Ford.

Breen’s teammate, Gus Greensmith, had a Friday to remember as he celebrated his first WRC stage win en route to seventh. There were emotional scenes as he and co-driver Jonas Andersson found out they had done it on the road section out of the stage, his winning margin was 1.4 seconds over Sébastien Ogier. If it wasn’t for a minor problem with the hybrid system, the Briton would have been snapping on Neuville’s heels in the overall standings.

Credit: World Rally Championship

Saturday

The action switched west on Saturday to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It was on this day that Ogier came back to the front after showing searing pace and tyre games on the last stage of the day. The rally had found its teeth as Evans slid off the road whilst Neuville, Ott Tänak, Greensmith and Oliver Solberg all struck trouble as crews encountered snow and ice in the mountains.

Leading two of the three morning stages allowed Ogier to gain a 5.4sec advantage over Loeb at the midpoint. Two close stages in the afternoon running had Ogier heading into the final speed test over the Col de Fontbelle with a 5.0sec gap over his fellow Frenchman.

For the last 5km stage, Loeb laid out his cards by fitting his Ford Puma with the soft compound asphalt rubber, hoping to benefit on the dry sections before minimising the time loss on the ice. Ogier, having decided to mix two soft tyres and two snow tyres made a last-gasp switch to the same combination. He subsequently then outpaced Loeb by 16.1sec to reach the final overnight halt with a 21.1sec lead.

Craig Breen was third in the other Puma. The Irishman was 64.9sec adrift of Loeb heading into the day but a clean, drama free run enabled him to climb from sixth. After a dismal opening two days, Kalle Rovanperä found a more balanced set-up for his GR Yaris and soared from ninth to fourth. He ended 37.8sec behind Breen after winning the final two stages.

Credit: World Rally Championship

Sunday

The final day saw the rally return to the Alpes-Maritime and Ogier in full control. Going into the penultimate stage of the day, Ogier held the lead by nearly half a minute with no obvious signs that Loeb would be able to surmount the gap. There would be one last twist in the rally however as Ogier picked up a puncture on the penultimate stage. With Loeb winning the speed test, Ogier went into the last run with a 9s gap to the leader.

Loeb kept his cool and ended the final stage with a 10.5s lead to become the oldest driver to win a WRC rally at the age of 47. Isabelle Galmiche also becomes the first female co-driver to win a WRC rally since 1997. Ogier did keep his second place as the others were too far back to make a meaningful challenge. Breen finished almost 90sec further back in third which gives the M-Sport Ford squad an early lead in the manufacturers’ championship. Rovanperä secured fourth with Gus Greensmith claiming fifth.

The WRC now heads to Scandinavia next month for Rally Sweden on 24-27 February.

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