WRC 2018: Sebastien Ogier claims sixth Monte Carlo victory
Sebastien Ogier led the opening round of the 2018 World Rally Championship, leading the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo from end to end in his M-Sport run Fiesta WRC, his sixth victory on the event, Ford's ninetieth WRC victory.
Ogier jumps for joy after securing his sixth Monte Carlo victory, while co-driver Julien Ingrassia, second-placed Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja, and third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala and Miika Anttila look on.
Fastest driver on the event was Hyundai's Thierry Neuville who fought back after an opening stage mistake and then a puncture but had a disappointing event. Surprise of the event was the performance of the Toyota team. On his first event Ott Tanak harried Ogier nearly all the way and while the team held 2-3-4 positions for eleven of the seventeen stages until a disappointing final stage error by the promising Esapekka Lappi dropped him three places. M-Sport and Toyota now share the Manufacturer championship lead. Citroen had another soul searching rally with only isolated flashes of encouragement for Kris Meeke and Craig Breen. Skoda's Jan Kopecky walked away with the poorly supported WRC2 category while Peugeot 208 R2 cars were the only finishers in WRC3.
Sebastien Ogier en route his sixth victory at Rally Monte Carlo.
There were many outstanding questions waiting to be resolved when the Monte Carlo Rally started. Would the recent change of management at the Citroen team restore their former glories, would Hyundai forget last year's opening rally disappointment, would the development work of rival teams be matched by the new alliance between M-Sport and Ford, would newcomer Ott Tanak now no longer driving in the shadow of Sebastien Ogier open up a new unconstrained career? In the end Monte Carlo held its magic, their Casino sponsorship clearly underlining the uncertainties of the occasion. Nothing could replace the excitement of twelve months before when the new generation World Rally Cars first appeared in public. In fact nearly all the championship team cars were unchanged since last year, only Toyota arrived with three brand new cars. With Ogier installed in his usual position at the head of the results table, some of the greatest uncertainty was the weather. Would there be snow, for how much and when would it arrive? In the end the rally was held in mostly clear conditions, there was only one really snowy stage and that was run when it was progressively thawing. Unexpectedly icy patches however were frequent, as usual.
Toyota Gazoo Racing's Ott Tanak was closing on Ogier's tail for most of the rally, but victory would ultimately go to the Frenchman.
Ott Tanak soon established himself as the fastest driver in the Toyota team, but despite his move to another team, once again he was in the shadow of Ogier, and suffering from the effect of a master at work. Tanak held second place from stage 5 through to the finish as his former teammate demonstrated his superiority. Toyota themselves were in a new league and proving the best co-ordinated team. Esapekka Lappi impressed by his consistency and calmness, until an unfortunate slip on the final stage of the rally, while Jari-Matti Latvala was busy scoring his third podium result on this event in four years.
Jari-Matti Latvala claimed his third podium at the Monte Carlo Rally in the past four years with third-place in 2018.
M-Sport scored their second successive win on this event with Ogier, but the team showed that Ogier was more than ever the major team kingpin. Elfyn Evans had two scratch times on the Friday, the second time when he impressed in the rain and in the turmoil of the final stage held a safe sixth place to the finish. Guest third driver in the M-Sport team was Bryan Bouffier who did everything required as a longstop team member.
What to say about Hyundai? Neuville started in a bad way, stuck for four minutes in a first stage snowbank, but did well finally to finish fifth. More bad news came on Day 2 when Andreas Mikkelsen, who earlier had been lying second behind Ogier, had a problem with a seized alternator and missed some stages, eventually adding four points to the team's championship points score. When it seemed that the part-time driver Dani Sordo was the darling of the team holding second place, he slid off the road on the snowy stage of Saturday morning. Which brings us to more tribulations for Citroen Racing. Perhaps it was too much to expect changes in fortunes with the change in leadership but the gloomy scene was set on the opening nighttime stage when Kris Meeke reversed into a ditch after a spin. In the daylight of the second day he talked about having no confidence with the car, at the end of the last stage he spoke about not having a feeling for the car but there was excitement on the PowerStage when in ideal clear conditions he pulled out all the stops and made best time. Despite all this he finished fourth overall! If Meeke was upset with the car, his teammate was just unlucky when on Day 2 he had brake troubles. He had hit a stone on the road which damage a brake bleed nipple. He persevered and finished ninth overall, after an impressive third best time again in ideal conditions at the end of Day 3.
Outside the activities of the top championship, there was a lonely event for Skoda's Jan Kopecky in WRC2. With most prospective teams deciding to start their championship challenge later in the season, there were only six starters in this category. Expected highlight of the season is a renewed battle between Skoda and M-Sport, both eager to use the series as a showcase for their commercial customer rally car sales. M-Sport entered their former WRC driver Eric Camilli and their new WRC driver Teemu Suninen. Camilli led initially but on Friday morning Kopekcy went into a lead he held to the finish. Suninen had been lying third but then went off the road, and on the next stage Camilli damaged his suspension. Both were out for the day. Camilli restarted but then went off the road again but under the no-Rally2 rule on the final day he could not score championship points at all. This was only 17 year old non championship R5 driver Kalle Rovenpera's third WRC event and he finished 11th overall. In WRC3 Jean-Baptiste Franceschi led the way in a solitary championship eligible Fiesta R2T before he retired after an accident on Saturday morning and there was no challenge to the three Peugeot 208 R2s, the winner being Enrico Brazzoli. Three Abarth 124s were entered in the R-GT category, two started but neither finished.