The World Rally Championship season is up and running. As usual with Monte Carlo as the opening round. For the 88th year, the best drivers in the world faced the challenging conditions offered by the Monte Carlo rally.
Prior to this year’s premiere there have been a lot of changes in the teams. The world champion Ott Tänak is in Hyundai, this year together with the team veteran Thierry Neuvile. The team also includes seven-time Monte Carlo winner, Sébastien Loeb, who will be one of two extra drivers. And it was Hyundai and Thierry Neuville who finished Thursday night fastest.
But the one who set the pace properly on Friday was the British Elfyn Evans, who became a clear benchmark for other drivers during the day, when he took charge of the rally on Friday morning. Evans, who has driven Ford all year, has changed to Toyota this season.
Friday was also very much about the crash that Ott Tänak had when he went off the road and then had a long rolling before it stopped. Happily, both Tänak and the co-driver Martin Järveoja were able to get out of the car by their own and without any serious injuries. But the rally ended abruptly for world champion Ott Tänak.
Behind leading Elfyn Evans chased Ott Tänak’s colleague in the Hyundai team, Thierry Neuville, who finished Friday as the fastest. With that, he was third behind the leading Toyotas Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans.
– It’s been better for every stages and try to hang with the Toyotas, they are fast but we do what we can,” said Neuville after Friday’s runs.
It was studs in the tire on Saturday morning when about thirty percent of the morning’s journeys contained ice, but it first came in a bit on the routes and required a tire-saving drive to have grip where it was really needed. And the one who mastered it best in the morning and stages nine was Thierry Neuville.
Stage ten then offered even more of hard surface where the grip sometimes shifted meter by meter between snow, ice and pure asphalt. There it was now Elfyn Evans who again stepped forward and took the fourth stages victory and joined it in the lead.
– We had good speed almost everywhere, but it is difficult when the sun comes up and sometimes the ice melts, but sometimes not. Difficult. But I’m happy with the stages, Evans said.
The first Monte Carlo rally was run in 1911 and the question is whether or not this year’s rally was one of the ones that offered the toughest fights. At stages eleven, it was again Belgian Thierry Neuville who was fastest just as he was on Saturday’s last leg. But despite that, he was still behind the Toyota cars in the total.
When Saturday after a total of twelve driving stages was summed up, Toyota was at the top with Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier ahead of just Thierry Neuville.
– Sure it feels good, but in this rally everything can happen and nothing is clear so we must continue to do our job just as well tomorrow, Elfyn Evans summed up.
But Sunday was not what the British Evans hoped for. After the first leg of the closing day, Evans begins to lose time to Belgian Neuville. The same was Sébastien Ogier. Thierry Neuville, for his part, seemed unstoppable, ending the premiere with three straight wins and went past both Ogier and Evans on the final day of the competition, thus securing the victory in the Monte Carlo rally and with it, the career’s thirteenth overall victory.
– It feels incredibly good. It has been a tough weekend, but I am really happy that we now took the victory here, a victory that we have long chased. This is clearly a very good start to the season, ”said winner Thierry Neuville after the finish on the final stretch.
Thierry Neuville is the winner of this year’s first WRC Rally. A good opening for the Belgian and Hyundai. But behind that, five Toyota drivers ranked among the top five. Sébastien Ogier as second, Elfyn Evans as third and nineteen-year-old Finnish Kalle Rovanperä as fifth.
In the WRC2 class, the Norwegian Mads Östberg was clearly the fastest in his Citroën.
– It’s been a good weekend. The goal was to win and we have succeeded. We were the fastest in our class and are happy with the start of the WRC2, said Mads Östberg.
For the Norwegian-Swedish couple Ole Christian Veiby with co-drver Jonas Andersson, the rally stopped on the fourteenth stages as Veiby entered wide in a bend and took in a stone, a bang that struck the right rear wheel. In the same class, Oliver Solberg also drove, but this time except for the points competition, everything to gather experience.
– A difficult rally, but also an absolutely fantastic experience. We have had a lot of fun even though it was difficult, but I am really pleased with our efforts, said Oliver Solberg after the rally.
Solberg who comes to Rally Sweden where in the class he will be fighting against two other Swedes with favorite pressure, Pontus Tidemand and Johan Kristoffersson.