Sunday 28 January 2018

Rally - WRC opens in Monte Carlo

If you thought last year's FIA World Rally Championship was uncertain and exciting, fast forward to 2018, and what do we have? Even more uncertainty and much more excitement. That is, if the opening round in Monte Carlo is anything to go by.

Friday was wet, slushy and snow-free, Saturday was the complete opposite (in places!) and on Sunday the forecasters just gave up while the weather gods chucked everything at the south eastern corner of France. And if it was bad for the rally cars, spare a thought for the gravel note crews running two hours ahead of the front runners.

What a huge responsibility to make the right call and report back to the teams? And who gets the blame if things go wrong? Through no fault of their own. The weather itself can change quicke4r than Superman in a phone box. Not only that, conditions can be polar opposites on one side of the mountain or valley to the other. Tyre choice? Lottery more like.

And what of the fans? Nutters, the lot of them. That's one thing that rally fans have in common around the globe. Sheer noisy delight when they see the cars, and mayhem when they see a trier. Trouble is, watching the antics of some of them on the TV coverage would have made sensible folk flinch in horror at their proximity to speeding cars which were on the limits of adhesion - and quite often beyond. Every driver spun at some point, and not just once, even Sebastien Ogier. Scary stuff.

Even so, defending FIA World Rally Champion Ogier made the perfect start to his bid to clinch a sixth drivers’ crown by scoring his fifth Rallye Monte-Carlo in a row on home soil.
The M-Sport driver began the final day 33.5 seconds ahead of the pursuing Ott Tänak first time out in the Toyota, and was immediately 11.5sec faster than the Yaris pilot on the first stage of the day. And there he stayed all the way to the finish.

“Rallye Monte-Carlo is a special event for me,” said Ogier, “I’ve always done well here – I seem to have a really good connection with my home rally – and I’m super happy to take another win. I've never struggled so much with tyre choice. It was all about trying to minimise mistakes, and I managed to make fewer than the others."

Having stopped to change a punctured tyre on the first day, team mate Elfyn Evans had his troubles too but scored sixth place: “It’s been a tough edition of the rally this year and we had an especially tough start losing so much time on the very first stage. Over the next few days I think we were there or there abouts in terms of outright speed, but overall there were just too many little errors. When it came to making the smart choices at the right time, we weren’t quite there and that’s what cost us a really good result today. The comforting thing is that the speed is there, but we still need to be better.”

The Power Stage was dominated by Kris Meeke, who salvaged some consolation for Citroën at the end of a troubled weekend with fourth overall while team mate Craig Breen lost out badly on the first day with brake trouble.

At the finish, said Kris said: "It was the hardest Monte-Carlo that I have ever experienced. We had everything: sheer ice on slick tyres on Thursday evening, rain on Friday, snow on Saturday and frost on the Col de Turini today. I'm surprised to finish the rally with seventeen points, but I'll certainly take them! We now have to stay humble and keep working hard to try and improve."

Craig Breen added: "The weekend got off to a difficult start, with our mistake on Thursday evening. And then things went from bad to worse with the brake problems on Friday, which left us opening the road as something of a snow plough on Saturday."

Final Overall Classification  - Rallye Monte-Carlo
1, S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia, Ford Fiesta WRC, 4:18:55.5
2, O. Tänak/M. Järveoja, Toyota Yaris WRC, +58.3
3, J. M. Latvala/M. Anttila, Toyota Yaris WRC, +1:52.0
4, K. Meeke/P. Nagle, Citroën C3 WRC, +4:43.1
5, T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, +4:53.8
6, E. Evans/D. Barritt, Ford Fiesta WRC, +4:54.8
7, E. Lappi/J. Ferm, Toyota Yaris WRC, +4:57.5
8, B. Bouffier/X. Panseri, Ford Fiesta WRC, +7:39.5
9, C. Breen/S. Martin, Citroën C3 WRC, +9:06.7

10, J Kopecky/Pavel Dresler, Skoda Fabia R5, +16:43.0

2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After Round 1
1, S. Ogier, 26
2, O. Tanak, 18
3, J.M Latvala, 17
4, K. Meeke, 17
5, T. Neuville, 14
6, E. Evans, 8
7, E. Lappi, 6
8, B. Bouffier, 4
9, A. Mikkelsen, 3
10, C. Breen, 2

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