The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship action got underway this morning with the opening day of competition in the notorious Rallye Monte-Carlo, one of the toughest and most unpredictable rounds of the series. After some stunning performances by a number of crews, former event winner Bryan Bouffier heads the leaderboard ahead of Kris Meeke and third-placed Robert Kubica, all of whom are piloting new cars in the WRC this season.
Rallye Monte-Carlo is one of the most famous sporting events in the world and provides challenging conditions with the potential mix of dry and wet roads, ice and snow. This year is no different and tyre choice has proved to be decisive for the two identical loops of three stages and 125.62 competitive kilometres. Bouffier, who won the event in 2011 when it was a round of the IRC, was lucky to escape unscathed after hitting a bridge in the opening stage; he finished second in the test but dropped down to fourth overall in the following stage. However, with snow in the third stage, the Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver capitalised on his tyre choice, winning the stage to soar into the lead. More top times in the following stages kept the Frenchman at the head of the field during what has been a thrilling day of competition in the Alps. He overnights with a 38.8 second lead.
Former Formula One driver Robert Kubica has set a remarkable pace in his debut outing in the Fiesta RS WRC, the Pole winning both the opening two stages to lead Rallye Monte-Carlo by nearly 40 seconds over reigning World Champion Sébastien Ogier. However, as Bouffier gained in the snow-covered third stage, Kubica was unable to match the pace of those on winter tyres and dropped to fourth. This afternoon he was not outside the top four in the first two repeated stages, climbed to second, but dropped just seven-tenths of a second behind Meeke in the final stage to overnight third. Meeke has settled into his first season in the DS3 WRC quickly and has run without problems. He has climbed from sixth and ran as high as second earlier in the day before dropping behind Kubica in the penultimate stage. He narrowly regained the position in the final stage after a great first day of competition. Local man Ogier doubtless started the event as favourite, but the Frenchman hit a wall in the first stage and has never completely found himself on the optimum tyres for the conditions. He has nevertheless climbed from ninth to fourth this evening after winning the last stage. Mads Østberg, driving the second DS3 WRC, had an off in the first stage and a couple of spins this morning but has recovered to fifth, just a handful of seconds ahead of Elfyn Evans, who was another driver on the right tyres in the snow-covered third stage. Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, in the VW Polo R WRC and Ford Fiesta RS WRC respectively, have had a difficult day in the tricky conditions and they hold seventh and eighth.
The leading retirements of the day included both Hyundai i20 WRCs, which made their debut competitive outing on the event. Thierry Neuville went off in the first stage and Dani Sordo was forced out with an electrical problem after the fourth stage. Without the benefit of Rally 2 on Rallye Monte-Carlo, neither will be able to re-start on Friday, but Sordo’s pace – that saw him run as high as third overall – will surely be an encouraging sign for the WRC’s newest manufacturer. Monte-Carlo legend François Delecour stopped in the first stage with a broken throttle and Martin Prokop was also forced out with an electrical problem.
Rallye Monte-Carlo – Unofficial Results after Day 1