WRC - Evans sets the pace on Rallye Monte-Carlo’s opening leg


The 2024 FIA World Rally Championship kicked off on Thursday 26 January with a glamourous ceremony in Monte-Carlo in attendance of His Serene Highness The Prince of Monaco and FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid, who flagged the leading cars away from the start on Casino Square.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s Elfyn Evans made a perfect start by winning the duo of night stages which formed the opening leg in the mountain roads of the French Alps.

Last year’s WRC runner-up mastered the pair of stages held in dry conditions to build up a 15.1s lead over Hyundai rival Thierry Neuville.

It proved to be a challenging evening for Hyundai as all three of its entries suffered issues. Ott Tänak battled a throttle problem to end the loop in fourth (+22.8s), behind nine-time Monte Carlo winner Sébastien Ogier (+21.6s) in third.

Adrien Fourmaux impressed on his full-time Rally1 return with M-Sport to finish fifth (+39.0s) ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (+46.3s), M-Sport’s Grégoire Munster (+1m06.0s) and Hyundai’s new recruit Andreas Mikkelsen (+1m08.8s).

Evans lit up the timing screens in the opening stage of the season, even if the Welshman was unsure if he had made the most of the grip on the dry asphalt.

The Toyota driver’s benchmark time on the 21.01km Thoard-St Geniez was more than enough to win the test.

Hyundai’s new signing Tänak came the closest to toppling Evans after posting a time 5.2s adrift. The Estonian did reveal at the stage end that he was battling a throttle issue.

Neuville was 3.1s slower than his new team-mate but was 1.5s faster than Ogier, who faced an increasingly dirty road surface from gravel being dragged onto the surface from cuts.

M-Sport’s Fourmaux delivered a strong effort to post the fifth quickest time, 16.2s adrift ahead of Toyota’s Katsuta and the second M-Sport Ford Puma driven by Munster.

Reigning WRC2 champion Mikkelsen rounded out the Rally1 runners some 32.9s shy of Evans. The Norwegian, making his top-flight WRC return for the first time since 2019, reported that he was battling with the engine mapping on is Hyundai i20 N.

Evans maintained his impressive start by winning stage two (Bayons-Breziers 25.19km) which was delayed. The test, held in front of a huge crowd, featured some damp patches.

Evans beat Neuville by 6.8s and the latter revealed he had a “small trouble” during his run. Tänak dropped to fourth overall after losing more time as a throttle issue on his Hyundai worsened.

Ogier was able to climb to third as a result of Tänak’s problem as the Frenchman posted the third fastest time, 11.8s adrift of his pacesetting Toyota team-mate.

In FIA WRC2, Škoda's Pepe Lopez led the way while Sami Pajari was the best of the new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 runners sitting fourth in class behind Citroen duo Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel.

Six stages are on Friday’s itinerary, comprising a total distance of 105.72km.