WRC - Loeb at the top in Monte-Carlo battle, Ogier fights back | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WRC - Loeb at the top in Monte-Carlo battle, Ogier fights back


2022 Rallye Monte-Carlo - Friday afternoon

2022 WRC - Rallye Monte-Carlo - S. Ogier/I. Galmiche (Photo DPPI)

Sébastien Loeb became the oldest driver to lead an FIA World Rally Championship round after a sensational return to dominate Rallye Monte-Carlo on Friday.

As he approaches his 48th birthday, the Frenchman won four of the six French Alps speed tests to lead the first rally of the WRC’s innovative new hybrid era by 9.9sec in M-Sport Ford's Puma.

The Monaco-based event is Loeb’s first WRC outing for more than a year and, currently, a one-off appearance with the British squad.

Loeb was second after Thursday night’s short opening leg behind old foe Sébastien Ogier. He charged by his fellow countryman in the last of the morning’s three special stages and preserved his advantage in the afternoon, despite a small technical issue.

“The first four stages were really great then we had a little hybrid problem,” he explained. “In the last stage I made a good drive, but maybe it was freezing a bit more. We had some little ice coming out at the end of the stage, so it was a bit tricky.

“I was really surprised when I was doing the best time in yesterday’s shakedown in the first pass. Usually in shakedown I’m not great but with this car I was immediately in the rhythm. It’s not a big gap but I’m happy to be leading after the first full day.”

Ogier dropped to third behind Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans after a cautious approach on frosty roads in this morning’s final stage. But fastest time on the afternoon repeat promoted him back to second.

A wary run in the same test cost Evans valuable seconds. The Welshman ended 12.1sec adrift of his colleague after a frustrating day learning the intricacies of driving with the hybrid system for the first time in competition.

Thierry Neuville topped an intense battle for fourth in a Hyundai i20 N. His day improved after an eye-opening first stage in which he described the balance as ‘a nightmare’. “I’ve never been so scared while driving,” he said.

The Belgian stiffened his car’s settings and ended 8.9sec clear of team-mate Ott Tänak, with Craig Breen dropping 2.5sec behind the Estonian in the final stage in another Puma.

Team-mate Gus Greensmith celebrated his first WRC stage win en route to seventh. But for a minor problem with the hybrid system, the Briton would have been snapping on Neuville’s heels.

Takamoto Katsuta, Kalle Rovanperä and Oliver Solberg completed the leaderboard. A spin and smoke seeping into his i20 N’s cockpit delayed Solberg.

Adrien Fourmaux was fourth overnight but the Frenchman crashed his Puma down a ravine in the opening test. He and co-driver Alex Coria escaped injury, a testament to the new enhanced safety cell chassis introduced this year.

In FIA WRC2, Stéphane Lefebvre scored a slender lead after a late Friday push. The DG Sport Competition driver started the day 24.5sec adrift of Saintéloc’s Eric Camilli’s similar Citroën C3 Rally2 car, but moved to second behind Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport Škoda Fabia Evo) when the early leader retired after going off the road and damaging his front suspension.

The former Citroën factory driver hacked a massive 14.5sec from Mikkelsen’s advantage during the first pass of Val-de-Chavagne / Entrevaux before going another 8.0sec quicker than his rival when it was repeated as the final stage.

The last-minute charge enabled Lefebvre to move in front and he arrived back to the Monaco service park 8.0sec ahead of Mikkelsen.

In FIA WRC3, Jan Černý kept his cool under increasing pressure from Sami Pajari to retain the class lead.

The Czech driver initially led the field of M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 cars by 21.2sec after winning both Thursday’s night stages but was much less dominant in the daylight.

Flying Finn Pajari set fastest times on all bar two of Friday’s frosty tests and at one point reduced the deficit to 14.8sec. However, a slow time at the final Val-de-Chavagne / Entrevaux blast undid his hard work and he ended 26.7sec off the pace.

Monte-Carlo stalwart Enrico Brazzoli ended another 11min 7.5sec behind, followed by Hungarian pilot Zoltán László who trailed the leaders by 11min 48.5sec

Saturday’s action switches west for five stages near Digne-les-Bains. Three morning tests precede a tyre change in the town before the latter two are repeated. The day features two climbs of the mythical Col de Fontbelle, likely to feature several kilometres of snow and ice at the summit.

The provisional results can be consulted here.