Sebastien Ogier put on an asphalt masterclass to end Friday at the Monte Carlo Rally with a commanding lead over his FIA World Rally Championship peers.
Driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, the eight-time world champion won four of Friday’s six stages in the French Alps to lead the WRC’s opening round by 36.0s from Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Kalle Rovanpera after 90.1 miles of competition, including Thursday night’s two opening tests.
The Monaco-based rally holds fond memories for Ogier, who was born and raised in the Hautes-Alpes. The 39-year old has chosen to run only a part-time WRC campaign in 2023, but shows no signs of easing off as he chases down a record-breaking ninth victory on the series’ most historic event.
Ogier set the tempo on Thursday night’s short opening leg and continued to assert the same dominance in the morning, stretching his advantage into double figures over teammate Elfyn Evans, despite having to nurse a hybrid unit fault.
When Evans dropped back after leaking 40s with a rear-right puncture on Friday’s third stage, Ogier was afforded room to breathe. He took less risks in the afternoon, even carrying an additional spare tire, yet still extended his buffer regardless of the extra weight.
“I am very satisfied,” Ogier reflected. “Obviously, the risk of punctures (in the last stage) was higher, so I took things a bit more easy. I’m just happy to bring the car home tonight.”
Rovanpera came out on top from an intense battle with Hyundai i20 N Rally1 driver Thierry Neuville. The pair were rarely split by more than a few tenths of a second, but reigning WRC champ Rovanpera found a slight edge in the afternoon to end 1.9s clear of the Belgian.
Fourth overall is held by Ott Tanak after a challenging day spent learning the intricacies of driving M-Sport’s Ford Puma Rally1 in competition for the first time. In the Estonian’s own words, his new steed did not feel “racey” enough, although he did admit to being comfortable in the car.
Tanak sits 16.3s adrift of Neuville heading into Saturday’s penultimate leg and faces increasing pressure from Evans, who put in an impressive recovery drive after his puncture to end only 8.1s behind the Puma man.
Another 27.9s in arrears and rounding out the top six is Dani Sordo, driving another Hyundai. The Spaniard appeared frustrated and felt that his times did not match up with the risks he was taking out on the stages.
Takamoto Katsuta was hampered by a handbrake issue on Thursday evening, but enjoyed a trouble-free run aboard his GR Yaris. A series of top-four stage times promoted the 29-year-old Japanese driver to seventh overall ahead of Esapekka Lappi, who shared similar frustrations to Sordo in his Hyundai i20 N.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Nikolay Gryazin was willing to take risks his rivals were avoiding to win four of six stages on Friday, almost doubling his overnight lead from Thursday’s stages.
Kicking off Friday with a 16.7s lead over Citroen’s Stephane Lefebvre, Toksport WRT Skoda driver Gryazin was immediately on the pace — posting the second-quickest time through the day’s opening test, just 0.7s down on Yohan Rossel.
But not just comfortable with conserving his lead, the 25-year old upped the ante in his Fabia RS to go fastest on the next four stages, only slowing down slightly in the day’s final test to ensure a 29.7s lead over Rossel when the field returned to the overnight halt in Monaco.
Frenchman Rossel begun the day in third after losing around five seconds with a costly stall on Thursday evening, but he leapfrogged fellow Citroen C3 pilot Lefebvre courtesy of his stage win on the day’s opener. Lefebvre ended the day in third, 17s down on Rossel and a further 46.7s back from Gryazin
The action switches west to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on Saturday for another six stages and 69.46 miles of competition. Le Fugeret/Thorame-Haute, Malijai/Puimichel and Ubraye/Entrevaux each run twice either side of a tire-fitting zone in Puget-Théniers. Like Friday, there is no mid-leg service.
WRC Monte Carlo Rally, leading positions after Day One, SS8
1 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 1h26m39.4s
2 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +36.0s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +37.9s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +54.2s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m02.3s
6 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m30.2s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m33.1s
8 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m57.7s
9 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +4m12.8s
10 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +4m42.5s
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