Rallye Monte-Carlo Headlines
- Ogier Wins with clean drive and consistent pace
- Neuville takes fantastic battle to the end
- Win by 2.2 seconds is one of WRC history’s closest
- Tanak on fire for the weekend but Friday puncture ends win hopes
- Meeke suffers puncture woes
- Loeb is back and performing
- Loeb and Latvala only survivors of the ‘Peloton’
- Lappi, Mikkelsen and Evans in pack before issues
Sebastien Ogier – Rallye Monte-Carlo Winner
Sebastien Ogier may only have won Rallye Monte-Carlo by just 2.2 seconds, but it is clear he won it with an experienced head. The move to the Citroen C3 didn’t seem to hinder him, but for complaints of a throttle issue on Sunday.
Though Sebastien only won two stages his drives were persistently fast enough to stay at the front. He only fell more than 0.5 second per KM to the stage winner once (SS8, 18.47km) and he is the only driver who finished all stages within 1 second/km. In the heatmap below he is the only driver with all green bars. On only three stages he wasn’t in the fastest 3 drivers.
Ogier didn’t start his rally as well as Ott Tanak over SS1 and 2 but they were both disappointed at the cancelled stage 3. Thierry Neuville stormed past both of them into the lead by the start of Stage 5 and Sebastien had to push to keep up. The profile of the loop’s stages forced mixed decisions of whether to carry and use studs, soft and supersoft tyres. So whilst Thierry claimed the win on the 24km SS4, Ogier responded with wins over the 38.51km of stages 5 and 6. On the trailing stages of the day Ogier could not quite make the pace of the leaders, but he had time to spare thanks to the mistakes of others.
The Weekend Battle
From stage 9 onwards first and second placed Ogier and Neuville were barely separable and it’s fair to say both drivers were managing the risk and pressure. Over Saturday neither would win a stage dropping about 0.25 second/km to Tanak’s pace. Although really these are tiny fractions of time and their 1st place battle would not become threatened by Tanak, this highlights the extra difference needed in the modern era of such close racing to edge opponents when the time requires.
But this ‘safe speed’ driving kept Sebastien out of trouble all rally and he did not suffer spins or the kind of punctures and damaged wheels other drivers were having from excessive corner cutting or pushing too hard. And though Thierry would come very close, Sebastien could give the extra push when needed. If ever it’s true that experience of a rally counts, Monte needs it. Sebastien would know, he has now won 7 in 4 different marques.
Thierry Neuville – Second
Thierry Neuville will look back on his Monte-Carlo performance contentedly but knowing had one or two things gone differently he would have been victorious. For most stages he had a highly entertaining battle with Ogier with both drivers showing top pace and barely moving far from each other. From Saturday on Thierry would largely match the pace and mental composure the local champion has.
On the opening stage La Breole he did not post a great time despite commenting he expected it to be slippier. He was the only driver to have only taken 2 studs whereas others had 4. He finished 5th overall, 26.8 seconds behind Tanak, 3.6 behind new team-mate Sebastien Loeb and more crucially losing over 12 seconds to Ogier. Though he could use his supersofts to win SS2 Avançon, he lost more time to rivals on the first than he claimed back on the second.
The unique tyre choice also worked to a win on SS4 but in the Friday afternoon loop both Ogier and Neuville reversed tyre strategies, Neuville opting for more studs. On Stage 6 he became a victim of pushing too hard, suffering the kind of incident Ogier was managing to avoid. Only fifteen seconds into the stage he went into a left hander too hot and had to go down an escape road, stop and turn around. Although he would only lose 2 seconds to Ogier on the stage overall, the excursion cost him over 15 seconds he would much rather have by Sunday afternoon. It’s also fortunate that road was there and not a wall of trees.
This error may have knocked Thierry’s confidence going into Stage 7 and combined with sub-optimal tyres he was 1 second per kilometre off team-mate Loeb’s pace and lost another 15 seconds to Ogier. He made no mistakes on the repeat of the SS4 he had won, but could not match it. Any confidence lost was immediately found however and Thierry won SS8, taking 12 seconds out of Ogier.
Through Saturday Ogier and Neuville still had different tyre strategies but neither could find an overall advantage. By Sunday their tyres matched and Thierry beat Ogier three stages in a row and set a fastest time on the 18.41km SS15 La Bollene Vesubie. Going into the power stage there was only 0.4 seconds in it, but Seb put in a shift to win the battle and the rally.
Though he lost to such a fine margin, overall Thierry will be pleased at his own performance and how he managed to match the local multi-time Monte winner Ogier.
Ott Tanak – Third
Ott Tanak may feel he is still stuck in 2018 with suffering another misfortune in Monte. But could it be his bad luck is inevitable when pushing to the limits all the time?
Firstly the positive points. Ott won 7 stages altogether at a total distance just under half of the rally total. When Ott goes, he goes damn fast as shown in his horizontal line in the pace chart. From the end of stage 7 to the end of the rally, Ott lost just 16.8 seconds to other stage winners. Here, sitting in seventh place and 1:24.2 behind a peloton headed by 3rd placed Loeb, Ott did not stop believing he could catch them. But he would have to put in the risky pace that put him down in seventh in the first place.
Luck or Limit Breached
A rotten Friday cooled off any chance of a win. Toyota team boss Tommi Makinen was furious at the cancellation of Stage 3 as they had set the car up and chosen tyres with the intent on pushing on this stage. This was at the cost of an optimal set up on the following stages. Sure enough time was lost over the morning loop.
On Stage 7 Roussieux – Laborel 2, Ott’s Yaris got a puncture and they had to stop and change a wheel. They finished 2:22.2 behind stage winner Loeb. I believe it’s the extent of Ott’s pushing to the limit that caused the puncture. If you are able to watch onboards on WRC+, compare the lines taken through a series of bends from about 3:30.0 onwards between Tanak and the risk managed driving of Ogier. It appears Ott is cutting corners half a car width more than Ogier. It is no surprise therefore that Ott can cause damage to the wheel and pick up punctures. The scraping noise alone is indicative!
Bold Tyre Choice
Saturday was back to ‘Flat-Ott’ pace and a mission to reclaim 3rd place. He took all 4 stage wins on Saturday and in the afternoon loop was the only driver to take a full set of the non-studded Michelin snow and ice tyres. Although most drivers took a minute off their first run through
Agnieres en Devoluy – Corps, Ott beat the second fastest Meeke by an extra 5 seconds on the second run.
I give full credit to Ott for this and for the entertainment value it gives, but it is odd that he chose to go easy on the Powerstage to protect that position. Having spent most of the rally going ‘Flat-Ott’, he chose not to gamble to increase his points haul by a third. Although he only lost 3 points, it’s the statement of intent I find odd.
The WRC Field
Loeb v Latvala
Sebastien Loeb had absolutely no problem slotting into the Hyundai i20 after a decades long career with PSA machines. Though tentative on Thursday, he woke up Friday and set a fastest time on SS4 Roussieux – Laborel 1 and the repeat in the afternoon as SS7.
Loeb had an almost perfect matched pace with Jari-Matti Latvala, who set a fastest time on SS6 (shared with Ogier). The pair gave an entertaining battle for 3rd over the weekend which became a battle for 4th as Tanak edged them both. Loeb suggested he hadn’t quite found the perfect set up in the car and was tweaking all weekend. Latvala openly admitted he wasn’t feeling the confidence needed to match the leading trio.
Kris Meeke, much like Ott Tanak, is known for going flat out. And just like his team mate he picked up a puncture on the very same series of bends on SS7. Compare again Ogier’s extent of cutting this time to Meeke (same bend).
It’s unclear where the puncture he picked up on SS2 came from, so it’s unfair to say it’s a result of his driving style. Changing these wheels put Kris in no-mans land and with nobody to race over the weekend. He made a clean and easy drive up to the start line of the Powerstage. He had eyes on this all weekend and he nailed it at full-whack. In his words he was ‘clean and not overly aggressive’.
Andreas Mikkelsen and Esapekka Lappi were both showing pace to match Loeb and Latvala until they hit their issues. Whilst Lappi was unfortunate to suffer terminal mechanical issues, Mikkelsen did a fantastic job of ripping a wheel clean off his i20 and throwing away his third place. It’s interesting to note the reason he lost a few seconds on SS1, mistaking an arch and signs for the finish line. It’s lucky he has a co-driver on board.
Elfyn Evans was also matching the pace of the pack before falling away from Friday lunchtime. Although SS7 was a good result, the pace-setters mostly had poor runs here. It’s unlikely he would have gained any time had he not crashed out on SS10.
After Teemu Suninen slid out of SS1 his rally was a learning experience and a risk free drive. However he rose from P78 on Thursday evening to P11 at the end of the rally, just outside the points. Though the powerstage wasn’t his best display of pace over the weekend he did pick up 1 championship point.
Credit to WRC+ for the screenshots. If you enjoyed this take a look at the Rallye Monte-Carlo WRC2 and WRC2Pro Pace Review.
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