Stage Two of Rallye Monte-Carlo was a late night run in the dark over 25.49km of Bayons – Breziers. The longest stage of the rally had flat out sections, treacherous ice, leaves on the course, the twists of Les Tourniquets and tight villages to thread through. Add to that a festival atmosphere from spectators literally adding a smokescreen into the mix with the distraction of fireworks, flares and bonfires.
Thierry Neuville won the stage in a ridiculously commanding way, taking over 25 seconds out of the next best time of Sebastien Ogier. He had done a similar thing on the second stage of 2019 – taking 11s out of Ogier over 20km of Avançon – Notre-Dame-du-Laus, in one of the biggest stage wins of 2019. In 2018 however, when this stage was last run, again as the second Thursday night test, Ogier beat Neuville. So taking 25 seconds on this stage in 2020 is no mean feat at all. And the importance of this stage is magnified when we are reminded that Neuville won the rally just 12.6s ahead of second, and 14.3s ahead of third.
In this post I’d like to pay tribute to Neuville and Gilsoul’s attack over the stage. I’d prefer to make a comparison with Neuville and the next best time. Sadly (wrongly), telemetry for Ogier and Tanak is not available on this stage so we will look at a comparison to Elfyn Evans. This way we get to compare the choice of studded tyres made by Evans, who had two studded tyres on the rear, whereas Neuville had supersofts all round. This is a vital point to remember for all the below. The Welshman finished fourth on this stage, 29.9s behind the Belgian. So how did Thierry do it?
As telemetry data is available to subscribers of WRC+ and copyrighted I will not post full datasets. I make a fair use claim for critique and comment in what I post below.
The maps below are coloured from Red > Orange > Yellow > Green. Speed will range from 0-189kph. Full brakes are red and full throttle green.
The Earliest Indicator
Firstly a look at the right-left bends 200-300m into the stage. From a birds-eye view this looks easy but there is a narrow bridge between the apexes which could be painful if hit. It’s also quite slippy but not full ice. Travelling upwards/north, Evans is on the lefter line.
Going into the bend Neuville is hard on the throttle for about 15m more then Evans and off, onto the brakes hard at about the same point. It’s one longer press of the brakes but with a nudge of throttle, then a dab before the bridge. Evans brakes hard early enough to step off completely but can’t go back to full throttle for such a short distance. Obviously therefore Neuville is carrying more speed up to the bridge.
But even over the short length of the bridge Neuville gives a grunt of throttle. He’s then soft on the brakes for the slippy corner before back on the gas again for a long straight. Evans however is tentative with the throttle throughout and does not brake at all from the bridge onward. In fact he is coasting again from the bridge to the apex of the left-hander – possibly aware that either throttle or brake could compromise traction on an ice patch.
This may all sound pedantic and easy for me to write from the comfort and safety of my seat. But at the exit of this sequence, some 400m into a 25490m stage Neuville has a 19m advantage on Evans.
‘Les Tourniquets’ are a typically Monte series of chicanes allowing the road to climb about 60m in a very short distance. The roads are narrow with a barrier on one side and a wall on the other. Only there are hoards of spectators lining the route. Many are leaning over the barrier with flags, camera flashes, flares and smoke. The road is patchy ice so it is a real assault on the driver’s senses and input.
I’ve annotated each driver’s line with ‘N’ and ‘E’ on the speed map above. Follow with your own eye and see clearly who is the faster. There isn’t any green through this section, so red is slower if that helps!
It’s interesting here how little foot brake use there is. Care takes over and use of the handbrake helps whip the back end round the hairpins. On the stretch before the final hairpin, Neuville has to hit the brakes hard where thick smoke obstructs his vision.
On the high speed stretches Neuville has a degree extra of confidence into the curves. That’s given to him not just by the tyres, we could argue he has been with his car for the previous three seasons and it was built round him. Evans has completed one competitive stage, some shakedown runs plus tests in his Yaris. The next graphic is speed over distance over a high speed stretch of largely dry tarmac. Neuville is in green, Evans in red.
Whilst Evans can match the speed on the straights, check out the troughs of the high speed bends. Neuville can carry an extra 5, 10 or even 20kph on bends being taken at over 100kph. I’ve done a quick visual check from Ogier’s onboards and he is carrying even more speed through these apexes than Neuville. It’s fair to say the Michelin supersofts do their job!
The graphic below shows speed at the same 20kph intervals over a distance of about 3km, beginning with a high speed straight from about 14km. Here the road is frosty, slippy but not to the point that the studs can bite. It’s clear throughout that one driver is faster.
Nailing The Racing Line
There’s a stretch you need to watch to see the beauty of rallying at it’s best. First watch Neuville from the bridge at about 6:38 to the farmhouse at about 7:18. He hits every apex, hugs every inside curve and goes directly to the next apex like an arrow. The judgement of speed and car positioning is a fine example of asphalt driving.
Now watch Evans cover the same stretch (from about 6:56 on his onboard). There’s a lot less stability in the car with constant corrections in the steering. You can feel his tail sliding out as he wrestles for traction on the bends. There’s also a couple of instances of turning in too early too.
This section is just over 1km. Neuville gained over 2 seconds on Evans through it.
Ice, Ice Baby
Monte wouldn’t be right without delicate tippy-toes driving on full ice in the dark, and this stage delivered a small dose from about 19.5km. You’ll see if you watch the Neuville onboard how the push slowly eases off from the village about 10:40. By the full ice at 11:46 he is in Bambi survival mode.
The studs are definitely effective for Evans on the thick stuff, though much clearer on the straights and faster corners. Through the tight corners he is still having to throw the back end round to turn in, at a loss of the gripping function the studs are there to serve. Had he studs at the front also through this section he could have clawed back a second or two per corner – but this is not worth compromising the drive over the rest of the stage.
The speed profile above shows a 2km stretch of the thick ice. Evans claws back over 5 seconds within the bounds of this chart. But it couldn’t make up for the time lost over the dryer tarmac as he admitted at the stop line. The icy section was just too short.
Balls & Balance
So, if the studded rears were the wrong choice for Elfyn, let’s consider he finished only 4.4 seconds down on Ogier and just 0.2s behind Tanak who were both on full supersofts. (Remember also the tyre choices were made for the first stage too, where Elfyn finished before Neuville and within seconds of Ogier and Tanak.) Was it such a bad decision for Elfyn? It’s that context that says more for Thierry and Nicolas. Yes the supersofts were half the story. But the other half was courage carried in the bucket of his seat. That is my thought despite what he said at the stop line about trying to not take risks.
If you liked this post (or not), please let me know with one anonymous click of the thumb rater below. I intend to do more like this through the 2020 season. Any additional points, comments or discussion will always be welcome. If you think I’m an idiot, wrong or wasting your time, please also let me know. You can contact me like it’s 1999, email me at gmail (pushingpace), or catch me on Twitter.
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