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SS14: Loeb strikes again!
20 May 2022
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SS14: Loeb strikes again!

There is only a 20-second gap, all round, between Seb Ogier and Seb Loeb before the final three stages of the 90th Rallye Monte-Carlo, because the older of the two set another best time to start his Sunday morning. It was on SS14, between La Penne and Collongues (19 km), on a completely dry road, with only a few patches of frost which did not bother so much the two multiple world champions.

“I attacked, anyway,” said Loeb after passing the timing panel, while slowing down his Ford Puma Hybrid. “Yes, definitely!” replied Isabelle Galmiche, smiling from ear to ear. She has been living a dream in the right-hand seat since Thursday evening, and it continues. It’s the French crew’s 5th stage win in this rally (equal with Ogier), and the 930th for the Alsatian grandmaster since his WRC debut in 2001. A record that may never be beaten.

“It was a great stage, but I didn’t take any risk,” admitted Ogier to explain the 1.1 second lost on Loeb. It was unimportant, just one more special stage win for glory, the dominant theme of this historic 90th edition, historic also because these two WRC legends are posted 1st and 2nd before the final sprint. This has not happened since Rally Sweden in 2013.

After SS14, Oliver Solberg threw in the towel at the Briançonnet regroup. A decision taken by his team manager because the young Swede wanted to stop breathing fumes in his cockpit, which made him dizzy and prevented him from focusing on his driving. Two down for Hyundai, because Ott Tänak did not leave the service park on Sunday morning, after his two punctures and retirement on Saturday.

The only survivor among the Koreans is therefore Thierry Neuville, the only priority driver who left this morning with two super-softs, in order to take points in the Power Stage, as Gus Greensmith (5th), in his Ford Puma, is still 1 minute and 11 seconds ahead of him. As for the leading quartet, it is still made up of Ogier, Loeb, Craig Breen (Ford Puma) and Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota). In WRC2, Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia) seems to be heading for another success.

SS15: Neuville finally shines
20 May 2022
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SS15: Neuville finally shines

Finally a stage win for Thierry Neuville, in his Hyundai, after three days of rallying full of various problems. The winner of the 2020 edition therefore brings the South Korean team the first ever stage win of the new i20 Hybrid, in the first run between Briançonnet and Entrevaux (SS15, 14 km). A good omen before the Power Stage (SS17) which will close this 90th edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally, where the Belgian will aim for bonus points for the world championship.

Neuville edged Sébastien Ogier (Toyota Yaris) by 1.9 seconds, Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota Yaris) by 3.6 seconds, Craig Breen (Ford Puma) by 5.8 seconds and Sébastien Loeb (Ford Puma) by 6.5 seconds. “It was slipping quite a bit on the descent, I preferred to be careful,” said the 9-time world champion, who did not want to spoil this superb rally by making a mistake this morning. In front, nothing changes, with Ogier still ahead of Loeb, but more than 24 seconds away now, Breen a minute and a half back, ahead of Rovanperä, and Greensmith ahead of Neuville. Two Toyotas and three Fords in the Top 5, followed by the Belgian’s Hyundai.

SS16: flat tyre for Ogier, Loeb back in control!
20 May 2022
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SS16: flat tyre for Ogier, Loeb back in control!

Sébastien Ogier, who was leading the 90th Rallye Monte-Carlo with a 24-second gap over Sébastien Loeb, and only two stages to go, arrived on the rim of his front left wheel at the end of SS16, the penultimate of this rally, the second run between La Penne and Collongues. Because of this puncture, the Toyota driver lost 34.1 seconds and his place of leader, recovered right away by the Alsatian in a Ford Puma, who came out of his WRC retirement (last rally: Turkey in September 2020) to celebrate this 90th edition in style.

There are only 14 km left to cover, in the SS17, with two passes on the menu, Col du Buis and Col de Félines, before a majestic but tricky descent, and several hairpins in the process of heating up, thanks to the glorious sun of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, towards the medieval town of Entrevaux. A final twist could not be ruled out, however, in this already extraordinary rally, but with a gap of 9.5 seconds ahead of Ogier-Veillas tandem, the brand new Loeb-Galmiche crew, for their first ever joint-venture in a Ford Puma Hybrid, is not far from a masterstroke…

Sébastien Loeb, an 80th win for eternity!
20 May 2022
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Sébastien Loeb, an 80th win for eternity!

The greatest rally driver of all time, if we only look at the prize list and statistics, won the 90th edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally on Sunday, beating by 10 seconds and 5 tenths only, after 17 special stages over 4 days, his arch-rival Sébastien Ogier. His 80th win in WRC, and the 8th triumph in Monaco, where he first competed in 2021, in a small red Citroën Saxo.

Ogier was twice hit by bad luck in the last two stages: first a puncture of his front left tire, in SS16, and then a ten-second penalty for a jump start in SS17, due to a small technical glitch which forced him to release the clutch a little too early.

Loeb did not know he had won when he got out of his Ford Puma at the end of SS17, in the medieval town of Entrevaux, after four days of a fierce and intense fight between the two greatest champions of the modern era of rallying: 9 world titles for Loeb, 8 for Ogier, both having decided to slow down  a bit, to start other projects. For Loeb, it was 10 years ago (last full season in 2012) and for Ogier only last month (8th world title in December 2021 at the Monza rally) .

“It’s unbelievable. We didn’t expect so much when we got here,” said Loeb after the podium in Entrevaux. “We were unlucky, but that’s rallying”, Ogier said. He was still leading by 24 seconds at the start of SS16, the one in which he punctured his front-left tire, finishing on the rim and losing 34 seconds in the process. Each had started this rally in a new car of the hybrid era, and with a new teammate, Benjamin Veillas for Ogier, Isabelle Galmiche for Loeb.

This is Loeb’s 80th victory in the WRC, including 79 with Daniel Elena and one with Isabelle Galmiche, a maths teacher who made the most of her weekend in a Ford Puma. She navigated perfectly a very demanding driver, and she was rewarded by climbing on a podium for history, alongside Loeb, Ogier, Veillas and another crew, fully Irish, entered by Ford M-Sport, consisting of Craig Breen and Paul Nagle.

This stunning win is also one for Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport Ford team, which had almost skipped the 2021 season to better prepare for the arrival of the new technical regulations, in order to fine-tune the settings of this Ford Puma Hybrid. It was objectively the best car of this 1st round of 2022, at the very beginning of the hybrid era in WRC. This car designed in Banbury UK was at the same time the fastest, the most reliable and the easiest to drive, according to all its drivers this week, starting with Loeb and Breen, and adding young Gus Greensmith, 25, who posted his first stage win in WRC, on Friday.

“We have just finished a rally, so we need to celebrate before we decide if there will be others…”, Loeb also said. At almost 48, next February, he has just set a new record: that of the winner on older in fifty seasons of World Rally, a little better than Swede legend Bjorn Waldegard at the Safari in 1990, then aged 46. “For me, it won’t be right away,” Ogier smiled, as he wants to start a new career in endurance, on circuits of this world. “But we will try to set up a date with Seb”, he added, delighted to have experienced “such a great fight since Thursday”, on the roads of Monte-Carlo. Both Sebs are now on equal terms in the Principality: 8 wins each, including Ogier’s win during the IRC era, in 2009, in a Peugeot.

See you gentlemen in 2023 to settle the score, one more time!

Best of FIA Press Conference Post-Event
20 May 2022
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Best of FIA Press Conference Post-Event

They were the main actors of this 2022 edition which will remain in the memories of all. Discover their reactions during the FIA Press Conference.

Sébastien Loeb (M-Sport Ford WRT), 80th wins in WRC
“Really happy for sure. I didn’t know what to expect. I had a good feeling since the first test and this give me some confidence. But then to know which level will I be? I don’t know. The level in WRC is sometimes really, really high but we decide to come here and the result is amazing. It’s more than we expected, but the team, and with Isabelle [Galmiche] – everything has been really amazing with our first rally together. It’s really great. »

About Isabelle Galmiche, his new codriver:
“She did it really well. It was just one or two times she went a little bit late, but then it was just a little bit. This car is really difficult for the co-driver, we are flying in the stages and she had a lot to say. She was in the perfect rhythm and she understands how to do it really well. There are a lot of things to check and she did it all really well. She has a lot of experience in French championship, but in the WRC you have a lot more to do around [the car]. She did a great job. »

About the Ford Puma Hybrid:
“ It wasn’t difficult to manage. It was a lot of power. You can really enjoy it in the exit of slow corner and when you don’t have it, you understand how much it gives you an extra boost. Some drivers said these cars were a bit more heavy, it’s true, but I wasn’t used to drive in the WRC a lot [recently] and when I sit in a car like that, I enjoyed it a lot.”

About SS17 Powerstage:
« I was feeling OK. Then in the stage I felt I was losing the front tyres. Still the feeling was OK, then I saw his time and I was quite surprised how fast he has gone! It was a relief to win the rally. »

 

Sébastien Ogier (Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT), 2nd

« First, you are completely right, we need to celebrate our teams. They have done a fantastic job building completely new cars that are completely different from the other ones. I was expecting more issues, there were some here and there, but we could fight like in the good old days and you would not think it was the first time for these cars. It was really enjoyable and a good show for the sport. I was targeting first place not second, so I can’t say I am 100% satisfied. We can keep smiling, we gave everything out there, but fate decided differently today and we had to settle for second. But it’s been fun in the car and now we have a reason to come back next year – I’m not sure my wife will enjoy that sentence! »

ABout Benjamin Veillas, his new codriver:
« He did well, honestly. We need to admit it’s never easy to jump in the car, they really fast. And when you have never done this job at this level, it’s a huge pressure on your shoulders. In general I am very happy with what Benjamin has done at the weekend. Of course there is any details he can improve and it wasn’t 100%, but nobody can jump in and do the perfect job. I’m pleased with what he has done and we made a good step together. Today was almost harder for him than me. I had the chance to enjoy many success already in my life, my career. It would have been amazing for him to win Monte Carlo, but it was still a great achievement and something special like for Isabelle. They have both done a great rally, but only one can win. Today luck was not on our side, but I’m sure we will win some rally together.. »

About SS17 Powerstage:

« I feel it was on the limit. Surprisingly, the engine strategy started to sound different two seconds before it was time to go. I thought it was like it was dropping RPM or losing pressure or power. It disturbed me. I wanted to try to start sharp. I knew I had to start sharp when I had to make nine seconds, I knew it would be hard. To take this nine seconds to Séb, I think it was quite a performance. I had to give it everything. It was over the limit in a couple of times, but we managed to keep the car on the road. But in the end maybe it’s better to have this jump start – without this, the gap would be only 0.5s and if it was like this then I would be even more frustrated! »

About his frame of mind before the Monte-Carlo 2022:
« A little bit more relaxed, even if I think I’m a bit more relaxed for a while, like you notice. I wanted to enjoy the event, it’s great. Somehow, I didn’t feel differently. I wanted to give my best and try to win this event. There were so many questions before the start with the car and reliability and who would be able to fight for the win – we were joking in the test that maybe we would be better to start in the R5! The team did a great job. The hybrid feels a little bit like the first time sex: very intense, then one second and gone. It’s a good start!»

Craig Breen (M-Sport Ford WRT), 3rd
« Good. It’s been a good weekend. It still feels a bit surreal to be sitting here sharing a podium with these guys – I hope it’ll not happen again! If they’d not been there I could have won the rally! It’s really amazing, we share 17 world titles between the three of us…»

“It’s a really high-level podium. I knew before the start it would be a difficult one for me. I’ve not done the event for four or five years and this in only my fourth time here. To come away from here with a podium on most difficult rally of the year, I’m delighted. This is mainly thanks to the team – they have done an amazing job, given us all the tools to perform. Myself and Paul have learned with every kilometre. »

 

Richard Millener, Team Principal M-Sport Ford
« I can’t put it into words. It’s been difficult for the last couple of seasons we knew that we would put everything into this year and we had a very competitive package and the whole team has worked incredibly hard. This is at the forefront of what we want to do, we had the complications of competing last year, but we knew we could get these results. Everybody worked so hard up to and through Christmas to get cars ready. We’ve ended up with a fantastic team, great drivers and a result we could only dream of.»

“It’s obviously very unfortunate to see what’s happened to this Séb, but in terms of the rally we could not ask for a better start. And it’s been so exciting to watch, I’m just glad this one went our way. It’s a very nice feeling. »

Andreas Mikkelsen (Škoda Fabia Rally2), WRC2 Winner
« It wasn’t very straightforward. There were a lot of dramas in Rally2 in general. We tried to be very clever, we stayed out of trouble. The conditions, for me… it was a little bit opposite, even though there was not a lot of snow it was really difficult black ice. It’s really difficult to drive on that, difficult to push. When you see the snow you know about the grip. I found it difficult. We had an approach to try to win but risk as least as possible we managed that. The Citroëns were fast, we knew they would be in dry conditions. [Yohan] Rossel and [Stéphane] Lefebvre were my main competitors and they fell off. They crashed, I had a puncture yesterday and thought I lost the win. We all had issues. Today Erik Cais was the closest one to the challenge – we put up a good pace on the first stage this morning and we managed to get quite a good gap. It was a good rally to know how much we should push. »

“It was a little bit like I expected– I thought the Toyota would be fast with all their [hybrid] category experience and I was interested to see the Puma. I was not surprised it was like a rocket – M-Sport are good at new cars. Hyundai struggle a bit and they can improve for Sweden.”

 

Sami Pajari, (Ford Fiesta Rally3), WRC3 Winner
« It’s quite clear, if you imagine about Monte Carlo, the ice and snow make it really special. As Andreas [Mikkelsen] mentioned it wasn’t easy to see where the ice and snow was. For me it was a difficult to see – that made it a huge challenge. Maybe I was too cautious where I was expecting the ice, but we didn’t do any crazy mistakes, so I need to be happy. »

 

Raphaël Astier (Alpine A110 RGT), R-GT Winner
« It wasn’t easy especially being here in a two-wheel drive car. There were a lot of tyre choices and a big Tarmac section. Globally I am very happy with the crew and with the team. It’s been a fabulous event. »

SS9: Evans starts in style, Toyota in Attack Mode!
20 May 2022
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SS9: Evans starts in style, Toyota in Attack Mode!

The Toyotas took the initiative in the first stage of the Saturday morning loop. Elfyn Evans set the best time in La Colle-Saint-Michel (16.8 km), his first in this rally, enough to take a handful of seconds from Sébastien Loeb (Ford Puma), still in the lead for a handful of seconds (6.5 ahead of Ogier), but who will have to resist the Toyotas throughout the day.

“It wasn’t a perfect stage for me. I think my two super-soft tyres didn’t help me,” the leader of the 90th Monte-Carlo Rally said, at the end of the stage. A few minutes earlier, in the privacy of the cockpit, he had summed up the situation perfectly: “I couldn’t find the rhythm. Neither did you, by the way…”, he calmly slipped to his new team-mate, Isabelle Galmiche. Promising for the future, because a frustrated Loeb generally goes faster in the next stage.

By taking 7.3 seconds from Loeb in this SS9 between Le Fugeret and Thorame-Haute, east of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the Welshman got back into the fight for the win, less than 15 seconds behind Loeb, as he also took 3.9 seconds from his teammate Sébastien Ogier: “I’m not happy with the car, my hybrid doesn’t help me”, confided Ogier, a little disappointed with his 3rd time, behind Evans and surprising youngster Kalle Rovanperä (2nd). Three Toyotas in the first three spots, in order to put maximum pressure on Loeb, 7th in this SS9.

Seven, like the number of victories in Monaco for the Alsatian whose first participation dates back to 2001, at the wheel of a Citroën Saxo. And who this weekend, aboard his Ford Puma, became the oldest driver to ever lead a world championship rally, beating the record held for three decades by Swede Bjorn Waldegard, winner of the Safari Rally in 1990, at age 46, in a Toyota Celica.

In what needs to be called the second group, the fight will pit two Hyundai drivers against two Ford drivers on Saturday. On one side, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, victim of a slow puncture in SS9, who started with only one spare wheel this morning, in order to be lighter. On the other side, Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith who gave Friday, after the first best time of his WRC career, a plausible explanation for the interest aroused by this 90th edition, the first of the hybrid WRC era: “It’s hard to put into words how amazing this Ford Puma is!”. Ford and M-Sport have worked well in the past few months, in Banbury, and it shows.

SS10: it's all square between both Sebs!
20 May 2022
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SS10: it’s all square between both Sebs!

Two Frenchmen, two multiple world champions, two exceptional drivers, the two Sébastiens who wrote the recent legend of WRC (17 world crowns between them since 2004) are sharing the lead of the 90th Monte-Carlo Rally, Saturday morning at the end of SS10, a 17 km long asphalt ribbon between Saint-Jeannet and Malijai. And Toyota again monopolized the three best times in this stage as fast as bumpy, but in a different order from SS9: Ogier ahead of Evans and the young Rovanperä, while Loeb had to settle for 4th time, losing 6.5 seconds on Ogier.

Provisional assessment: Ogier and Loeb are all square after the first ten stages, Evans 3rd at 9.3 seconds, and all the others far behind. To spice it all up, SS11 (Saint-Geniez-Thoard, 20 km) promised to be thrilling, with many very slippery portions, snowy or icy, on the northern portions of famous Col de Fontbelle (1304 m).

The two Sebs, who set off this morning with super-soft tyres, were not completely satisfied with the behaviour of their respective cars, the Toyota Yaris and the Ford Puma, with the added bonus of difficulties, at times, in managing the new hybrid mode and its additional 100 hp. They are bearing the brunt of a new era of the WRC, but they do so with all the experience accumulated over more than ten years, twenty years even for Loeb, who was already competing in Monte-Carlo in 2001.

In the chasing group, relegated at more than one minute in the general classification, the best placed to hope for a possible podium, in the event of a hitch for the leading trio, is now Irishman Craig Breen, 4th in his Puma entered by Malcolm Wilson’s M -Sport team. He really liked this SS10 because he thought it looked a lot like the roads of his native Ireland, with “lots of bumps”. As for Thierry Neuville (5th), he encountered a problem with his Hyundai and said he was a little worried: “Something broke, I don’t know what…” revealed the Belgian, a 5-time vice-world champion between 2013 and 2019.

SS11: Ogier back in the lead, Evans out!
20 May 2022
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SS11: Ogier back in the lead, Evans out!

The duel between the two Sébastiens turned to the advantage of Ogier, who posted the best time in SS11 at noon, between Saint-Geniez and Thoard, while his teammate at Toyota, Elfyn Evans, made a mistake at the end of the special, on a dry road, on the sunny portion going downhill, after having perfectly negotiated the most tricky and very snowy part of this 20km-long stage. Stuck on the roadside, in reverse, after hitting the embankment on the right, the Welshman saw his hopes of a podium vanish. He was well ahead of his rivals, Ogier and Loeb included, at the top of Col de Fontbelle, after 14 km in this tricky stage.

Ogier got scared and almost took a big jump on the north side of the pass, coming out very wide from a right turn, while Loeb was more careful and conceded 5.4 seconds to his rival. Their closest pursuer in the general classification is now Craig Breen (Ford Puma), more than a minute away. Because of the off by Evans, the stage was then stopped, after Loeb and before Greensmith, to allow the Toyota of the vice-world champion, to be pushed back on the road.

“It’s never easy, with a mixed choice of tyres: two studded tires and two slicks,” said both Loeb and Ogier at the end, relieved to have come out of this complicated stage unscathed, before going to the tyre fitting zone set in Digne-les-Bains and starting to consider how best to manage the next loop: two second runs in Saint-Jeannet-Malijai (SS12) and Saint-Geniez-Thoard (SS13).

The first one completely dry and very bumpy, from start to finish. The second half snowy, even icy and very tricky, without lots of safety rails, and the other half ultra-dry, downhill and in full sun, to the small village of Thoard.

SS12: Rovanperä in front, Loeb faster than Ogier
20 May 2022
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SS12: Rovanperä in front, Loeb faster than Ogier

The first stage of the afternoon, SS12 between Saint-Jeannet and Malijai, allowed young Finn Kalle Rovanperä to register his name, for the first time in his career, in the list of stage winners at Monte-Carlo Rally, just like Gus Greensmith on Friday. Kalle is Harri’s son, the winner of a single WRC rally (Sweden in 2001), just a few months after Kalle’s birth, in October 2000. Barely slower than the Toyota driver, Sébastien Loeb (2nd, at 2 tenths) managed to regain four tenths of a second from Sébastien Ogier (3rd), who retained the lead before the 13th special, the last of the day.

The second run through col de Fontbelle (SS13, 20 km) is promising and we shall know, around 4, which driver, between Ogier or Loeb, has made the best choice of tires: the youngest Seb, born 38 years ago in the Hautes-Alpes, will have a more daring mixed fit (soft tyres/snow tyres) than the slightly more cautious mixed fit (soft tyres/studded tyres) chosen by the oldest Seb, born 47 years ago near Haguenau, in Alsace…

SS13: Ogier widens the gap on Loeb
20 May 2022