He did it, without shaking, by managing perfectly, until the end, the 91st Rally Monte-Carlo: Sébastien Ogier, 39, won his 9th Rally Monte-Carlo since 2009, on Sunday in the Principality, taking half of the stage wins (9 out of 18) and leading from start to finish. This had only happened four times in the 21st century, so the Frenchman was entitled to call this a “perfect weekend”, without any arrogance.
On the list of faultless performances in Monaco, by leaders of a “Monte” from start to finish, Ogier (2018, 2023) equalizes with Loeb (2005, 2007). The only other member of this very select club is Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen (2010, with Ford). So this is an extremely rare performance, once more, that the driver from the Hautes-Alpes, now a luxury freelancer in the WRC, has just completed.
This is the 56th victory in WRC for the 8-time World Champion (vs 80 for the other Seb, Loeb) but it is the very first for his new co-driver Vincent Landais, in only their second joint outing in competition (4th in Japan at the end of 2022).
“It’s never easy here and Kalle (Rovanperä) was only 16 seconds behind me this morning, after taking big chances on Saturday,” Ogier also said. In this opening round of the 2023 season, Ogier faced the reigning World Champion, on equal terms, in the same type of car. There was a game but the Frenchman did not yield anything. He first created a gap on Friday, then he managed it on Saturday and Sunday, trying to avoid a puncture like the one that cost him victory in 2022, in the last stage, at the end of his memorable duel with Loeb. The method reminded us of his recent era of unchallenged domination of the WRC, crowned by eight world titles: from 2013 to 2016 at Volkswagen, in 2017 and 2018 at M-Sport Ford, in 2020 and 2021 at Toyota.
This record 9th win, in a completely dry Monte-Carlo, at the wheel of a dominating Yaris, launched the WRC season perfectly. And the final podium reflects the situation, with a 1-2 for Toyota Gazoo Racing and a deserved podium for Thierry Neuville (Hyundai Motorsport). This is also the first podium for Cyril Abiteboul (ex-Renault F1) as a team manager of the South Korean team, starting a year which will inevitably be marked by a new duel between Toyota Gazoo Racing and Hyundai Motorsport. Behind Elfyn Evans (4th), the last big fight of the weekend pitted another Toyota driver, Takamoto Katsuta, against an M-Sport Ford driver, Estonian Ott Tänak. The 2019 World Champion (at Toyota) won the day, by a minute, although there was only a tenth of a second between the two drivers at the start of SS18. A suspension issue wasted all the progress of the Japanese since the start and gave Tänak a reason to look forward to Rally Sweden in February. In the world championship standings, Ogier the freelancer is in the lead, just two points ahead of Rovanperä who took five Power Stage points for the 12th time in WRC. The young Finn will start Rally Sweden as favorite, since Ogier will be at home with his family. As for the 2024 edition of Rally Monte-Carlo, it may have a certain Seb Ogier on the entry list. “To make it a round figure”, Ogier smiled on Sunday, in Monaco.