Sébastien Ogier (Toyota) got the 90th Monte-Carlo Rally off to a flying start, launching the 50th season of the World Rally Championship but the first in WRC history with hybrid cars in the top flight: as soon as the first special stage, the 8-time world champion and 8-time winner in Monaco set a best time untouchable by most of his rivals, in 10 min 34 sec over the 15.2 km of SS1 between Lucéram and Lantosque, on a dry road from start to finish, apart from a few slightly wet and slippery sections, around Col Saint-Roch.
The only one to resist this seizure of power by Ogier was the other Sébastien, Loeb, back in the WRC after several months of absence, and for the first time at the wheel of a Ford in a rally, the new Puma Hybrid entered by M-Sport. The 9-time world champion set the second best time in this SS1, just 5.4 seconds behind Ogier: “At the top, it was slippery a bit, so I was rather defensive. But I feel good in this car”, Loeb said at the end, before heading towards SS2.
Behind Ogier and Loeb, the gaps started to expand, right away. Elfyn Evans, 3rd in the other top Toyota, finished SS1 with a 9.3-second gap behind his leader, ahead of three other perfectly grouped Ford Pumas: Gus Greensmith at 12.3 seconds, Craig Breen at 13.2 seconds and Adrien Fourmaux 13.7 seconds behind Ogier. “It was starting to slip a little, we didn’t know where the most slippery portions were, compared to the notes of our gravel crew, so I preferred to be careful,” Fourmaux explained, echoing Loeb.
The three big disappointments of this SS1 came from the three Hyundai drivers, with Thierry Neuville 7th at 15.9 seconds, ahead of Oliver Solberg 8th at 22.3 seconds, because he could not hear his co-driver Elliott Edmondson’s notes properly. And especially Ott Tänak, the 2019 world champion, who dropped 22.4 seconds on Ogier, having conceded more than one second per kilometer. Stunning.
The start of SS2, between La Bollène-Vésubie and Moulinet (23.25 km), was scheduled from 9:31 p.m. for the first car. Ogier’s Toyota, with the number 1 on the doors and already in a leading position, just ahead of his historic rival. The one on whom all rally fans are counting on to resist Ogier in style during this 90th Monte-Carlo Rally. As long as possible.