He’s done it! Thierry Neuville dominated the 92nd Monte-Carlo Rally, claiming his 20th win in WRC and pocketing all 30 points available under the new World Championship points system. He is now, logically, the favourite for 2024.
It was an even-handed victory over Sébastien Ogier (Toyota), the absolute benchmark in the Monte-Carlo (9 wins), who today scored his 99th WRC podium. But the Frenchman was in mourning, as he said at the finish of the last special stage: “It was difficult to say goodbye on Monday to someone who was very important to me, who launched my career in motorsport and who bought me my first go-kart”.
Because he is a great champion, Ogier took the start anyway, after having considered withdrawing, but he was upset all week. His attitude, his behaviour and his performances (6 best times on Friday and Saturday) were all blatant tributes to this member of his family who had suddenly passed away. And he searched for no excuse.
“It was a great battle with Thierry [Neuville]. Well done to him, he was very quick this weekend. It was a difficult week for me. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. I really struggled on Friday,” said the eight-time world champion, whose emotions as a young driver came flooding back this week on his home turf.
A double for Neuville in the Principality
That in no way detracts from Neuville’s merit, who won for the 2nd time in the Principality, after his victory in 2020, and took the maximum number of points available under the new championship scale (30), because he was also the best in the Power Stage. His Hyundai was the absolute weapon this week, thanks also to the new Hyundai technical director, François Xavier Demaison (formerly with Citroën Sport, VW Motorsport and Williams F1).
The Belgian hopes, in his heart of hearts, that it will remain so throughout the season, to help him finally claim the world crown that has eluded him since his WRC debut in 2012. He is already the stage winner leader for 2024, having set eight fastest times in this rally, compared to six for Ogier, two for Evans and one for Tänak.
“I’m at a loss for words. It was such a great weekend and I felt so comfortable. The whole team did a fantastic job and I think it worked really well. We need to keep working, but we’re very happy to win this rally,” reacted Neuville, before climbing onto the podium on Col de Turini. For co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe, it was a first Monte Carlo victory since he took over from Nicolas Gilsoul in the right-hand bucket.
Successful comeback for Fourmaux
The podium, behind the untouchable Neuville and Ogier, was completed by Elfyn Evans (Toyota), the reigning world vice-champion who led from Thursday evening to Saturday morning. “We weren’t quick enough to win this weekend. The potential was there but we didn’t do what we needed to do on Saturday afternoon. On this stage, things were fine but the tyres started to weaken on the climb [to the Col de Turini]. That’s just the way it is”, summed up the Welshman.
The last spots in the Top 5 went to Ott Tänak (Hyundai), the 2019 World Champion, and Adrien Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford). “We are very happy to be at the end of this rally, at the top of the Col de Turini. We still need to improve on certain aspects but for the start of the season, it’s really good, so I’m positive,” explained Fourmaux, back in the queen category (Rally1) after a season of purgatory in WRC2.
WRC: Rossel wins at the end
In addition to Ogier and Fourmaux, the colours of French rallying were also brilliantly defended by Yohan Rossel (Citroën), the 2021 WRC3 champion. He won the WRC2 category thanks to a clear-cut fastest time on Col de Turini, even though he was only 3rd in the standings on Sunday morning when he left the service park in Gap.
Once again, it was a Monte-Carlo Rally to remember in many ways. One of the most important features for the organisers at Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) is always the safety of the thousands of spectators in all the departments crossed. Thanks to the patience and dedication of dozens of volunteer marshals from the ACM, the mission was accomplished and successful, from start to finish.