When Sébastien Loeb’s name cropped up on the entry list in M-Sport Ford’s Puma Rally1 car, we knew we were going to witness something special. But not this special.
There was something magical about watching the semi-retired 47-year-old Frenchman jump in a brand-new car after two weeks at the Dakar and prove that he’s still got it.
M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson may have been the happiest man in Monaco on Sunday afternoon, but Loeb’s stellar performance etched a smile on the faces of rally fans worldwide.
A special mention must also go to Loeb’s Puma colleague, Gus Greensmith. The youngster has been dealt some harsh criticism in recent years, but silenced the doubters by claiming his maiden stage win en route to fifth overall. Podium in Sweden?
Most memorable stage
Saturday’s double run of Saint-Geniez / Thoard had classic Rallye Monte-Carlo written all over it. Ice, mind games, tyre lotteries and plenty of drama.
The first pass became the undoing of Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak. Both went off the road, with the latter busting his i20 N’s radiator while sliding around on Pirelli’s soft compound slick tyres.
In the afternoon, Loeb bravely fitted his Puma with the same package. Upon seeing his rival’s selection, Ogier made a last-gasp switch to the same combination then outpaced him by 16.1sec to cement his lead.
Kalle Rovanperä’s performance on Thursday evening was questionable.
Arriving back at Monaco in 12th overall and behind the leading Rally2 car must have been disappointing - if not a little embarrassing - for the Finn. But credit where credit’s due - it was a different story come Sunday.
Armed with new-found confidence in his Toyota GR Yaris machine, Rovanperä turned the tables and climbed to fourth after taking three stage wins along the way. Who would have thought it?
Asahi Kasei Turning Point
One to forget
It’s hard to draw positives from what was a truly miserable rally for Hyundai Motorsport. Thierry Neuville’s sole stage win at Briançonnet / Entrevaux would be one of them.
Teething issues for its new i20 N Rally1 car knocked the team back and retirements from Tänak and Oliver Solberg added insult to injury.
Fingers crossed for a quick turnaround before Rally Sweden next month (February 24 - 27).
Photo of the rally
This photograph by @World illustrates the true hype around the debut of the all-new hybrid-powered Rally1 cars.
What would you give to have been watching from the Col de Turini mountains last Thursday night?
If you’ve ever wondered why drivers and co-drivers practice wheel changes so tediously, take a look at Andreas Mikkelsen’s SS13 time.
After pulling over with a front right puncture, he and debuting co-driver Torstein Eriksen were back underway in just 69 seconds. That speedy change undoubtedly rescued their rally and, with it, the WRC2 win.
Quote of the rally
“I have never been so scared while driving.”
That was an agitated Neuville’s take on Friday’s opener at Roure / Beuil. It summed up his feeling at the season opener.
This is a big year for the Belgian and it definitely hasn’t started well. But, if anybody can turn the tide, it’s him.
You’ll never believe it
Mathematics teacher during the week, Rally Monte-Carlo winner at the weekend. If post-rally blues exist, Isabelle Galmiche must be suffering pretty badly right now…
Galmiche became the first female co-driver to win a WRC round since 1997 but has never actually told her pupils of her hobby. If they didn’t know before, we’re pretty sure they do now…
Number of the rally
47. Could it really be anything else?
That’s Loeb’s age. And in case you didn’t know, he’s now the oldest WRC rally winner in history, taking the place of the late Björn Waldegård who won the 1990 Safari Rally, aged 46.
Rallye Monte-Carlo was kind to new partnerships. The overall (Loeb/Galmiche) and WRC2 (Mikkelsen/Eriksen) winning crews were both contesting their maiden rallies together.
WRC3 victors Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen had only partnered together on one rally beforehand.