Day one of Rallye Monte-Carlo was epic. There were incidents and shocks aplenty and none of the crews could rest easy. Here is a run down of the headline-making events and incidents that shaped today’s leaderboard:
Battle for 2nd on SS6
As Sebastien Ogier continued his fight back up the leaderboard by setting the fastest time on SS6, a big battle was developing behind him for second place. Robert Kubica held the place going into the stage but he struggled in the sodden conditions and dropped a surprising 21.2s at the finish.
That presented Kris Meeke with an opportunity to overtake his Ford-driving rival and claim the place at the end of the leg. Meeke didn’t let the chance pass. By emerging only 17.7s slower than Ogier, he was able to steal second place by just 0.7s.
The Citroen driver said: “I’m pleased with that. I’ve never driven on the winter tyre during testing so I don’t have a lot of confidence to push with it. To get to the end of day one in second place is nice but we’ve still got two more days to get through.”
Another Hyundai hiccup on SS5
Retiring on a stage is hard to take. But retiring on a road section is impossible to comprehend. That was the fate that befell Dani Sordo before SS5. The Spaniard was hoping to get even closer to second-place Kris Meeke on the stage but his Hyundai i20 WRC developed an electrical fault on the road section and ground to a halt. He and Marc Marti tried desperately to get their car moving again but they failed. Their rally was over.
Sebastien Ogier gave his local fans a little bit of hope with a fastest time on SS5. He opted to use two winter tyres and two super-soft slicks on his VW Polo R WRC and it was a combination that worked in the muddy conditions that he encountered. He was 6.5s faster than his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala to leap up to fourth place overall.
Lessons learned on SS4:
The drama on the morning’s stages clearly taught people a few lessons, particularly when it came to tyre selection. The super-soft slicks that were favoured in the morning, were superseded by winter tyres in the afternoon. That gave everyone the grip they were looking for on the sodden re-run stages.
Jari-Matti Latvala got his rally back on track after a disappointing morning that left him squandering in 18th place. He was fastest by 10.8s on the fourth test and moved into 10th overall. “The feeling is much better now,” the VW driver said. “I used four winter tyres and that was absolutely correct.”
Bryan Bouffier, Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo held station at the head of the field, although Hyundai driver Sordo managed to reduce the gap to second-place Meeke from 27.9s to 6.1s over the 25km . Sordo said: “Using the snow tyres on the wet roads was definitely the right choice. It meant we didn’t aquaplane in all the water on the surface.”
All change on SS3
Fortunes on SS3 depended on what tyres you had in the boot of your car. Only a handful of drivers opted to take a brace of snow tyres on this morning’s loop of stages – and one of them was Bryan Bouffier. By fitting one snow tyre on the front and one on the rear of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, he was able to take a massive chunk of time out of his closest rivals and leap into the overall lead by 41.5s.
Dani Sordo, Elfyn Evans and Kris Meeke also benefited from having snow tyres on board for SS3. Meeke jumped into second place overall and Sordo took third place. Robert Kubica, the rally leader going into the stage, didn’t have snow tyres and promptly dropped to fourth place.
A smoother SS2
With less wintry conditions greeting the crews at Rosans-Ste Marie-La Charce, events aren’t quite as dramatic on SS2. Robert Kubica continued his excellent start by going quickest on this test. He was 4.6s faster than VW’s Jari-Matti Latvala to extend his overall rally lead to 36.8s over Sebastien Ogier who was clinging on to second place.
Bryan Bouffier, who was second on SS1, lost time on SS2 and dropped to fourth place overall. The Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver was 27.5s off the quickest pace. “I tried to drive safe,” he explained.
Kris Meeke praised the work of his ice note crew as his third fastest time ensured he held on to third place overall. The Citroen driver said: “We had some excellent info from our ice note crew. There was some black ice that almost caught me out in a few places, but we’re doing okay.”
Privateer Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver, Martin Prokop, retired before he got to the start of SS2. The battery on his M-Sport-prepared machine wasn’t charging at the end of SS1 and he failed to make it to the beginning of the next test. His rally is over.
Drama on SS1
The day gets off to the worst possible start for Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. His debut in the i20 WRC is going well at the first split time as he’s a stunning 4.5 seconds faster than stage opener Sebastien Ogier at the first split. But his challenge falls apart a few corners later as he crashes at the 6km mark.
He and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul are okay, but their rally is over. Sadly, it’s the Belgian’s third consecutive Rallye Monte-Carlo retirement on the opening loop of stages.
Reigning World Rally Champion, Sebastien Ogier, fails to top the first stage time sheets as many people expected. The Frenchman, who was born in the nearby town of Gap, starts the stage on super-soft slick tyres and, with snow covering the road early on, he loses a significant amount of time after he ploughs his VW Polo R WRC into a wall on the first corner. He makes it to the stage finish but he isn’t impressed.
Robert Kubica overcomes the unexpected snowy conditions and proves to be a first stage revelation! The former F1 driver, making his WRC debut in an M-Sport-prepared Ford Fiesta RS WRC, blasts his way to a time that is 19.1 seconds faster than Ogier’s best and 14.3s quicker than second-place man Bryan Bouffier. He says: “That was very tough – the hardest stage of my life. We were not expecting snow, so it was very tricky.”