Defending FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier has made the perfect start to his bid to clinch a sixth Drivers’ crown, mastering the elements to triumph on home soil in Monte-Carlo.
The M-Sport Ford man began the final day of the season curtain-raiser 33.5sec ahead of the pursuing Ott Tänak following a sustained push from his Toyota rival, but he immediately quelled any thoughts the Estonian may have had of launching a late bid for glory by going 11.5sec faster than the Yaris driver on SS14 (La Bollene Vesubie - Peira Cava).
The tone was set, and with Tänak thereafter backing off to secure a superb second place on his debut for his new employer, Ogier could pace himself to the finish for a fifth consecutive victory in the Principality.
“Rallye Monte-Carlo is a special event for me,” the Frenchman reflected. “I’ve always done well here – I seem to have a really good connection with my home rally – and I’m super-happy to take another win.
"It's been a difficult weekend. You often have to face tough conditions here, but this one was extremely tricky. I've never struggled so much with tyre choice. It was all about trying to minimise mistakes, and I managed to make fewer than the others. I need to thank the team for the best possible start to the season, but it has also shown that the competition will be huge this year. It’s wide open – and I’m looking forward to it.”
Tänak was delighted to seal the runner-up spoils on his first outing with Toyota, 58.3sec adrift of Ogier but 53.7sec clear of Jari-Matti Latvala, who made it a podium double for the Japanese manufacturer. Although unable to match his team-mate’s speed, the Finn was consistent throughout and happy to banish the memories of the Power Stage accident that cost him second place on the final event of 2017.
“It’s really, really good to be here,” Latvala commented. “I’m relieved to make it to the end – it’s important to start the season in this way. I have had a lot of pressure on my shoulders since Australia. Finally now I can take that off."
The Power Stage this time was dominated by Kris Meeke, who salvaged some consolation for Citroën at the end of a troubled weekend with fourth overall – 2min 51.1sec behind Latvala – and five additional points.
Meeke’s fourth position had initially looked like going the way of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi, but the young Finn made a costly mistake on SS17 (La Cabanette - Col de Braus), dropping him behind not only the Ulsterman but also Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans.
Neuville was the architect of a remarkable recovery in his Hyundai i20, battling back from opening day misfortune to overhaul Evans and Lappi with a determined effort that saw him claim the highest number of stage wins of the rally. The Belgian ultimately fell just 10.7sec shy of similarly passing Meeke, with his Power Stage charge yielding four points for the second-fastest time and seeing him finish 1.0sec clear of Evans overall and 3.7sec ahead of Lappi.
Bryan Bouffier came home eighth – the Frenchman losing time in a snow bank on SS16 (La Bollene Vesubie - Peira Cava) – with Craig Breen ninth in the second Citroën C3, the Irishman never recovering from a significant time loss as the ‘snow plough’ on Saturday morning. WRC 2 winner Jan Kopecky completed the final top ten.