After a long and dramatic off season, the 2020 World Rally Championship began in earnest in the hills above Monte Carlo. The conditions for the event were unusually good, with dry conditions and not an awful lot in the way of snow and ice on the mountain roads.
The 2020 season sees three manufacturers in the series, Ford, Hyundai & Toyota. Citroen announced a shock exit from the sport in the off season which has seen a game of musical chairs for many drivers. Ott Tanak has moved from Toyota to Hyundai for the 2020 season, while Sebastien Ogier has joined Toyota with 2019 Ford premier Elfyn Evans. Esapekka Lappi joins Ford as their number 1 for 2020, while Jari-Matti Latvala & Kris Meeke find themselves without drives for the 2020 season.
Stage action got underway on Thursday evening in the darkness. The drivers were a little caught out by the challenging conditions, there was more ice on the stages than expected and visibility was an issue due to fans setting off flares on the stage, dazzling drivers. It was Thierry Neuville who paced the Thursday evening and held a commanding advantage of 19.1 seconds from Sebastien Ogier. Ott Tanak in his first competitive running in the Hyundai ended Thursday in third with just .3 of a second separating him from fourth place Elfyn Evans, while Sebastien Loeb rounded out the top five 17.8 seconds ahead of Lappi in the Ford Fiesta.
The Friday morning would see Elfyn Evans spring a surprise on his more experienced competitors. Evans would win the first three morning stages with a fantastic showing of speed, elevating him into the lead. Evans ascension into the lead was not the big news of the day.
Stage four would see 2019 champion Ott Tanak involved in a violent crash. Tanak, at flat chat at around 120mph bottomed out the Hyundai, which put him off line for a high speed left hand kink. The result was Tanak flew off the stage, the car cartwheeling end over end, flattening a large tree and dropping off a steep drop onto a road below, 100 metres below where the incident began. Tanak’s rally was over and the Hyundai i20 missing the majority of the front end. Tanak and his co driver were able to walk away, a testament to the strength of modern rally cars, although both were kept in hospital overnight for observation.
The rest of the day saw the fierce battle between Elfyn Evans, Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville rage, though Evans dominated proceedings until Ogier was able to sneak ahead on the final two stages. Neuville desperately clung on, but outside of the leading three, Sebastien Loeb was 47.5 seconds adrift with Esapekka Lappi a further 48.3 seconds back.
Drama also befell Gus Greensmith on the Friday morning. Greensmith span and in attempting to do a 360 to get pointed back in the right direction, ended up drifting unintentionally on the ice into a ravine. Greensmiths Ford Fiesta was stranded, a rather embarrassing error for the young brit.
Saturday morning saw Seb Ogier open up as the leader, tailed closely by Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville. Overnight snow and ice coated the morning stages, forcing teams to switch to studded tyres at the last minute. Ogier opened up his narrow lead a little more, but it wasn’t long before Evans fought back and by the half-way mark on Saturday, Evans was back in the lead.
Temperatures increased later in the day, melting away a lot of the ice and snow and seeing teams switching their cars back to near slick tarmac spec tyres once again. Ogier and Evans duked it out in the drying conditions, Ogier briefly took the lead back but Evans wrestled the lead away from Ogier once again. Neuville meanwhile was matching both Evans & Ogier blow for blow, shadowing the Toyota’s by just 1.5 seconds.
Saturday ends with Elfyn Evans in the lead with Sebastien Ogier just 4.9 seconds adrift and Thierry Neuville 1.5 seconds behind Ogier. Sebastien Loeb continued to hold fourth position, although his advantage over Esapekka Lappi had been cut to just 14.1 seconds. Loeb not helping his cause as he bounced off a bank and spun his Hyundai. Toyota newcomer Kalle Rovanperra continues his steady run in sixth place, while Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta ended the day in seventh place.
Sunday dawned with Elfyn Evans setting a strong pace in the morning, but it was Thierry Neuville who was on the warpath, winning the run of morning stages and leapfrogging a frustrated Sebastien Ogier and a struggling Elfyn Evans. Evans dropped time throughout the morning, struggling for grip and it was much the same story for Sebastien Ogier.
The final power stage saw a dominant display from Thierry Neuville who claimed victory and the five bonus points, giving him the full haul of 30 points and a long overdue Monte Carlo victory. Sebastien Ogier would jump Evans to finish in second place and take second in the power stage to secure four bonus points. Elfyn Evans finished in third and picked up 2 bonus points in the power stage. Esapekka Lappi finished in fourth after a consistent run in his debut drive for Ford, Lappi also secured the last bonus point in the power stage. Teammate Teemu Sunninen took three bonus points in the power stage. The rest of the standings saw Toyota debutant Kalle Rovanperra round out the top five, Sebastien Loeb dropped to sixth after spinning in the morning , while Teemu Sunning and Takamoto Katsuta rounded out the WRC runners.
The next round of the championship sees the WRC circus move onto the snow of Rally Sweden, starting February 13th and finishing on Sunday February 16th.
Rally Monte Carlo results:
- Thierry Neuville – 30 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 22 points
- Elfyn Evans – 17 points
- Esapekka Lappi – 13 points
- Kalle Rovanperra – 10 points
- Sebastien Loeb – 8 points
- Teemu Sunninen – 7 points
- Takamoto Katsuta – 6 points
- Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team – 35 points
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 33 points
- M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – 20 points