Round 1 of the 2021 World Rally Championship kicks off on the winding, icy roads in the snow capped alps above Monte Carlo. It’s a miracle in itself that the event is taking place at all this year, the current rate of covid19 infections, travel restrictions as well as the mandatory 6pm curfew in France presented a massive challenge to teams, drivers & organisers. Add in the travel issues in & out of the UK along with the bureaucratic nightmare generated by Brexit, it made things extremely challenging for Ford M Sport getting to Monte Carlo.
The event format was tweaked to allow the event to run this year, the aforementioned 6 pm curfew saw the event being run over 4 days instead of the usual 3, with more stages running in the early morning. The final tweak was a lack of a shakedown, due to the current restrictions the decision was taken to cancel the pre event shakedown.
Headlines were made at the event as Alpine F1 driver Esteban Ocon made his rallying debut, at the wheel of an Alpine A110 in the Rally GT category.
Thursday morning saw the action get underway, driving rain was the order of the day early on. Teemu Sunninen shocked everyone as he had a clear speed advantage in the opening stage of the rally, but it was a false dawn as Sunninen pushed too hard, clipping a bank & rolling his Ford Fiesta off the stage into a tree, the event over before it had really begun for Sunninen. Ott Tanak paced the opening day in his Hyundai i20 as some of the Estonian’s rivals faltered. Sebastien Ogier lacked pace on the opening day after struggling with intermittent brake problems, along with a lack of running on the new Pirelli tyres, which were offering up less grip than last years Michelin’s.
While day 1 closed out with Tanak leading, it was Finnish prodigy Kalle Rovanperra in second, Elfyn Evans trailing the Finn in third. Thierry Neuville was in fourth ahead of an incessed Sebastien Ogier who had struggled for pace throughout Thursday.
Tyre choice on Friday would prove to be crucial, for Ott Tanak & Thierry Neuville, they gambled the wrong way & both drivers lost time throughout the Friday. All 3 Toyota’s gained on Friday, Elfyn Evans stole an early march, leapfrogging Rovanperra & Tanak to jump into the lead. Ogier made quick work of both Tanak & Neuville ahead of him, but a puncture and a clumsy spin cost Ogier around half a minute. Ogier, already displeased with his running on Thursday, was apoplectic and a man on a mission. Ogier lit up the timesheets, taking chunks of time out of teammate Evans, the Frenchman didn’t want to lose in his own backyard. The day closed out with Evans narrowly leading from Ogier. Ott Tanak lay in third with a comfortable advantage over Kalle Rovaperra in fourth & Thierry Neuville in fifth.
Saturday mornings dark, snow covered stages saw Ogier carry on his form from Friday afternoon. The Frenchman quickly seized the initiative and overhauled Evans and didn’t look back as he set about building his lead. Evans desperately tried to hang onto Ogier’s coattails, but the Welshman steadily slipped back as the day wore on. Ott Tanak meanwhile came to grief, back to pack punctures dropped him well back from the leading trio, but Tanak would have no choice but to retire. What little tyre was left on the wheel wasn’t enough, the car deemed unworthy to travel on the public road section to the next stage, it was game over for a second time for Tanak. Thierry Neuville & Dani Sordo had a better day, but Kalle Rovanperra outpaced Neuville in the afternoon. The penultimate day closed out with Sebastien Ogier leading from Elfyn Evans with Kalle Rovanperra in third, making it a Toyota 1-2-3 going into the final day. Thierry Neuville & Dani Sordo lay 4th & 5th.
Sunday saw much the same story as Saturday. Ogier remained in control of the event and was able to keep eeking out more and more of an advantage over Elfyn Evans in second. Kalle Rovanperra’s luck ran out on Sunday as he picked up a puncture, dropping him down to fourth behind Thierry Neuville, although the young Finn was able to keep a cautious Dani Sordo at bay.
The Wolf Power stage saw Ogier take the 5 bonus points & his eighth Monte Carlo victory, giving him the bragging rights of holding the most Monte Carlo wins as well earning Ogier his 50th WRC victory. Elfyn Evans secured an additional 3 points in the power stage & took second overall. Thierry Neuville finished in third overall after leapfrogging Rovanperra in the morning and secured 2 bonus points for his troubles. Kalle Rovanperra finished in 4th overall, but he desperately tried to claw back time lost to Neuville, and in doing so picked up 4 bonus points in the Wolf power stage. Dani Sordo rounded out the top five & picked up the final power stage bonus point with a measured performance from the Spaniard.
The next round of the World Rally Championship is due to take place February 26th-28th, and will be the first of two visits to Finland. Until next time, stay safe.
WRC Drivers standings
- Sebastien Ogier – 30 points
- Elfyn Evans – 21 points
- Thierry Neuville – 17 points
- Kalle Rovanperra – 16 points
- Dani Sordo – 11 points
WRC Manufacturer standings
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 52 points
- Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team – 30 points
- M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – 10 points
- Hyundai 2C Competition – 8 points.