Ogier holds off Tanak for season-opener win

 

  In the final stage of the 2018 WRC Rally Monte Carlo on Sunday, 5-time Champion Sebastien Ogier held off a strong challenge for Toyota debutant Ott Tanak to win the first rally of the year. Ogier has made the perfect start to his bid to clinch a sixth drivers’ crown by mastering the elements to clinch his fifth Rallye Monte-Carlo in a row on home soil.

Ogier started the day with a 33.5sec lead of Tänak, but the Frenchman immediately quelled any thoughts the Estonian may have had of launching a late bid for glory by going 11.5sec faster than the Toyota Yaris driver on SS14. Securing four stage wins, Ogier produced another Monte masterclass performance. “We always face tough conditions at Rallye Monte-Carlo but this year they were really extreme. I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much with the tyre choices, so to have come out on top is fantastic. I think everyone made mistakes this weekend – myself included – but it was almost impossible to have the perfect drive. Luckily we only had some small mistakes and once we had a good gap it was just a case of trying to manage it – but that is never easy in these conditions either!” Ogier commented.

Tanak backed off to secure the runner up spot on his debut for his new team. He would finish 58.3sec adrift of Ogier but 53.7sec clear of team mate 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.

The power stage was won by Citroen’s Kris Meeke, who salvaged some consolation for the French squad at the end of a troubled weekend with fourth overall, 2min 51.1sec behind Latvala, and five additional points. Meeke’s position had initially looked like going the way of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi, but the young Finn made a costly mistake on SS17, dropping him behind not only Meeke but also Hyundai’s 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. The Belgian ultimately fell just 10.7sec shy of similarly passing Meeke, finishing 1.0sec clear of Evans overall and 3.7sec ahead of Lappi.

Evans recovered sixth place, but the prestigious event could have yielded so much more. Unlucky to pick up a puncture on the very first stage, the Brits lost more than three minutes to the leading pack but refused to lose focus, following up the disappointment with a resurgent comeback from 16th to sixth. Two stage victories proved that Evans had the pace to challenge for a podium and, had the final-day conditions been more to his liking, fourth place could have been a distinct possibility on the final leg, the Welshman ending the rally just over 10 seconds shy.

2011 winner Bryan Bouffier came home eighth, the Frenchman losing time in a snow bank on SS16, with Craig Breen ninth in the second Citroën C3, the Irishman never recovering from a significant time loss as the ‘snow plough’ on Saturday. WRC 2 winner Jan Kopecky completed the final top 10.

2018 WRC Rally Monte Carlo classification

1. S Ogier FRA Ford Fiesta 4hr 18min 55.5sec
2. O Tänak EST Toyota Yaris + 58.3sec
3. J-M Latvala FIN Toyota Yaris +1min 52sec
4. K Meeke GBR Citroën C3 + 4min 43.1sec
5. T Neuville BEL Hyundai i20 +4min 53.8sec