WRC Monte Carlo: Hybrid issue fails to derail Ogier, Evans suffers puncture

Sebastien Ogier continued his perfect start to the World Rally Championship opener in Monte Carlo, while a puncture dented Elfyn Evans' charge on Friday morning.

Eight-time world champion Ogier is yet to beaten in Monte Carlo this year, having won the five stages to date. The feat was made even more impressive given the Toyota driver was without hybrid boost for two of the three stages this morning.

Ogier’s advantage heading into the afternoon loop has ballooned to 32.7s after Evans suffered a right rear puncture on Stage 5, which dropped him from second to fifth.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville inherited second as a result of Evans’ issue while world champion Kalle Rovanpera moved to third, 34.5s adrift despite escaping contact with a barrier.

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak completed the loop in fourth overall as the 2019 world champion continued to learn the Ford Puma following his off season move from Hyundai.

Evans reached the midday tyre fitting zone 54.7s in arrears, but ahead of Dani Sordo (Hyundai), Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai) and Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota).

Ogier picked up from where he left off on Thursday night. The Frenchman was again the man to beat as the field face the first daylight stages of the rally. Road conditions remained dry although there was snow on the hillsides as temperatures hovered below freezing.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Making the most of his Monte Carlo experience, Ogier, who was the only Rally1 driver to carry one spare tyre, opened the morning by winning Stage 3.

"The truth is we don't have so many soft tyres for the rally, so you can not take too many,” said Ogier.

It was Toyota team-mate Evans that once again emerged as Ogier’s nearest rival, but the Welshman dropped 3.2s, which allowed Ogier to extend his overall lead.

Rovanpera, running a split of soft and super soft tyres, passed through the blend of fast and technical roads to post the third fastest time, 6.1s adrift. The time was enough to briefly rise to third overall, ahead of rivals Neuville and Tanak, who were unable to match the pace of the Toyotas.

Neuville struggled with the turn in and movement of his i20 N while Tanak continued to acclimatise to the M-Sport Ford Puma. As a result, Tanak dropped from third to fifth, but only 0.2s departed Rovanpera, Neuville and Tanak in the overall rankings.

Ogier’s perfect start continued on Stage 4 but he was made to work hard for his stage win. A hybrid issue meant his GR Yaris was not at its fastest but it was still quick enough to log a benchmark time, 2.1s faster than the chasing Evans.

Neuville was third fastest on the stage which lifted him to third overall, while Katsuta displayed his potential as the Japanese set a time good enough for fourth fastest, 6.0s adrift. The time arrived despite a slow puncture.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Starting first on the road, Rovanpera faced arguably the trickiest of the conditions due to the salt on the roads, designed to clear the ice. The Finn dropped 10s on the slippery surface, while Tanak, second on the road, shipped 7.8s.

The hybrid issue continued for Ogier in Stage 5 but it didn’t stop him from maintaining his dream start to the rally.

Ogier somehow managed to compensate for the loss of speed to pip Rovanpera by 1.3s to the stage win.

"Of course I am pushing flat-out to be honest but the feeling is good,” said Ogier. "Apart from that [the hybrid issue] the car is working well."

Rovanpera’s own run through the 14.55km test was far from ideal after clouting a barrier with the right rear of his GR Yaris following a wild slide at a left hander.

"It was the first real braking section of the stage,” said Rovanpera. “I had less grip than I expected and I just ran a bit wide. It was quite a tricky loop and I think the tyre choice was not perfect.”

There was plenty of drama in the stage as Evans' hopes of staying in touch with Ogier were dashed by a right rear puncture towards the end of the stage.

"I have no idea [how that happened]," said Evans, who dropped 42.1s. “It was at the top of a very fast place. Just a warning on the dash - that's all I got."

There was further drama as M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet ran off the road at a tight hairpin left. His Ford Puma clouted a rock which left the Frenchman without power steering for the remainder of the stage and subsequently fell from seventh to ninth overall.

Nikolay Gryazin set the pace in WRC2 to open up a 22.7s lead over Citroen’s Yohan Rossel.

Crews will repeat the morning stages this afternoon to compete Friday’s leg of the rally.

WRC Rally Monte Carlo - Standings after SS5

 Cla   Driver   Time  Gap 
Sébastien Ogier 56m43.8s  
Thierry Neuville 57m16.5s 32.7s
Kalle Rovanperä 57m18.3s 34.5s
Ott Tänak 57m24.0s 40.2s
Elfyn Evans 57m38.5s 54.7s
Dani Sordo 57m47.9s 1m04.1s
Esapekka Lappi 58m07.1s 1m23.3s
Takamoto Katsuta 58m07.6s 1m23.8s
P-L.Loubet 59m15.3s 2m31.5s
10  Nikolay Gryazin 59'24.4 2m40.6s
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WRC Monte Carlo: Ogier storms into early lead, Neuville caught out by ice
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