WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo 2022: Sébastien Leob wins the rally

Precisely one week after finishing second overall in the Dakar Rally, Sebastien Loeb was in the wintry French Alps and had the opportunity to demonstrate that he had recovered from his Saudi efforts. The fence that separated him from the waiting media was almost as tall as he was. He was vaulted without a second thought.
The Frenchman arrived in front of the massive ranks of reporters with a smile – as well as he could have, having moved to the front of the Monte Carlo Rally domain. Could he stay there? Could he be there when it counted, at the port of Monaco 48 hours later?

Yes. Most definitely, yes.

Sébastien Loeb turned back the clock with a record victory in Monte-Carlo

© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Loeb shows the way back from Dakar

Heading into the opening round of the new 2022 World Rally Championship, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Principal Richard Millener was still unsure. Yes, of course Loeb could win. It was Monte Carlo, but it wasn’t a typical Monte. With the exception of five kilometers of snow at the top of the Sisteron stage, the road through the mountains was dry and largely free of any grip-limiting features, limiting the chances of Loeb’s contraption revealing itself. .

“It’s so hard to know what to expect,” Millener said. “He’s a nine-time world champion and seven-time Monte winner, but he wasn’t there last year and he’s been really busy lately.”

Loeb’s mindset was in the same place. He didn’t know either. What he knew was that he felt comfortable with the Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid and that it was a very good starting point for his first ever WRC round with the British team.

Sebastien Loeb of M-SPORT FORD WORLD RALLY TEAM is seen performing during the World Rally Championship Monte-Carlo on January 23, 2022.

Loeb was the fastest to upgrade in the new Rally1 hybrid cars

© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

I won’t forget this one – and the same for Isabelle. It is special. This car is too good

He went from pre-event testing on Sunday to reconnaissance on Monday to take the lead on Thursday and take the lead on Friday.

After landing the perfect jump over a fence at Puget-Theniers, leader Loeb said: “I pushed really hard all morning. It was quite tricky in places but I already have a lot of confidence in the car.

“The balance of the car is very good, I know where the limit of grip is and I can use it. Maybe I’m a bit surprised to be in the lead – I was also surprised when we set the fastest time in the first run at the shakedown. My co-driver (Isabelle Galmiche) told me that we were the fastest and I said: “I can’t believe it!”

Fastest on four of the six stages, Friday was definitely Loeb’s day and he finished it 9.9 seconds ahead.

There was only one man faster than Loeb on Thursday night’s opening two-stage loop: Sébastien Ogier. It had to be, didn’t it?

French fans on French roads rose to salute this perfect pair for what could be one last fight. Not that we haven’t said it before. Where Loeb immediately adapted to the brand new hybrid era of the WRC, Ogier took a slightly more measured approach. His Toyota Yaris Rally1 didn’t quite offer the same feedback, feel, or bite on all-asphalt lanes.

Sébastien Ogier of the TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT team seen during the World Rally Championship Monte-Carlo on January 22, 2022.

A penultimate stage puncture deprived Ogier of a 9th victory in Monte-Carlo

© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

That changed on Saturday, when the defending champion was fastest and took the lead in the second stage of the weekend.

This snow in Sisteron forced the crews to compromise on their choice of tyres, with heavily ridged winter tires mixed with soft rubbers.

Loeb said: “When we mix the tires like that, the balance in the car is not the same – it’s not that easy today.”

Ogier was now in his stride and steadily built a 21.1 second lead heading into the final day. The eight-time Monte Carlo winner wasn’t about to take anything for granted, but he knew as well as anyone that dry, sunny and consistent weather would help simplify a four-stage Sunday and can -to be the route to the highest step of the rally. for a record ninth time.

Elfyn Evans of the TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT team seen during the World Rally Championship Monte-Carlo on January 22, 2022.

Elfyn Evans was in the mix early on, but got stuck on a bank for 20 minutes

© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Two stages into the rally, Ogier had increased his lead to 24.6s. The champagne was heading for the mirror. This one was as good as it gets in the bag. That was until the Pirelli PZero tire on the front left of the Frenchman’s car was emptied of air.

Toyota’s collected groan was drowned out by M-Sport’s revival of hopes and dreams on the other side of the service park. Loeb would start the final test with 9.5 seconds in hand. The fairy tale was back.

In just over eight and a half minutes, it was delivered. The port of Monaco was rocked by the cheers which rose when Loeb crossed the line to deliver M-Sport’s first victory since Wales in 2018 and his own previous success, which came an event later in Catalonia three years ago.

Ogier and Toyota are stunned. Loeb, M-Sport and Ford were ecstatic enough that the team members couldn’t help but throw themselves into the freezing harbour.

Loeb has never been known as one of the most emotional riders, but this one touched him. Maybe that was part of the sentiment coming from the story on the other side of the car. Galmiche is only the second co-driver to sit with Loeb in 181 starts. Replacing Daniel Elena was no easy task for the Frenchwoman, especially when it was only her seventh start at the sport’s top level, but she did it brilliantly.

When she and Loeb were encountered by the team, there was barely a dry eye to be found.

Craig Breen of the M-SPORT FORD WORLD RALLY TEAM seen performing during the World Rally Championship in Monte-Carlo on January 22, 2022.

Craig Breen made 2 M-Sport Fords on the podium with 3rd

© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

It was a huge result throughout the race, not least because their M-Sport teammates Craig Breen and Paul Nagle were only a few steps from the podium in third position.

“I’m happy,” Loeb said. “I won’t forget that one – and the same for Isabelle. It’s special. This car is so good and thanks to the team for the work. And for Ogier… it was a great fight.”

As Loeb emerged victorious from a big fight, there’s only one way to celebrate: do a somersault on the podium. He did not disappoint.

Second place for Ogier and his new co-driver Benjamin Veillas demonstrated the strength of their brand new partnership. If there is a disappointment, it is that the French will not return for the second round.

Both are considering part-time WRC programs this season. The good news, however, is that this exciting and game-changing hybrid era of the World Championship has no shortage of excitement.

The next generation of sports cars will deliver the next generation of stars this season, but before they land, the first round has demonstrated that there is life left in old rivalries.

About Joseph Minton

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