top of page
  • Writer's pictureDrew Bentham

Monte Carlo 2024 Rally Report


Flares, fireworks & fluorescence. Monte Magic!
Flares, fireworks & fluorescence. Monte Magic! (Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool)

Much anticipation surrounded the 2024 season opener when the crews drove away on Thursday evening and into the first stage of the rally. The pace was high from the off as expected but it would be Welshman Elfyn Evans who would make the strongest start, clearing the first test from Thoard to Saint-Geniez, 5.2 seconds ahead of the rest. In stage 2 he stretched his early advantage by a further 6.8s to take the early overnight lead by 15.1s over Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), with Ogier in third position just 6.5s further back. Tanak had complained that his Hyundai i20 was too soft for the evening stages in the dark of the mountains, but still kept in contention in 4th overall. The Fords of Adrien Fourmaux and Gregoire Munster made a strong enough start to their campaign, Formaux bringing his back in 5th place but Munster had not been slacking, putting in a confidence building drive further down the order. Takamoto Katsuta rounded out the top six overall, 46.3s away.


Opening ceremony as Neuville heads of the start ramp
Opening ceremony as Neuville heads of the start ramp

The overnight rest brought in some of the icy conditions hoped for by the move back to Gap in the previous year. 6 stages, 2 loops and nearly 106km (66m) awaited the field to the right of the safety of service. The run up stage 3 was largely damp with patches of ice around to catch out the unwary. Neuville had a close call finding one corner completely covered in black ice, narrowly missing the fence before carrying on and completing the stage quickest. Others wouldn’t be so lucky. Coming into the same corner, Ott Tanak carried a little too much speed, despite slowing down, and ended up nose down into the ditch at the side of the road. Cue our wonderful spectators who sprang into action, releasing the Hyundai with only a 40s loss in time. Also into the stage was Takamoto Katsuta who wasn’t as lucky. His Toyota had been dragged into the ditch earlier by the snow bank. It took the band of spectators somewhat longer to free him. He carried on but had decided to get to the end of the stage rather than making a silly push to make up the time. Munster also succumbed to the conditions, making sure the spectators were kept busy.


"Takamoto Katsuta wasn’t as lucky"
Takamoto Katsuta who wasn’t as lucky. His Toyota had been dragged into the ditch earlier by the snow bank.
Takamoto Katsuta who wasn’t as lucky. His Toyota had been dragged into the ditch earlier by the snow bank.


Stage 4 had been the one Neuville would mount his early push. All was going well until an innocuous looking left hander saw him lose the back of the car and sent it into a spin. No damage except the 10s or so loss. He carried on. Next it was Seb Ogier’s turn to set the timing sheet alight, winning the stage and starting his fight for the lead, the two Toyotas 1-2. Ogier had read the road perfectly but Evans was still strong.


Neuville pushed on but Evans had pushed harder
Neuville pushed on but Evans had pushed harder

The remainder of the loop passed without major incident for the top crews. Neuville pushed on but Evans had pushed harder, stretching out his lead by lunchtime over Ogier. The Fords too had a good morning ending up in 5th and 7th place. The afternoon saw the crews uncertain about grip levels. Whilst most of the ice had thawed, the pollution of dirt and gravel on the corners meant 100% commitment was unwise. Mikkelsen had continued with his exploration of the new Rally1 car, not taking any unnecessary risks. He was under no pressure for results this time out. The day finished once again in the dark. Flares, fireworks and the crowds filled the air around the mountains as the cars and crews discovered what was in store in the stages. They all survived the day with Evans going into Saturday the leader, but with his lead trimmed down to 4.5s.


The Fords had made a good enough start
The Fords had made a good enough start

Saturday brought 120Km over another 6 stages to the west of Gap, but before Ott could tackle them the team first had to get his car started as the i20 refused to start in parc ferme. A minor problem for the mechanics, once they'd pushed it back to service. Trouble too for Mikkelsen. On the first stage, he missed some black ice and understeered off the road, luckily leaving only his pride dented and not the car.


Neuville had decided to make his mark on the rally and set about a move up the leaderboard. He took stage 9 by over 14s, Ogier keeping to his over cautious notes. Evans kept his lead on the first stage of the day only to lose his hybrid and, unfortunately the lead on stage 10. Neuville now led the rally with the Toyotas going backwards. The Fords had made a good start to their 2024 campaign so far. By the lunchtime halt, Munster had even scored a top 3 stage time and was settling in nicely.


Stage 12, the second run of the19km run of Esparron kicked of the afternoon but there was no way Gregoire Munster couldn't have known his rally was about to unravel, just 6km into the stage. On one of the many gravel strewn corners, Munster fell foul and wedged his Puma into the wooden fence that was luckily firmly mounted to the outside of the road. A deep fall off the cliff edge narrowly avoided. With no spectators on that section to help get him out, the time loss would end his run for the day.


Ogier won the first 2 stages of the day
Ogier won the first 2 stages of the day

Ogier set out to overhaul the gap to Evans, winning both the first 2 tests of the loop and took the place. Neuville was still pushing on but importantly he looked at ease and was actually enjoying himself. And it showed, winning the final stage of the day by 4s over Seb, Neuville describing it as 'perfection'. Evans on the other hand was losing time fast and had now slipped behind the leader by 35s, his challenge for the win now effectively over. So with the day done and under the new scoring system, Neuville would take the full 18 points, with Ogier and Evans behind assuming they all finished the rally. The true test of the new system would be seen on Sunday.


"Neuville describing it as 'perfection'"

Sunday morning dawned with the 9 time winner still eager to make it a historic 10, but this would require a big push and have the tires still in his arsenal. Only 3 stages and 52km remained but would it be enough? With separate points on offer today it was time for Tanak and Katsuta to make a push to take something away from Monte. Tanak started first and stormed into the darkness of the early morning, setting a quick time in the process. Ogier pushed on the dry but chose to back off on the ice spots, too much.


Neuville's confident win, his first since 2020
Neuville's confident win, his first since 2020

Neuville had woken up and chosen violence, murdering the timesheets across the remaining stages. His performance was natural, relaxed and came easy. He was a joy to watch. His pace on the first stage seemed to neuter Seb's attack as he appeared to settle for 2nd place. With the final stage to go, the power stage, the Col De Turini beckoned and Neuville took a 13.5s lead into the stage. That mattered for nothing as Thierry went all out and took maximum points, winning the stage, the points and the win, his first since 2020.


WRC2

Solberg settling into the new car.
Solberg settling into the new car.

Quite a large chunk of the pre season chat was centred around the WRC2 driver market and this year there was the addition of another car. Toyota had been developing the Yaris into a formidable Rally2 car and as 23 ticked into 24, the first look broke cover. And what a joy it was. Looking reminiscent of its big brother, the new car runs a 3-cyl 1600cc turbo charged engine with a 5 speed sequential gearbox. Designed purely as a customer car, the first cars will be run by Pajari, Lefebvre and Solans.


Oliver Solberg re-signed to Skoda (Toksport) for a full title challenge in the Fabia, while British driver and former ERC champion Chris Ingram successfully managed to put a full season together after much prior disappointment.


New team mate, Gryazin, going well in the early stages
New team mate, Gryazin, going well in the early stages

The early favourite and winner the previous year, Yohan Rossel set off to win the event outright and not in the stewards room as before. What wasn't in his game plan was a sensational drive from 28 year old Pepe Lopez who got the hammer down early to win both stages and take the overnight lead among the flares.


Friday mornings ice trouble stuck around catching Ingram out, who was merely a passenger as his Fabia slid off the road. Rossel who was now in his 11th year with the team could only manage 3rd. It was his new team mate Gryazin who sat between himself and the lead at the end of the loop. The top 3 swapped places but all kept within touch of each other with just 6.2s covering them.


Solbergs campaign doesn't get started until Sweden, so he was just getting back in tune with the car. Sadly, his rally came to an end after picking up a double puncture on Saturday morning.


Pepe Lopez who had put in a sensational drive
Pepe Lopez who had put in a sensational drive

Gryazin had started the final day leading the category with Pepe Lopez in 2nd and Yohan Rossel in 3rd 6.7s adrift. Lopez wasted no time and 'danced' on the ice on SS15 as did Rossel who both set the same time, but it was Lopez who re-took the days lead. Gryazin being too cautious slipped to 3rd. For the final performance of this spectacle, Rossel had got to the now or never point, and he knew it. A big push on SS16 was risky but when the top 3 had all come through, he had done enough to take the lead back by 5.8s. Gryazins front tires had begun to overheat and the C3 as result had begun to squirm underneath him.


And so to the final stage. The battle was now between Lopez and Rossel for the win and the power stage to boot. Rossel used all of his tarmac experience to take almost 10s from his team mate. Lopez didn't have the best tire compound but still pushed. By the time they reached the Col, Rossel had won the battle by just 0.9s. One round down and already the WRC2 has delivered the goods.


The next round in Sweden begins on 15 February.


Video Highlights







8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page