The Monte Carlo Rally has a reputation for being the toughest event on the World Rally calendar and today’s opening six special stages confirmed that view.
While many crews struggled with tyre choice, others took a calm approach and reaped the rewards. Among them was the British contingent, Citroen’s Kris Meeke and M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans.
DS3 WRC driver Meeke had a solid start to his career as a factory driver and ended the day second, 38s behind leader Bryan Bouffier. Evans, in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, was similarly impressive as his own factory career got underway. The 25-year-old is the son of Welsh rally hero Gwyndaf, who will be a proud man this evening as his son sits in sixth position, one place ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala in the dominant VW Polo R WRC. Even more impressively Evans is two places clear of his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen.
Inconsistent road conditions make the Monte one of the toughest sporting events in the world. The target is to get to the end, and those that do often bag unexpectedly high finishes. Snow and ice make it next to impossible to guess grip levels and so Meeke and Evans deserve high praise for getting this far without encountering serious problems.
While Meeke and Evans ticked the first Monte box by reaching the end of day one, more illustrious drivers struggled to do the same. The world champion, Sebastien Ogier, was widely expected to have a comfortable run to the win in his VW Polo but the Frenchman tagged a wall on the very first corner of the opening test.
That was one peril that confronted the crews. The other was tyre choice, always a factor at this event. Ogier didn’t expect the opening stages to be affected by snow and he therefore selected slick tyres. Sat at the start line of the 15.8 mile stage at 07.28 this morning his jaw dropped as he saw a white road laid out in front of him. That explained his altercation with the wall and he dropped as low as ninth due to the lack of grip. In the afternoon he fought back to fourth to set up an intriguing Friday, when he’ll have to push to close the 47s gap to Bouffier.
Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville won’t have the luxury of returning to competition tomorrow. A heavy shunt on the opening stage ruled him out and on the Monte, unlike other rallies, there is no option to restart once a driver retires.
Belgian driver Neuville was particularly sheepish because this is Hyundai’s first WRC event since 2003. The team was disappointed to lose one car so early. That the second i20 WRC, driven by Dani Sordo, later dropped out with an alternator failure while running third underlines the difficulty of competing at World Rally level.
James Bolton is the national rally editor of Motorsport News, Autocar’s sister publication