Neuville wins season opener in Monte Carlo

The first major casualty of the rally was defending World Rally Champion Ott Tanak, out after surviving a dramatic crash on Friday, when his Hyundai went off the outside edge of a fast left hander and hit a bump that launched it into the air sideways before it landed nose-first and rolled end over end several times. Fortunately, the Estonian and his co-driver, Martin Jarveoja, were able to get out of the wrecked Hyundai without any help but visited hospital as a precaution. Tanak had started the stage in fourth place just 10.3 seconds behind the rally leader Elfyn Evans.

From then on the rally became a 3-way battle between Thierry Neuville, Sebastien Ogier and his Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans, who had set the opening pace however, the Welshman dropped to 11.1s behind Neuville, who was on imperious form on Sunday, winning both stages in the first loop and then only had a 1.5s advantage over Ogier going into the final stage of the rally. Evans then lost a further 3.2s to his team-mate in the final run through La Cabanette - Co De Braus meaning he finished third overall, 1.7s behind Ogier.

It looked like Ogier was going to win the Wolf Power Stage, but Neuville matched Ogiers time to take the stage win by a few hundredths of a second, meaning the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC driver won all four stages of the day and, his first WRC Monte Carlo Rally.

Esapekka Lappi had another strong run on the second loop in his M-Sport Fiesta WRC and secured fourth overall, almost 3 minutes in arrears, while Sebastien Loeb struggled again in the final loop. The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC driver was having to conserve tyres considerably more than anyone else after destroying a tyre in the final stage of the first loop. The seven-time WRC Monte Carlo Rally winner was so slow that he lost 49.1 seconds to Lappi on SS15 and was another 49 seconds slower than the M-Sport Fiesta WRC in the power stage.

That meant that Toyota driver Kalle Rovanpera was able to leap-frog Loeb to secure fifth place in the rally, with Loeb finishing sixth. Takamoto Katsuta had a clean run in the second loop and finished seventh, while M-Sport driver Teemu Suninen had an impressive run in the final stage to jump up to eighth.

Citroen C3 driver Eric Camilli secured victory in the WRC3 class and ended up ninth, 11.8s behind the Fiesta WRC of Suninen. Mads Ostberg celebrated his WRC2 victory by doing a doughnut at the final hairpin of the 13.36km Power Stage, as he rounded out the top ten.

1. Thierry Neuville/N.Gilsoul Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT
2. Sebastien Ogier/J.Ingrassia Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 3h-10m-57.6s + 12.6s
3. Elfyn Evans/S,Martin Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 3h-11m-11.9s + 14.3s
4. Escapekka Lappi/J.Ferm M-Sport Ford WRT 3h-14m-06.6s + 3m.09.0s
5. Kalle Rovanpera/J.Halttunen Totota Gazoo Racing WRT 3h-15m-14.8s + 4m.17.2s
6. Sebastien Loeb/D.Elena Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 3h-16m-02.3s + 5m04.7s
7. Takamoto Katsuta/D.Barritt Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 3h-22m-28.0s + 11m.27.9s
8. Teemu Suninen/J.Lehtinen M-Sport Ford WRT 3h-24m-28.0s + 13m.30.4s
9. Eric Camilli/F-X.Buresi Eric Camilli Citroen C3 RC2 3h-24m-39.8s + 13m.42.2s
10. Mads Ostberg/T.Ericsen PH Sport Citroen C3 RC2 3h-25m-19.4S + 14m.21.8s

28th January, 2020