Sebastien Loeb wins his 8th Monte

The 2022 WRC - and hybrid era - season opener at Monte Carlo saw two French WRC legends, with 17 WRC titles between them, go head-to-head in a battle for victory with the lead changing hands across four days of fast and furious competition.

Ultimately the result came down to a final stage shootout, after Loeb inherited a 9.5s lead when Ogier's Toyota Yaris picked-up a front-left puncture on the penultimate test. Ogier changed the offending wheel himself, but Loeb and co-driver Isabelle Galmiche held their nerve in the final Power Stage to see off Ogier and new co-driver Benjamin Veillas, to score an eighth Monte Carlo rally win by 10.5s.

The victory wrote another chapter in Loeb's remarkable career, marking his 80th championship win and his first since winning 2018 Rally Spain for Citroen, but also recorded the Frenchman as the oldest WRC winner at 47. In addition it was the first WRC win for a female co-driver since Fabrizia Pons partnered Subaru's Piero Liatti to Monte Carlo success in 1997.

But before the fat lady eventually sang in Monaco, Ogier experienced even more drama in the final power stage with a 10s jump start penalty which, if not incurred, would have meant the overall gap to Loeb would have been a mere 1.5s.

In his first rally for the M-Sport team Craig Breen finished in third and scored a fourth consecutive WRC podium, his first for the British team, comfortably ahead of fourth-placed Yaris of Kalle Rovanpera. Ever-improving Gus Greensmith was fifth in his M-Sport Ford Puma and Hyundai's Theirry Neuville in the sole remaining i20 sixth after the team elected to retire Oliver Solberg's car after Sunday's first stage, having failed to resolve the dangerous problem of exhaust fumes infiltrating the cabin throughout the rally and nauseating the crew!

Toyota teammates Takamoto Katsuta in 8th and title aspirant Elfyn Evans 21st were the only other Rally1 entries still running, but both well adrift of the lead group after suffering crashes on Saturday, with the disappointed Welshman also picking up a puncture on Sunday.

A double podium is a dream result for the M-Sport team and Rich Millener, Team Principal, said: "Obviously I'm incredibly happy. To put everything together and for everyone to be so stressed out and busy working, just trying to get everything in place to build up to what is an incredibly tough rally, and to do so well, is fantastic for the team and all the drivers. It's a dream result that will take a while to sink in, and we're going to enjoy it while we can. I want to thank everybody, including all our friends from Ford, the M-Sport team, the drivers and the sponsors who made this happen. Without them, we simply couldn't do it."

Ogier is running only a partial 2022 WRC campaign with Toyota in 2022 and rally winner Loeb was competing in the only championship rally on his slender M-Sport contract, however that could rapidly change given the form shown by the evergreen Loeb and the performance of the Ford Puma in Monte Carlo. Watch this space, with Sweden next rally 24th - 27th February, anything could happen!

23rd January, 2022