Thierry Neuville found his form at perfect moments to defeat the Toyota’s of Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans on a classic Rally Monte Carlo. The Belgian put an end to Ogier’s Monte Carlo winning streak and dampened Welsh hopes of a debut Toyota win for an impressive Evans.
It was always going to take something special to beat Ogier on the roads he grew up on. Neuville beat the six-time world champion at his own game, finding consistent stage-winning pace on the second half of the rally, winning eight of the final nine stages.
Heading into Saturday’s stages Neuville sat in third behind both Ogier and Evans, albeit only 6.4-seconds off the lead. The Toyotas stole the show on Friday as Neuville struggled with the information he was receiving from his gravel crew. The downhearted Hyundai driver had lost 30s to his rivals on Friday but he bounced back and was untouchable on the rally’s final two days.
A perfect haul of 30 points just reward for a determined drive that all started with a mesmerising attack on the 25 kilometres of Stage 2, Bayons – Bréziers.
The onboard footage of Neuville snaking through eagerly anticipating spectators on the stage’s opening ascent made the subscription to WRC’s All Live service justifiable in itself. His commitment only hesitated once as he passed through the blinding smoke of a fan’s flare. Through the remainder of the stage, which felt like a wilderness in comparison to the opening section, Neuville was aiming his headlights at the snow-covered verges as he performed inch-perfect cuts at no less than 100 mph. Braking points were left as late as physically possible on the icy junctions.
Arriving at the stop line he said, “I think we have done a good time but we have to see what Ogier does behind.”
Neuville was correct, Ogier was going to be his closest challenger on the stage, but I bet he didn’t expect to be 25.5s faster than the Frenchman.
Problems with his ice-notes combined with the shock of seeing the evidence of Ott Tanak’s horrific accident had Neuville and Hyundai in a conundrum on Friday. Neuville’s state of mind to battle through the problems without pushing beyond the car’s capabilities put him in a position to overthrow the Toyota drivers when his pace returned on the latter stages of the rally.
Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul have shown adequate pace over the past editions of Rally Monte Carlo to win the rally. Mistakes had those victories fall by the wayside. There were no mistakes this time around.
Neuville has now gained an early advantage over his rivals but the five-time championship runner-up must continue to pair those mesmerising drives with an Ogier-like patience to achieve what every rally driver dreams of, a World Rally Championship.