Monte team-by-team

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Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team

1 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena – 10/10

Loeb did enough on the opening day to prove that none of the full-time contenders for his vacant WRC throne has got anything like the same speed, then settled cheerfully into a rhythm that was still fractionally faster than anyone else in the event. Fair to say that whoever wins the 2013 title will not be the greatest rally driver in the world.

2 Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen – 6/10

Monte has never been an event on which Hirvo has shone. He is a gravel man, and gets through events like this with gritted teeth and bloody-mindedness. A bright start on the opening day quickly gave way to grumpily plodding along complaining about his tyre choices and lack of confidence, but he kept his head and was duly promoted when other guys aimed higher and ran out of talent.

Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team

4 Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson – 6/10

Not-very-mad-Mads was almost totally anonymous for much of the Monte, trundling along in the bottom third of the top 10. It made sense to be cautious and play the long game on an event that didn’t quite have enough snow to suit him, but when the conditions were right he showed the sort of pace that delivered those podiums in 2012. Sweden should be fun.

5 Evgeny Novikov/Ilka Minor – 4/10

Right up until the last day, Novikov was the star of the rally. He delivered a swashbuckling performance that thrilled and terrified onlookers in equal measure, surviving numerous scares until he came to grief against a wall. The thing is, you could write the same about Cyprus in 2009 or, indeed, most events of his career. Leopards, spots etc. – looks like an expensive year ahead for M-Sport.

Qatar World Rally Team

7 Juho Hänninen/Tomi Tuominen – 5/10

With only two events in which to prove he deserves a full-time WRC drive, Juho started brightly as the fastest of the Fords, despite having just one day in the car before the start of the event. You would expect a former IRC and SWRC champion to adapt quickly and he didn’t disappoint. He then slowed to try and reach the finish, lost too much ground and crashed trying to make it up. But with Juho these things aren’t habitual.

11 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul – 4/10

Neuville has the backing of team sponsor Nasser Al-Attiyah, who brought the young Belgian with him from Citroën. Up to now Neuville has had a few shunts but also shown some good speed. He did both in the space of two days on the Monte, making himself the first man to retire from the event. Not perhaps the result that anyone wanted.

Volkswagen Motorsport

7 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Antilla – 3/10

Jari-Matti started the Monte somewhat adrift from the pace, hovering at the bottom of the Top 10 and looking rather lost. Then something clicked and he went a bit faster. Then he crashed. Only his hesitance at the start of the event was unfamiliar.

8 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia – 8/10

It’s fair to say that Ogier was in a class of his own. It’s a class above the rest of the full-time runners of 2013 but still not able to sit at the same table as that other Sébastien bloke. Ogier may rant and rail that Loeb is irrelevant to the title – but he wouldn’t be saying that if he had been faster than the reigning champion. VW will be pleased with its star man, though – and deservedly so.

Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team

10 Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio – 7/10

It was hard to believe that this was the same driver who hauled that big-ass MINI Countryman with such verve in Monte Carlo a year earlier. Reunited with Citroën and having had the benefit of driving every one of the current generation WRC cars except the Polo, Sordo should have been in position to take the fight to Ogier at least. Instead he had to wait for Novikov to bin it before reaching the podium.

Lotos Team WRC

12 Michál Kosciuszko/Maciek Szczepaniak – 5/10

A small team trying to do all 13 events on a meagre budget, they needed to finish the Monte in the top 10. They did so, but more than half an hour behind the front-runners with an S2000 Škoda and a Group N Mitsubishi in front of them… this could be a long season in so many ways.

Jipocar Czech National Team

21 Martin Prokop/Michal Ernst – 7/10

Prokop isn’t the fastest man in the WRC but he tries hard and occasionally things go his way. With DMACK tyres he has traded pace for budget, but so long as sufficient works cars go off in front of him he’s got to be looking at repeating his seventh place finish quite regularly in his 11-round season.

Bryan Bouffier

22 Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri – 6/10

Bouffier is a decent journeyman who pops up in all sorts of machinery, but he’s good on the Monte and won it in 2011, the last time it was held under the auspices of the IRC. He arrived with what was effectively the fourth works Citroën and wearing the nattiest livery of them all, but something somewhere didn’t ignite and he pottered round without causing drama or offence.

Julien Maurin

24 Julien Maurin/Nicolas Klinger – 3/10

Privateer Ford entry. Went out on SS10 when in contention for tenth place. Nothing more to add.

Monte Part 6: Shiny, happy people…

Ostberg closed Day 3 with his first stage win

Ostberg closed Day 3 with his first stage win

Sisteron is an emblematic stage and it closed the third day’s action in the Alpes Maritimes. Despite extremely icy conditions, almost everyone came through with a smile on their face. All except Mikko Hirvonen…

Sébastien Loeb was happy to have nudged a second or two further away from anyone else. But with his Citroën more than 90 seconds ahead after 13 stages, it’s all fairly academic. In second place, Volkswagen’s star Sébastien Ogier is also a picture of contentment, choosing to ignore Loeb’s very existence and focus instead on his own 90-second advantage over Evgeny Novikov in third.

The young Russian charger has been spectacular throughout, and by putting his M-Sport Fiesta in contention for a podium he is doing all that Malcolm Wilson could ask. He gets the quote of the day award, too, for stating that it had been ‘a fine day’. Presumably he is honing his ENglish skills from watching 1950s war movies and will soon appear in the service park smoking a pipe and with a spaniel skipping along at his heels.

Novikov’s ascent was aided by Dani Sordo having a spin in his Citroën. Nevertheless, Novikov had been hauling him in at a furious pace, so the Spaniard was fairly sanguine about it all.

Joy was unbounded for fifth placed Jari-Matti Latvala, however, in the second Volkswagen. Although the Polo has escaped damage in what has been a remarkably hesitant first event for the former Ford team leader, Sisteron was the first time he looked competitive all weekend and by bagging the second fastest time through the stage he also swept past Citroën team leader Mikko Hirvonen.

Hirvo was the most glum of the front runners. on a particularly icy day which brought out the Finn’s cautious side. He explained that he had spent so much time on the brakes that they overheated, dropping still more time to let his countryman and former team-mate Latvala through into fifth place.

Juho Hänninen holds eighth in his M-Sport car, making his the second best Fiesta so far on the event – a good reason to be cheerful in his first event at the wheel of a contemporary WRC car. The Finn’s margin over his team leader Mads Østberg is nevertheless depleted after the young Norwegian bagged his first stage win with a fine drive through Sisteron. The top 10 is completed by the works-supported Citroën of Bryan Bouffier and the Czech-entered Fiesta of Martin Prokop.

Young German ace Sepp Wiegand continued on his way towards WRC2 victory in the Škoda Fabia S2000 despite an electrical gremlin. The sole surviving WRC3 entrant, Sébastien Chardonnet, was meanwhile having plenty of fun in his Citroën DS3 R3T after putting spikes on the front wheels and finding the handling so good that his time was good enough to beat most of the 4WD WRC2 cars!

Monte Part 4: Happy Seb, Angry Seb

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“I don’t care about him. You need to get that into your minds!”

So said Volkswagen team leader Sébastien Ogier at the end of today’s running. He was of course referring to questions about Sébastien Loeb, Citroën’s nine time world champion, who added a further 14 seconds to his lead over Ogier and thereby took his advantage to more than a minute and a half.

There is no love lost between the two Frenchmen, who endured a tumultuous season together at Citroën in 2011, and for Ogier it is clear that finding himself on the receiving end of such a whooping is unpleasant.

Loeb, meanwhile, is completely at ease. He is only taking part in four out of 13 events this year, not in contention for the title and as such just having fun. The icing on the cake, of course, is in taking the sheen off Volkswagen’s long-trumpeted WRC debut and providing a salutary reminder to Ogier just who is the faster Sébastien.

With the two Sébastiens monopolising the top of the timesheets, third place and title of the fastest non-Sébastien is currently in the hands of Citroën’s other asphalt ace, Dani Sordo. The Spaniard is locked in a riveting battle with the young Russian Evgeny Novikov, who was the fastest man on two of today’s stages, at the wheel of his M-Sport Fiesta WRC.

Next up are Finland’s former works Ford team-mates: Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala. Hirvonen is the Citroën team leader for 2013 but the Monte has never been his best event. He started today in third place and ended in a subdued fifth, while his countryman Latvala has had to climb from the bottom of the top 10 while struggling for confidence in the second Volkswagen.

A much happier Finn was seventh placed Juho Hänninen, making the first of two scheduled appearances at the wheel of his M-Sport Fiesta. The 2011 IRC champion started brightly yesterday but went for a more conservative approach to drop down the order. Today he found a much better balance and put himself in with a shout of a good finish.

In Hänninen’s wake is the Citroën of 2011 Monte winner Bryan Bouffier. Behind Bouffier is the M-Sport team leader Mads Østberg with a huge lead over the Fiesta of Czech perennial Martin Prokop, who rounds out the top 10. The WRC2 is now firmly Sepp Wiegand’s to lose after the Škoda star won six of the day’s stages. WRC3 for two-wheel-drive cars remains in the hands of Sébastien Chardonnet in his Citroën DS3.

There’s still a long way to go…

Monte Part 2: Loeb redefines ‘country mile’

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Sébastien Loeb doesn’t have all that many records left to chase in the annals of the WRC – so why not have a crack at the biggest-ever margin of victory? So far so good.

After four stages on the opening day, his Citroën DS3 WRC holds an advantage of 1m 20s over the Volkswagen Polo R WRC of Sébastien Ogier. Or thereabouts… unfortunately the new timing company managed to get its knickers in a knot on SS3, resulting in teams having to mark their own cards temporarily until normal service was resumed.

When the official timing was restored for the fourth stage it showed that Loeb was fully 34 seconds faster than anyone else through the 30km Burzet test. Feel free to emit an appreciative whistle at this point!

A further boost to Citroën on this, its first day in action against the €100 million colossus from Germany, came in the form of its de facto team leader, Mikko Hirvonen – who climbed from seventh to third at the overnight halt. Behind him sits the third works Citroën of Dani Sordo, who has more than half a minute in hand over the second VW of Jari-Matti Latvala.

Fastest of the quartet of Qatar-backed M-Sport Ford Fiestas was Evgeny Novikov’s example, who has climbed to sixth place ahead of the works-supported Citroën of Bryan Bouffier. This battle for sixth is now a three-way affair with the second ‘works’ Fiesta of Juho Hänninen also in the hunt. The Finn was in particularly impressive form early in the day, but closed out the fourth stage by berating himself for opting to drive more conservatively through the afternoon and thereby losing ground.

The top 10 is completed by M-Sport’s 2013 team leader Mads Østberg in ninth and the Czech team Fiesta of Martin Prokop in tenth, almost two and a half minutes off Østberg’s pace. Meanwhile the first casualty among the 13 WRC starters came in the form of the final ‘works’ Fiesta of Thierry Neuville, who went off on the final stage of the day.

Further back, WRC2 is headed by the Škoda Fabia S2000 of Sepp Wiegand and the 2WD classes of WRC3 by the Citroën DS3 R3T of Renaud Poutot.

Monte Part 1: Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back

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You might remember that, a couple of months back, Sébastien Loeb made an emotional farewell to the WRC at the end of his ninth straight title-winning campaign. If you hadn’t been paying much attention, therefore, one could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about when the new season starts and there’s a very familiar name at the top of the leaderboard.

Yes, you guessed it: Loeb leads the Monte Carlo Rally in the first of his four ‘farewell’ outings with Citroën this year.

The old master hasn’t had it all his own way, though. His former team-mate Sébastien Ogier set the pace to start with, showing that the new Volkswagen squad really did get its sums right and has started its debut WRC campaign as it means to go on. But then Loeb went fully 10 seconds faster through the next stage and now holds an advantage of almost seven seconds at the first halt.

With Ogier in second place, third spot is held by the second Citroën of Dani Sordo. The asphalt expert is more than half a minute in arrears of Ogier, however, and he in turn has the Ford Fiesta of M-Sport’s Juho Hänninen breathing down his neck. This is seriously good news for Hänninen, the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge winner, who only has a deal to contest two events with M-Sport at present. Nevertheless it is the Finn who leads the four-car M-Sport entry from his team-mate, Thierry Neuville, holding fourth.

Meanwhile M-Sport’s leading drivers for this year have yet to find their feet in the Alpes Maritimes. Team leader Mads Østberg is seventh, just 0.4 seconds ahead of Evgeny Novikov in the sister car. Between them and the faster Fiestas of Hänninen and Neuville are Citroën’s season-long team leader Mikko Hirvonen, who is running in close company with the works-supported Citroën of 2011 Monte winner, Bryan Bouffier as they hold sixth and seventh respectively.

Jari-Matti Latvala has meanwhile been struggling in the second Volkswagen Polo. The Finn incurred a time penalty for being late arriving at SS2 and has not yet found great pace. He holds ninth ahead of the Czech National Team Fiesta WRC of Martin Prokop.

Elsewhere, the WRC2 is led by Olivier Burri’s Peugeot 207 S2000 from the Škoda Fabia S2000 of Sepp Wiegand. Most of the retirements so far have hit in this class, including that of Italy’s Luca Betti in his Peugeot.

WRC 2013 – let’s get cracking, shall we?

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It’s the Monte Carlo Rally, good people. That’s the Monte Carlo Rally! Cue the lights, cue the music, cue Kermit the Frog running past going ‘yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayy’.

Unlike Kermit, however, the Monte’s not on TV… unless you happen to have access to the Red Bull-owned Servus TV station in what used to be called ‘Greater Germany’, you watch Sky TV in New Zealand or you have S4C in Wales. Everyone else should form an orderly queue to hear Jon Desborough’s pearls of wisdom here:

This is the official Red Bull rally channel!

So huddle over your laptops for the time being and let’s share our enjoyment of the Monte by whatever means possible.

Regulars here will know who’s who, what’s what and where’s where – so I’m not previewing it. Oh, all right then… there are Qatar-sponsored Fords that are painted to look like the UAE flag, UAE-sponsored Citroëns painted to look like Christmas decorations and Red Bull-sponsored VWs that have cost €100 million to get this far, so they look uncommonly sensible. There’s also supporting action from privately-entered WRC cars, the new support class structure to enjoy and it looks like there will be plenty of snow.

Despite the return of Dani Sordo to a competitive team (Citroën) and the arrival of Volkswagen, if I were a betting man I’d be putting money on Loeb.

All will be revealed in the next few days, though. Hurrah!

If you’re not a regular on the blog yet then feel free to dig around and piece together a season preview of your own. You will find babies that look like Mikko Hirvonen, filthy old Toyota Corollas and Daniel Elena’s true vocation as the Go Compare man. And some other stuff, of course. Not all of it very sensible.

You won’t find anything about today’s announcements by Hyundai about its plans for 2014, however. Why? Because it’s very poor form to try and hijack the start of a real, live championship with yet more pictures of a concept car and not one actual piece of news. Nice try, Hyundai – now run along and come back when you’ve done something interesting.

Monte to run in TV blackout?

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The WRC world is a rum place at present. It is now just days before the 2013 season kicks off with one of the biggest events on the global motor sport calendar… and yet at present there is only one major TV channel – the Red Bull-owned Servus TV in Germany and Austria – which is carrying the Monte Carlo Rally on its schedule.

All rather rum.

As we reported last month, there have been considerable delays in finalising the agreement between the FIA and its preferred commercial rights holder for the WRC. Even now there is no great clarity on whether there is in fact a legally binding document between the two parties that will enable the promotion that was announced in September to go ahead.

This is troubling.

There was every reason for optimism at the end of last summer. In the world of commercial rights, Red Bull Media House has a track record that is second to none and duly followed its WRC announcement with the phenomenal success of Felix Baumgartner’s leap from ‘space’. After a decade on the slide under ISC, this should have been the time in which great plans were backed up by great investment in order to make something of a splash when the Red Bull-managed WRC kicked off at its showcase event.

Last year there was no season-long promoter for the WRC after the collapse of ISC brought about a force majeur. Existing TV deals and bartering by the individual event organisers cobbled the coverage together in anticipation of a new world order in 2013.

The involvement of Red Bull for 2013 has delivered the potential for the WRC to reach truly massive audiences, even if the ensuing silence has angered those fans who feel – quite rightly – that their sport has been left on the sidelines in terms of effective promotion for far too long. It has also proven to be grist to the mill for those sections of the media that have an enduring fondness for the previous promoter, ISC, and taken the role of a particularly disapproving Greek chorus throughout the past few months.

There have been rumblings about image rights being the cause of the delays. Depending on who you speak to, this can mean either that ISC has somehow retained some rights that it is seeking a high price for or that Red Bull is demanding complete control of all rights over anyone involved in the WRC before committing its cash.

Nevertheless, with the showcase event for the 2013 season now less than a week away, it looks like the best chance many people have got of catching the action will be online. Red Bull’s own website has started carrying material, and in the absence of free-to-view or even subscription-based services, it’s probably going to be best to keep an eye on what’s happening here for now.