“It all starts here!”. One of the most anticipated moments of the year arrived on time. The 90th edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally, under the high patronage of Their Serene Highnesses the Prince and the Princess of Monaco, first stage of the FIA World Rally Championship, attracted the attention of the public in the last week with a crescendo of expectations from the 20th until the 23rd January 2022, turning Monaco into the center of attention of the international motorsport in the best tradition.
Originally conceived in 1911 to encourage the tourist role of the Principality, the challenge soon began a must where the best drivers in the world challenged each other in the twisty and often frosty roads of the enchanting wild hinterland to get to the finish line first in town. But this year’s edition, organized by the traditional management of the Automobile Club de Monaco, brought many novelties starting from the inclusion of WRC1s hybrid-tech cars, powered by synthetic and ‘clean’ fuels only.
“Although not all vehicles are electric, it is a logic evolution of this automobile race and maybe in five or six years we will accomplish a fully electric edition”, outlined Christian Tornatore, Director of the Monte-Carlo Rally.
Besides major car brands like Toyota and Hyundai, the 2022 Rally saw the improvement of M-Sport racing division, always in view of a lower impact on the environment. Not by chance, those memorable manufacturers committed themselves to develop new hybrid technologies for the Rally over the next three years. A further challenge for the seventy-five international drivers in race who had to balance their pace speed with an extra electric boost producing up to 100 kW thanks to a 3.9KWh battery. An extra help to be used carefully under the rules and just at the right time.
The rally road, modified by more than 95% comparing to last year, was made more “Monegasque” than ever being centered on Alps of High Provence and Maritime Alps region down to the seacoast, namely Monaco, without any twin stage in the host-city of Gap, as we have been used to since 2014. About 300km of special tests distributed in seventeen motor races on four days have kept the adrenaline high in the spectators.
The 2022 Rally also marked the return of Sébastien Ogier, the undisputed protagonist of the past edition and eight times winner at the World Rally Drivers’ Championship, who competed this time without his ‘historical’ co-pilot, Julien Ingrassia, retired from the motorsport at the end of 2021. This did not decrease his motivation during the whole race to stand up to opponents. “We always feel we are not ready when a new era begins, but…. we are aware that who is able to adapt faster than others will make the difference”, pointed out the skilled driver during the pre-event press conference on Wednesday.
Notably his former teammate Sébastien Loeb, a paramount figure who won the World Rally Championship nine times, was back this year on board a Ford Puma Hybrid. “I feel fresh and not tired after a good Dakar race. I just try to move on”, underlined Loeb in the interview session – “The feeling with the hybrid car is pretty good; we have more power over a short period of time unless it is not constant”, he added. “I am not afraid of change, we have good mileage with the car and we are able to improve the feelings on the road”, reaffirmed the Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 N Rally 1), promising Belgian rally driver from the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.
Surely the unusual dry and mild weather conditions in the mountains have surprised many. Here are some of their comments. “I do not remember facing the Turini’s Hill completely without snow, including the two sides of the road. It is like a rally on asphalt!”, stressed S. Loeb. “There is no snow, almost dry, but some ice is there and we need to be careful”. stated Eric Camilli (France, Citroën C3 Rally 2). “This year, weather conditions are the biggest change”, pointed out Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway, Toksport WRT, ŠKODA Fabia Rally 2). “The asphalt is not normal since temperatures can be very low”, said Yohan Rossel (France, Citroën C3 Rally 2). But Monte-Carlo Rally is always fascinating.
“I am so happy to be back, I have been waiting for it for eight years”, stated Jan Černý (Czech Republic, Ford Fiesta Rally3). “It is an iconic rally, it is my first time and I know it will be a huge challenge; I am very excited”, added Sami Pajari (Finland, Ford Fiesta Rally 3).
On Thursday the 20th, teams gathered in the evocative Casino Square to kick off the Rally’s parade up to the mountains for a special snow-less Col de Turini (Turini’s hill) night tour of more than 38 km. The Casino’s façade converted in an amazing time machine for recalling all stages of ninety years before H.E. Patrice Cellario, Minister of Interior, waved the red and white flag to start the roar of the hybrid engines.
On Friday the 21st, the Rally entered the heart of the difficulties through the northern part of the Maritime Alps, covering 97.86 km in two loops and three stages to get closer to the Mercantour National Park. Most drivers had to pay more attention because of the wet and slippery roadway due to some ice formations.
On Saturday the 22nd, the race became increasingly challenging through a distance of 92.46 km in Haute-Provence region from the so-called ‘La Colle Saint-Michel’ up to the ‘Col de Fontbelle’ without any service stop during the day to test the endurance of all teams. It was a rather tough test for many teams including some technical problems and accidents with a final ‘scoop’. Sébastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb went incredibly twinned with the same score.
Four stages on the north-west part of the Maritime Alps characterized the final day, on Sunday the 23rd, to complete a route of 67.26 kilometers until all teams reached Monaco around 2:30 p.m. A rather tricky conclusion for the best Rally ever! Sébastien Loeb and his co-driver, Isabelle Galmiche, did a great deed, decreeing his eightieth success in WRC. “We did not expect so much when we got there; this year started pretty good for me, this winning gives me confidence and satisfaction to Isabelle, at her first WRC test”, declared Loeb, 10 seconds and 5 tenths ahead of his big rival, Sébastien Ogier.
“I just wanted to be my best; the Team did a great job, it was good start and let’s hope in the future we can go further”, stated Ogier. “I am so amazed to share the podium with those guys, maybe it will not happen again! Although it was not an easy task for me I was much confident with the car in the end”, concluded Craig Breen, third positioned from Ireland.
Soon after the final arrival the Prize ceremony took place in the Casino’s Square at the presence of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and major institutions who crowned the winners on the podium in the midst of the general ovation.
M-SPORT FORD WORLD RALLY TEAM
19 Sébastien Loeb / Isabelle Galmiche (FRA) – Ford Puma Hybrid Rally 1
TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT TEAM
1 Sébastien Ogier / Benjamin Veillas (FRA) – Toyota GR Yaris Rally 1
M-SPORT FORD WORLD RALLY TEAM
42 Craig Breen / Paul Nagle (IRL) – Ford Puma Hybrid Rally 1
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