This is an event that all motorsports fans anticipate with great enthusiasm! Not only is the Monte-Carlo Rally a breathtaking show featuring the world’s leading pilots, but also it is the most prestigious opening competition of the WRC Series FIA (World Rally Championship). The Rally’s 88th edition was held in Monaco on January 20 – 26, 2020.
The following important changes were introduced to the race’s format, organized by the Automobile Club of Monaco. Firstly, a 25% track modification has been implemented. Secondly, before the official start on January 23, the racers were invited to take part in a trial 3.35 kilometer shakedown session from January 20 to 22. The race took place at Route du Gard in Gap, the rally’s partner for the 7th consecutive year.
The race was officially opened by the Minister of Interior, Patrice Cellario, on behalf of the Prince of Monaco. The attendance by the Dutch Red Bull racer and Monaco resident, Max Verstappen, proved how interested Formula-1 pilots are in the rally as a sporting event. The young pilot, classified 3rd in the Formula-1 GP ranking, interviewed Sebastien Ogier, Sebastien Loeb, Kalle Rovanpera and Elfyn Evans.
On January 23, at 5pm, the first night race took off from the Hautes-Alpes. It was Malijai-Puimichel (SS1 – 17.47 km – 20:38) followed by the Bayons – Breziers segment (SS2 – 25.49 km – 22:26). This was a real challenge for all the major WRC Championship contenders. At this stage, Thierry Neuville came in number one, Sebastien Ogier – second, Elfyn Evans – third.
The first stage is considered more of a warm-up for the teams to gain a momentum before the next day’s long race. The evening, however, turned out to be quite adventurous! The Estonian Ott Tanak, who made his debut in the Hyundai team, lost control on the 4th lap at a speed of 170 km/h. Hitting the roadside, he flew down the slope and tumbled over before bumping into a tree. Miraculously, thanks to the top security of the WRC rally’s protective equipment, the pilot and navigator Martin Järveoja suffered no harm. Despite encouraging first results, however, they were forced to leave the race.
On Friday, January 24, the racing teams headed south-east and east of Gap covering a total of 122.48 kilometers. It was the most challenging of the rally days , covering the following segments: Curbans- Venterol (SS3 / 6 – 20.02 km – 8: 36/13: 54), Saint-Clément-sur-Durans – Freissinières (SS 4/7 – 20.68 km – 9: 56/15: 14) and, finally, Alençon – Notre Dame du Laus (SS 5/8 – 20.59 km – 11: 21/16: 39). At this point, Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) was leading, followed by Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) with a slight lag of 05.3 seconds, while Elfyn Evans remained third.
On Saturday, January 25, the teams were to race the total of 75.20 kilometers, covering two fairly challenging segments of Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Batie-Neuve (SS 9/11 – 16.87 km – 9: 38/14: 08) and La Breole – Selonnet (SS 10/12 – 20.73 km – 10: 56/15: 26). After the final stop at the Gap service park, they returned to the Principality.
Absolute leader of this challenging stage was the Toyota Gazii Racing WRT team of Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. The second position went to last year’s rally champion, the French racer Sebastien Ogier and his co-pilot Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Gazii Racing WRT) – while the Belgian Thierry Neuville and Nicholas Gilsoul (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) came third.
On Sunday, January 26, the participants were to cover 4 special stages with a total of 63.54 kilometers. They were racing in the steep Maritime Alps without any chance of a pit stop: La Bollène-Vesubie- Peira Cava (SS 13/15 – 18.41 km – 8: 17/10: 55) and La Cabannette – Col de Braus (SS 14/16 – 13.58 km – 9: 08/12: 18).
On the final race day, Thierry Neuville and Nicholas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20) did their very best bringing their team the victory in this prestigious Monte-Carlo Rally. They came first with a total of 30 points in the general classification. Sebastien Ogier and his partner Julien Ingrassia finished 2nd, with a 12.6 seconds difference, while Elfin Evans and Scott Martin finished 3rd, with a 14.3 seconds gap.
The award ceremony was held on Albert I promenade, in the presence of the Prince of Monaco, bringing together a number of rally fans from all over the world who had come to support their favourite team! Congratulations to the Belgian racer on his brilliant victory in this first rally of the season! Wishing all the other racers a most successful 2020!