47 years old, almost 48. Fresh from 2 exhausting weeks of racing such as those of the 44 edition of the Dakar, in which he finished in second place overall in the Car category at the wheel of a Hunter of the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team. A new navigator instead of the usual and legendary Daniel Elena. A new car, the Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid EcoBoost. A new technical regulation. A new team, M-Sport Ford. All this could have been enough to build a castle of excuses in case of a disappointing or even just normal result, even if your name is Sébastien Loeb.
But what your name is Sébastien Loeb, none of the following excuses can claim to slow down your talent, your desire to compete, your skills, or even just that gift of god or nature – depending on your respective beliefs – with which you were born and with whom you became the most successful driver in the history not only of the World Rally, but of the whole motoring.
Sébastien Loeb won the Rallye Monte-Carlo 2022 reaching the 80th career victory in the WRC, the first without Daniel Elena at his side, the first with Isabelle Galmiche at the notes, the first with M-Sport and consequently the Ford Puma Rally1 , the first from the 2018 Rally de Catalunya, the first of the new hybrid era of the WRC. But also the eighth of his career in Monte-Carlo, which brings him back to being the record holder together with Sébastien Ogier, the driver he beat this weekend after a 4 days of sustainable intensity only from two phenomena like them.
But where does Loeb’s victory, the eighth, at the Rallye Monte-Carlo come from? Just a week ago, Séb traveled north of Gap just back from Jeddah to take part in the first and only test for Monte-Carlo. Months ago he had already tried the Ford Puma Rally1, but the car was still in a primordial version, far from the definitive one that the Monte then found regularly.
After just one day of rehearsals, the reconnaissance, and the Shakedown done on Thursday morning. That was the first moment in which Loeb realized that he had a car in his hands, if not a winning one, at least competitive to the point of being able to allow him to push and set times of absolute relief. Here is what he said at the end of the first day of competition, when he faced the first two night specials, finishing in second place in the general classification behind Ogier.
“I was not surprised that I did well in the first two stages on Thursday. I was surprised, actually, by the result I got on the first of three passes in the Shakedown. I had made my pace, clean, without smudging, just to take confidence with the car. And in any case I had set the second absolute time. For me it is a novelty, because in the Shakedown, often, I did not go well. So from there I realized that the car was good and that I could do a good race ” .
Friday: Loeb benefited from the starting position
Things got even better the next day, with Sébastien Ogier forced by the sporting regulations to open all tests on Friday – as the reigning world champion must do in the first test of the year – while Loeb was able to enter the stage last.
This has turned into a significant advantage. Ogier had started the day with a 6 “7 lead over the Alsatian, but the crew made up of Loeb and Galmiche won the first 4 races on Friday, accumulating a 15” 9 lead over Ogier. The reigning world champion lost a lot especially in the tests with more ice and black ice, while Loeb, thanks to his excellent starting position, was able to take advantage of the situation.
In the last 2 tests of the day, Ogier reacted. With a different surface, drier and less treacherous, he was able to push hard and the GR Yaris proved to be a very high-performance car. Furthermore, Loeb had to deal with the hybrid malfunction on his Puma, which he managed to fix in time to be able to finish the day in first place.
Saturday: all things being equal, Ogier stands out
On Saturday, however, things changed. Ogier and Loeb started penultimate and last of specials respectively due to the starting order which, from that day on, followed the final classification of the previous day. The two Sébastien, at that point, practically played on equal terms.
Ogier, thanks to a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 improved in behavior after some set-up adjustments, began to recover seconds over seconds at Loeb, so much so that he overtook the Alsatian of M-Sport at the end of the PS11 Saint-Geniez / Thoard 1, the Sisteron test, carried out partially on ice and snow.
Another decisive moment in Ogier’s favor was the PS13, or the repetition of Sisteron’s Saint-Geniez / Thoard, with Loeb who tried the chance of slick Soft tires on the snow and Ogier who, at the last moment, copied the rival’s move to play on equal terms. And he was right. The test was won by Kalle Rovanpera, who used 2 spiked tires, while Ogier got the better of Loeb, distancing him by 16 “1. At that point, the gap between the two was 21” 1 in the general classification. 4 trials from the end.
Sunday: the decisive puncture
Pirelli tires have proven to be resistant to their debut on Rally1, but the cuts are always very tricky. Gus Greensmith had already paid for it the day before, then Elfyn Evans too. Ogier, in the penultimate test, made a mistake. Instead of managing his lead which in the meantime had risen to over 24 “over his fellow countryman, he took an unnecessary risk and midway through the test the left front tire began to lose pressure, delaminating.
Ogier, at that point, preferred not to stop to change the tire: he would have lost about 2 minutes and would have cost him not only the victory, but also the podium and the Top 4. The move was corrected, because it led him to lose “just” 34 “1 against Loeb, who instead won the special, as well as the 80th stage victory in Monte-Carlo.
This put Loeb back in the lead, unexpectedly, but certainly not undeserved. After all, Loeb won 5 tests and at that point he had an advantage of 9 “5 over Ogier. A gap that can still be bridged, given the great performances of the Toyota driver. But in the last test, valid as the Power Stage, Ogier committed an another lightness by making a jump start, that is an early departure with respect to the traffic light signal that indicates the start of the test.
For this reason, the marshals have inflicted a 10 “penalty on Ogier, bringing Loeb’s advantage to 19” 5. An unexceptionable penalty, justified by Ogier in this way: “At the beginning of the test I heard a strange noise from the Yaris engine and at that point I left … It went like this, too bad”.
Loeb, in the Power Stage, lost 9 seconds from Ogier, taking home the eighth career victory in Monte-Carlo, the 80th in the WRC, the first with Isabelle Galmiche at his side.
A deserved victory for Loeb, because it was built with the few certainties gathered on the day of testing and making good use of what he had in favor. Ogier, on the other hand, committed two very small lightnesses, but which caused enormous damage to the chances of victory. However, this does not detract from one of the most beautiful editions of the Rallye Monte-Carlo in recent years. For the caliber of the two contenders, for the new hybrid era, for the twists, it is already history.
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