Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville has set up a Sunday showdown at the WRC’s season-opening Monte Carlo Rally after demoting Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier in Saturday’s final stage.
Neuville (above) was undoubtedly the man to beat in his i20 N Rally1 during the Saturday morning loop. Having held third at the Friday evening halt, the Belgian grabbed second place from nine-time Monte winner Ogier on the day’s first ice-patched stage and stormed into the top spot before midday as overnight leader Elfyn Evans shipped time in his GR Yaris Rally1.
Ogier seized back control by reeling off back-to-back stage wins early in the repeated afternoon loop, but Neuville retaliated by outpacing the Yaris-driving Frenchman in the closing miles to carry a 3.3s advantage into Sunday.
With the Monte Carlo Rally marking the debut of the FIA World Rally Championship’s new points structure, Neuville’s late charge will earn him 18 points providing he completes Sunday’s stages. Eight-time WRC champ Ogier, who’s running only a limited schedule in 2024, would receive 15, while Evans, who ended the day 34.9s off the lead in third, would bank 13.
“It was perfection,” Neuville said of his drive on Saturday’s closing stage, the 13.29-mile Pellafol/Agnieres-en-Devoluy 2 test. “Everything went well and I really enjoyed the car — it was incredible.
“It was important to take the points tonight, but we also needed to keep the car on the road,” he added. “I had a good feeling, so I went for it and it seems like it paid off.”
Ogier’s stage win on the second run through the 12.45-mile Les Nonieres/Chichilianne was the 700th of his WRC career. That feat moved him ahead of Finnish legend Juha Kankkunen (699 stage wins) into fourth on the all-time list of stage winners.
“I have been trying since the beginning of the rally, basically,” admitted Ogier, who is far more focused on grabbing a record-stretching 10th Monte win than on moving up the all-time stage winners’ list. “The [final stage] was no different, but Thierry did a good stage. It looks like we need to try harder tomorrow…”
Sebastien Ogier (ABOVE) dueled with Thierry Neuville through Saturday’s tests, ending the day just 3.3s in arrears.Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT photo
Sunday brings the opportunity for the top performers over the course of the final leg to collect up to seven points in addition to the five bonus points also up for grabs in the rally-ending Wolf Power Stage.
Evans completed SS10 with no hybrid boost on his GR Yaris. Even with the issue fixed, he could not find an answer to the sudden speed of Neuville and Ogier. “I don’t know what’s going on,” the Welshman admitted after yielding 16.9s in the afternoon’s first stage. “It didn’t feel great, but that [time is] chronic.”
Ott Tanak — back with Hyundai after a season at M-Sport Ford — strengthened his hold on fourth place as he pulled away from his closest challenger, M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux, helped by a stage win on the first run through Pellafol/Agnieres-en-Devoluy. The two were split by more than one minute at close of play, with Fourmaux doubling down on his conservative approach after seeing his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 teammate Gregoire Munster go off the road in the afternoon’s opening stage.
Adrien Fourmaux has been playing it safe on his return to an M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1, but holds fifth overall. M-Sport photo
Munster’s demise allowed Hyundai debutant Andreas Mikkelsen to consolidate sixth, while Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta climbed up to seventh following his costly ditch excursion on Friday.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Nikolay Gryazin holds on to the class lead in his Citroen C3, but by the slimmest of margins. Skoda Fabia RS driver Pepe Lopez traded stage times and the top spot with the Bulgarian throughout Saturday’s six tests and finished the day just 0.2s in arrears.
Frenchman Yohan Rossel completes the top three in his Citroen C3, just 6.7s back from second-placed Spaniard Lopez and certainly not out of contention for the class win heading into Sunday’s short, but potentially decisive final leg.
Nikolay Gryazin clung on to his WRC2 lead after a to-and-fro duel with Pepe Lopez. McKlein/Motorsport Images
Sunday’s final leg features three stages as crews journey south to Monaco and the podium ceremony in the center of Monte Carlo. The trio add up to 32.39 competitive miles, with plenty of points still on offer before the rally finishes in the principality.
WRC Monte Carlo Rally, positions after Leg Two, SS14
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2h37m58.5s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3.3s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +34.9s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m46.9s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1) +2m54.0s
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +4m21.2s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +7m34.0s
8 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Citroen C3 – WRC2 leader) +8m55.7s
9 Pepe Lopez/David Vazquez (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +8m55.9s
10 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +9m02.6s
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