Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta RS WRC/Michelin) claimed Rallye Monte-Carlo glory for the fourth year running to notch up their 37th world class victory on Michelin tyres. Their success makes them the world championship’s most successful crew on the French firm’s rubber.
The conditions proved particularly complex for the opening round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) as the series celebrated the start of a new era, with new-look, more powerful World Rally Cars, plus the returns of Toyota and Citroën to rallying’s blue ribband class.
The wintry mountain stages near Gap, France, and, on the final day, north of Nice, made tyre choice exceptionally difficult and Michelin’s partners used all four of the tyres available to them - Pilot Sport SS5 (super-soft), S5 (soft), Alpin and studded Alpin – at one point or another over the four days.
The outcome was basically settled on Saturday’s SS13 when early pace-setter Thierry Neuville from Belgium damaged the suspension of his Hyundai i20 Coupé/Michelin after clouting a concrete wall. Prior to that cruel incident, he had won five stages and was 51 seconds clear of second-placed Sébastien Ogier.
The latter, who was making his debut appearance in the brand-new Ford Fiesta RS WRC/Michelin, had squandered some 40s after slipping into a ditch on SS3. He started the final day in front, however. Then, as snow swept over the infamous Col de Turini test, he kept his cool to clinch his fourth consecutive Monte win, and the first for his new employer M-Sport since 2012.
The British team even got two cars onto the podium in the Principality despite engine trouble for Ott Tanak throughout the last leg. The Estonian soon fell from overnight second to third, but a masterful performance on the snowy Power Stage kept him in the top three. Even so, his misfortune allowed Finn Jari-Matti Latvala to snap up second place to celebrate Toyota’s return to the WRC after an 18-year absence.
In WRC2, Skoda Motorsport and Michelin came first and second with Andreas Mikkelsen and Pontus Tidemand. Privateer Bryan Bouffier (Ford/Michelin) as third.
Sébastien Ogier has now won 37 WRC rounds with Michelin, a record that puts him clear of fellow Frenchman Sébastien Loeb (36) and Finn Tommi Mäkinen (23).