The 2022 World Rally Championship started in quite incredible fashion, and rightly caught the attention across the globe of people who may not usually follow rallying.
But we follow it very closely at DirtFish, and as always have asked Colin Clark to rank the group of drivers who last weekend became the first ever to drive hybrid Rally1 cars in competition:
Sébastien Loeb 10/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 1st
A truly sensational performance from the returning nine-time World Rally Champion. To be honest, I really didn’t give him much of a chance of fighting for a podium here, never mind the win.
The last time we saw Loeb on the Monte was two years ago with Hyundai and he looked a shadow of his former brilliant self. But Loeb and M-Sport’s Puma Rally1 Hybrid just seemed to gel. He was full of praise for the car right from the off and never put a wheel wheel wrong all week.
And it’s fair to say there were more than a few puzzled looks when Le Maestro announced Isabelle Galmiche as his co-driver, but what an inspired decision that turned out to be. Galmiche is a school teacher who was teaching math the week before last, and will be back teaching math again this week. In between that she rewrote the rallying history books.
This was a performance that will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest of all time.
Can we now declare Loeb the greatest driver of all time? Well I’m not sure we can, but there’s no question he has emphatically staked his claim and it’s now up to the others, namely Ogier, to prove otherwise.
Craig Breen 8/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 3rd
A very positive start to his M-Sport career for the jovial Irishman.
OK, so it took Breen a little while to build his pace here but maybe that was to be expected. Monte Carlo is a rally that rewards experience and Breen’s experience here is very limited.
He showed patience and intelligence when he was being outperformed by his younger team-mates, but by Sunday he was very much on the pace.
Can Breen challenge for the title this year? Well a podium here is a great start and the performance of the Puma must give Breen renewed belief.
We still need to see continuing progress but all the indicators look good for a successful year for Breen and Paul Nagle’s M-Sport partnership.
Gus Greensmith 9/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 5th
Maybe the surprise performance of the rally for many. Without the engine issues that hampered his progress on Saturday, Greensmith could well have been pushing for a podium finish here.
A lot of folk have doubted Greensmith’s ability over the past few years and he answered those doubters in some style here.
A genuine stage win on one of the most challenging days of the event will be a massive confidence boost for the young Englishman and it’s almost certainly a clear sign of what to expect for the rest of the year.
Didn’t make any mistakes all rally and looked incredibly comfortable dealing with the increased power and challenge of the Puma.
Adrien Fourmaux 1/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: Ret
Just an unmitigated disaster for young Fourmaux. There’s a bit of a worrying trend developing here that Fourmaux has to break before it breaks him.
Big shunts on the asphalt of Ypres and Monza, and then this enormous one here on day two, just isn’t good enough for a young driver trying to establish himself at the sport’s highest level.
I’ve said this before about Fourmaux but it’s worth making the point again. He has an enormous opportunity with Red Bull and M-Sport and clearly an enormous talent. He doesn’t have to prove his pace on every stage of every rally but it would appear that Fourmaux hasn’t quite grasped this yet.
He’s an unnecessarily impatient young man who needs to understand the value of learning rallycraft, otherwise this could turn out to be a very difficult year for him.
Sébastien Ogier 8/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 2nd
Ogier played his part in the battle of rallying’s greats but fell just short of the winning line. I watched him leave service early on Sunday morning with just over 41.6 miles of the event remaining and I’d have bet my house on him returning as winner.
But it all fell apart with two stages remaining. There were a lot of questions being asked about the deep, arguably unnecessary cut that Ogier opted to take on SS16 and that resulted in the puncture that cost him the win. It’s hard to be critical however, Ogier is Ogier, and when he’s on one, he’ll squeeze every little advantage he possibly can out of every situation.
Maybe this time he didn’t have to though, and when the champ has time to sit and cogitate on the events of the weekend he might well realize that a record-extending ninth Monte win was given away unnecessarily – that will be a difficult one for Ogier to swallow.
Elfyn Evans 5/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 21st
Not the best of starts to a year that could be arguably Evans’ best chance of picking up that elusive driver’s title. Evans makes very few mistakes and if this is the only one he makes this year then yep, he’ll be right there come the end of the year.
The big positive to take away from here is that Evans looks comfortable and mighty fast in the new GR Yaris Rally1.
Kalle Rovanperä 7/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 4th
Rovanperä’s pace on the first evening in Monte Carlo was nothing short of disastrous. He was slower than Rally2 cars and that absolutely wasn’t what we expected to see or what Toyota needed.
Changes to the setup of his Yaris throughout the course of the rally, and Rovanperä’s mighty impressive rate of learning meant that by the time we got to the powerstage he was more or less at one with the car and blasted through to claim maximum points.
Rovanperä, Evans and Breen will in all likelihood be battling it out at the top of the standings this season and the ability to stick in there when things aren’t necessarily going your way could be the key to title success.
He showed plenty of that here and he heads to Sweden as the lead full-time driver in the points.
Takamoto Katsuta 3/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 8th
Katsuta really struggled to master the challenges of the new car here in Monte Carlo. He was well off the pace for many of the stages and when he tried to force the issue and up his pace, he slid off the road and got stuck for many minutes.
When he did get to the end of the stage he sounded more defeated than I’ve heard him sound and that worries me more than anything.
When a driver starts doubting his own ability then things become exponentially difficult to pull back. Katsuta is quick, talented and intelligent, but he desperately needs a confidence building event before he goes into terminal free-fall.
The championship needs a successful Katsuta almost out as much as Katsuta needs to quickly reverse his decline. Japan and Toyota are key to the long term future health of the WRC and a successful Katsuta will do wonders for rallying in his home country.
Thierry Neuville 7/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: 6th
This was supposed to be the bright new dawn for Hyundai and perhaps the season that Neuville eventually breaks his title duck. But on the evidence of this performance, that will require something close to a miracle.
As ever Neuville gave it everything here, and then some. But his car just wasn’t up to it. He battled with broken suspension and performance issues all rally, and picked up good points. But there aren’t many positives for Neuville here – just many, many concerns.
Ott Tänak 2/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: Ret
Nobody was looking forward to the introduction of these new generation Rally1 cars more than Tänak. He’s endured a torrid time since joining Hyundai and this was supposed to be a bright new start for the 2019 WRC champion.
But it wasn’t, it was a continuation of the catastrophic run of form on the Monte that Tänak seems to be enduring right now.
A mistake on the ice and snow of the Sisteron stage led to Tänak clouting a rock face and terminally damage the cooling system on his new i20 N Rally1 car.
The mistake was worrying but the lack of pace and form could well be the most concerning thing for Tänak. He’s a winner with a winner’s mentality and approach but right now he looks and sounds a long way from victories.
Oliver Solberg 4/10
Monte Carlo Rally result: Ret
It’s very difficult to score Solberg on this one. The issue with fumes penetrating the cockpit of his car through every stage of the event clearly compromised any opportunity he had here to show his ability.
Neuville might not have liked the fact that Solberg retired on the final day but I’m not sure he really had much of a choice. He was clearly suffering from the cumulative effects of four days of noxious fume inhlation and that is potential extremely dangerous. He did the right thing in stopping, hard as that may be for his team-mate to accept.
Solberg, when he was able to push, looked comfortable with the extra power and demands of the new machinery. That bodes well for a decent performance when we get to Sweden.