Adrien Fourmaux became the first victim of the 2022 World Rally Championship season – crashing out on the third stage of the Monte Carlo Rally, which was won by his M-Sport team-mate Sébastien Loeb.
M-Sport driver Fourmaux had been lying fourth overall after Thursday evening’s pair of stages and was setting a strong pace on Roure – Beuil, matching rally leader and long-time stage pacesetter Sébastien Ogier.
But in a medium-speed twisty section, Fourmaux missed his braking and his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 careered into a road-side bank, pitching it into a roll and off the road.
Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria were immediately out of the car after it rolled over several times, but it was a bitter end to a rally that was looking incredibly promising.
The stage was not short of drama for all the crews, with inconsistent grip catching several out. Ogier survived a meeting with the barriers towards the very end of the stage, as did his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.
The rear of Ogier’s GR Yaris Rally1 snapped away from him and hit the protective Armco barrier, but he got away with the error without drama.
But he was beaten by his old rival Loeb by 1.2 seconds, meaning the gap between the two was reduced to 5.5s.
“On one of the last corners [I hit the barrier]. It was difficult to judge the grip in this one, very changeable,” Ogier said.
Loeb added: “It was much more wet and humid and even a bit more icy than we had in the recce. The downhill is very fast and it was a bit surprising in some corners, but I had a good drive.”
Evans’ contact with the barrier was less severe as he appeared to simply just go into a tight corner too deep and nudged the barrier with the rear-left of his Yaris.
He was third fastest and remained in the same position overall, finding himself in a bit of no-man’s land with 6.9s to make up to second but a 21.5s advantage over Gus Greensmith, who is now up to fourth after Fourmaux’s crash.
Craig Breen ended the stage just 1.3s behind him in fifth, though, as Greensmith locked up on the final corner of the stage and ran very deep.
“Average,” Breen said of his performance, repeating his sentiments from Thursday night.
“There is so, so much potential in this car you really have no idea, I just don’t have the confidence to really stick the neck out. There’s a lot of time left if you really wanted it.”
Hyundai’s difficult start to the season continued on the third stage as Neuville branded the i20 N Rally1 ‘scary’ to drive.
He performed a full 360-degree spin at a tight hairpin, sensing he was losing the rear of his car early and so performing a full donut instead.
Neuville posted the sixth-fastest time to lie in the same place overall, 4.9s adrift of Breen.
“Not better than yesterday to be honest, it’s a nightmare,” scathed Neuville. “I’ve never been so scared by driving so lots of work left.”
Team-mate Ott Tänak was the quickest Hyundai on the stage but was not immune from issues either, driving without the use of his hybrid unit on SS3.
“The drive was not so bad but since the beginning, the second corner, the hybrid wasn’t working,” said the 2019 world champion. “Just a nice bit of weight we’re carrying in the car, but OK.”
Tänak is seventh ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, Oliver Solberg – who could hear co-driver Elliott Edmondson “better” but struggled with “smoke in the car” – and Kalle Rovanperä, whose off-beat start to 2022 continued.
1 Sébastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) 10m08.9s
1 Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota) +1.1s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +2.4s
4 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +7.2s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +7.5s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +12.8s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Ogier/Veillas (Toyota) 35m58.5s
2 Loeb/Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) +5.5s
3 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +12.4s
4 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +33.9s
5 Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +35.2s
6 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +40.1s
7 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +47.4s
8 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +1m11.8s
9 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +1m13.8s
10 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1m21.9s