Neuville defeats Ogier to win Monte Carlo Rally

The Hyundai driver took victory by 16.1s after a stunning drive on the WRC season opener


Thierry Neuville turned in an imperious drive to win the Monte Carlo Rally, winning almost half the rally’s 17 stages on his way to victory in the World Rally Championship season opener.

A three-way fight had emerged early on between Neuville and Toyota pair Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans. The first to fall behind was Evans, simply unable to live with the pace of the other two during Saturday’s running.

Ogier had already laid down a marker on Friday morning, winning stage five by 11.2s. But by Saturday, Neuville was in the zone, having adapted to a suboptimal differential that he was forced to take following a gearbox leak.

Saturday showed Neuville’s potential: 18.8s faster than Ogier on the day opener, and 9.6s up on Ogier. By stage 10 he was in the lead and, though he briefly relinquished it to Ogier on SS11, he didn’t look back after that.


Neuville passing through Sunday morning's SS15

Despite the implementation of a new points system, where pre-Sunday points are scored separately to Sunday points, Neuville scored a full house anyway: 18 for being fastest across Thursday, Friday and Saturday, seven for being fastest across Sunday’s three stages and five for winning the powerstage.

Ogier simply had no answer, unwilling to take the level of risk required to try and match the Hyundai’s searing pace.

“Nice battle with Thierry. Well done to him, he’s been very fast,” said Ogier.

A visibly upset Ogier also paid tribute to a friend who had passed away suddenly on Monday, describing the rally as an “emotional rollercoaster” from start to finish.


Evans wrapped up third place but still scooped 21 points, having been second-fastest across Sunday’s stages and fourth-fastest on the powerstage.

Ott Tänak was a distant fourth. His rally was compromised on Friday when he slid wide on a patch of ice and nosed into a bank; he then complained constantly about the engine in his i20 N Rally1 overrunning under deceleration, which was disrupting his rhythm.

On his return to the Hyundai team he’d departed at the end of 2022, Tänak was two minutes behind his rally-winning teammate.

Under orders from M-Sport to bring the car to the finish in one piece, Adrien Fourmaux delivered a fifth-place finish on his first event back as a full-time Rally1 driver.

A year away from the limelight in a campaign split between WRC2 and the British Rally Championship, in which he won the title, appeared to bring dividends: it was a measured performance with no clear-cut mistakes.

The same could not be said for team-mate Grégoire Munster, though with his lack of Rally1 experience, an event as unpredictable as the Monte was always going to be tough.

Munster finished well down the order, having crashed on on Saturday when he understeered wide on a patch of gravel and hit a fence, the sump guard of his Ford Puma resting on the lip of the road leaving him beached.


Munster gained valubale experience on the Monte Carlo Rally

He returned on Sunday and scored a single point under the new-for-2024 points system that rewards the Sunday classification, in which he was seventh-fastest.

Another driver lacking Rally1 experience was Andreas Mikkelsen. This was his first event at the top category since his last stint with Hyundai in 2019, during the World Rally Car era.

His adaptation to the step up from Rally2 was a gradual one, still getting acclimatized to the extra grip afforded by the improved aerodynamics. A regular admission was that he’d been braking too early for corners, simply not used to how quickly they could stop.

“It was more difficult to get used to than I expected,” admitted Mikkelsen.


Mikkelsen is hoping for better speed as the season progresses

“It’s awesome, these cars but to use the maximum potential you need to be used to it.

“Some more seat time and we should be good to go,” he concluded, having wrapped up sixth place comfortably.

In a quirk of the new points system, Takamoto Katsuta outscored Mikkelsen by three points despite finishing behind him. Any hopes of competing near the front were dashed as early as Friday morning, when he slid wide on the same patch of ice that caught out Tänak and got stuck in a snowbank for five minutes.

Katsuta simply kept his car on the road until the powerstage, on which he turned up the wick and went third-fastest to score three bonus points, on top of the two he bagged for his sixth place in the Sunday classification. He brought the third Toyota home in seventh place overall.

An astounding battle for the WRC2 victory culminated in a final stage thriller, with Yohan Rossel stealing the win having not led all rally prior to the finish.

Rossel started as a pre-event favorite, having won WRC2 here last year. But for most of the rally, it was multiple Spanish champion Pepe López and Rossel’s Citroën teammate Nikolay Gryazin battling for first place, the pair trading the lead every few stages from Friday to Sunday.

But both were bested by an enormous push from Rossel on Sunday morning; in the end, Rossel putting 4.9s on López on the Col de Turini sealed the victory, having trailed his rivals for the prior 16 stages.

Yohan Rossel

Rossel only lead the final stage in an epic WRC2 battle

“Crazy, crazy,” said Rossel. “I don’t [know what to] think…it’s crazy. Sorry for him, it’s an incredible race. I come a little bit better but I win and it’s the most important thing.”

López won more stages than anyone else, eight in total, but it wasn’t quite enough: “Satisfied, no? It’s a pity not to win this rally because we fight a lot. But it is what it is.”

Gryazin completed the podium, 15.4s off the pace. That leading trio won every single WRC2 stage between them, such was their dominance.

Nicolas Ciamin brought his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 home in fourth place, ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre in the lead points-scoring Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 on its debut.