There’s no better feeling than winning the Monte Carlo Rally, but perhaps no other rally on the World Rally Championship calendar that can bite you quite so hard either.
While Sébastien Ogier and Vincent Landais toasted a first career victory together, there were plenty of others up and down the field that could class themselves winners of the rally in their own way – but equally plenty that will head home feeling like losers too.
In the first of what will become a season-long feature on DirtFish, here are the winners and losers from the 2023 Monte Carlo Rally:
How can he not be anything other than a winner?
Sébastien Ogier made history this weekend, winning a record ninth Monte Carlo Rally.
He was desperate to win this rally and a calm, measured approach paid dividends. Even when Kalle Rovanperä began to reign him in on Saturday afternoon, he didn’t worry. He had enough confidence to know that he had sufficient pace to manage the gap on Sunday.
It was a true masterclass from the eight-time WRC champ, and many are left wondering what the championship battle would be like this year if he was on a full-time program.
We all wondered how the teams would stack up on the opening round of the season. We knew Toyota would be at the sharp end, but given how Hyundai finished 2022, it would have been no surprise to see it leading the charge.
But Hyundai’s challenge never materialized and the GR Yaris Rally1 looked a clear step ahead of its rivals.
Thierry Neuville was Toyota’s closest challenger, but although he was third he was 44.6 seconds off the lead.
Hyundai and M-Sport better unlock some pace fast, otherwise they risk letting Toyota take full control of the season. That might sound dramatic given only one round has taken place, but it cannot be stressed how planted and quick that Toyota is. It was the real deal on the Monte.
He may not have won the rally, but second place and a powerstage win is just about the perfect way for Kalle Rovanperä to launch his world championship defense.
Beating team-mate Ogier was never of true importance to the 22-year-old, what mattered was beating Ott Tänak, Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville and he beat all three of them on the event itself as well as the powerstage.
Twenty-three points is Rovanperä’s best ever haul from round one and will nicely tip up his confidence as this year’s chase for the world title intensifies.
With 16 stage wins from 18, Škoda’s new Fabia RS Rally2 delivered on the promise we were all sure it would show as it made its WRC2 debut.
Although Škoda doesn’t run its own team – instead throwing some resource behind the Toksport operation – customer sales are massively important and there’ll be several drivers who saw just how fast, and easy to drive, the new Fabia was in Monte Carlo.
For three different drivers – Gryazin, Oliver Solberg and Erik Cais – to all show the car’s potential is massively encouraging for Škoda and massively worrying for M-Sport, Hyundai, Citroën and co.
It just wasn’t Dani Sordo’s weekend was it?
He was slow out of the gates on Thursday evening, ending the first two stages sixth, and over half a minute off the lead. But then from Friday onwards it got worse.
The setup wasn’t quite right for him on Friday, and although the car felt OK to drive, he still struggled for overall pace. Then on Saturday he got hit with a hybrid issue.
Unfortunately for him, Hyundai was unable to resolve the issue on Saturday night, and so he had to put up with the same fault for Sunday’s final four tests, ending any hopes of a decent result.
Seventh and just shy of four minutes off the winner is not a result he will be going home to shout about. Hopefully he can rectify the result when he next appears, which is expected to be on Rally México.
It’s so easy to go from zero to hero and then back to zero again, and that’s exactly how it played out for Pierre-Louis Loubet.
The M-Sport driver just couldn’t catch a break.
Loubet looked to be slowly building his confidence on the opening stages, but got hit with a power-steering issue from SS5. That left him having to perform a heroic drive to get the Puma Rally1 to the end of the day, with no midday service on Monte.
He did that, and buoyed by his achievement tackled Saturday hard, but it quickly fell apart when he crashed at the end of the opening stage of the day, hitting a bridge after passing the yellow boards having slipped on some ice.
That considerably damaged his car, forcing him to retire for the day and although he returned to the rally on Sunday, he was forced to retire again on the road section after SS16 after his car had a water pump issue.
Coming into Monte Carlo there was a great buzz surrounding M-Sport.
With Ott Tänak now driving for the team and returning to the rally it won last year with Sébastien Loeb, there was a real sense that M-Sport could hit the ground running on the opening event of the season.
But that did not happen at all. Not in the slightest.
With Loubet running into multiple issues, the responsibility of a result lay to rest on Tänak’s shoulders, but he simply couldn’t find the pace in the car.
He had no answer for the leading Toyotas or Neuville, and lacked confidence meaning he was not prepared to push the car.
In the end, he finished over two and a half minutes down on Ogier.
That’s not how M-Sport would have wanted to start the year, and would have no doubt brought it hurtling back down to earth from its pre-season high.
The only positive was that when Tänak did find the confidence to push the car on the powerstage, he was there on pace, almost winning the final test.
M-Sport needs to now enable him to achieve that on every stage of a rally, otherwise it could quickly become a tricky year.