BLOG: The Magic of the Monte & 2014 WRC
Wow. We said this year's WRC would be a cracker, and, if the season opener – the iconic Monte Carlo Rally – is anything to go by, we were right! What an absolutely thrilling, magic Monte event, setting us all up for a superb 2014 season.
In deeply challenging, changeable conditions – with rain, ice and then so much snow the famous Col De Turini stage was cancelled – Volkswagen’s 2013 champion Sebastian Ogier steered his Polo R WRC to victory, climbing the leader board over the event, to take the win.
Incredibly, second place went to privateer, Bryan Bouffier, who was out to prove a point on his home soil, having narrowly missed out on a factory drive with Hyundai's new i20 this year. Hats off to the Frenchman, who certainly got tongues wagging, leading for much of the event, until Ogier overtook him on stage nine: A phenomenal achievement for a private entry team.
It was a superb, dream start for Brit Kris Meeke too – in his first full WRC season as a Citroen factory driver, who drove a sublime, consistent event, to take third and obviously loved it, while his characterful team-mate Mads Ostberg brought his DS3 WRC home in fourth, in his first competitive drive for Citroen. Impressive stuff for what looks like a very content Citroen team this year.
VW ace and total dude, Jari-Matti Latvala took fifth after a tough start to the event, proving he's a title contender again this year, if luck stays with him.
And new-WRC-blood British rally star, Elfyn Evans drove his superbly-livered M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC to a deeply impressive sixth place – showing maturity way beyond his years. That bodes so well for the young Welsh superstar.
Seventh place went to the stylish, WRC social media expert, Andreas Mikkelsen, who's starting his first full season in the VW Polo R WRC – which looks as cool as he does on the stages again this year. And with next to no pressure, and growing experience, expect some good things from Andreas in 2014.
The all-new Hyundai team rocked the parc ferme with a deeply impressive, flashy new service area set-up – using first names for their drivers, in a successful bid to set an open, friendly, accessible image in the sport and setting new standards in mechanical support, which is sure to stir things up with the other teams and puts their flag firmly in thew WRC soil.
Unfortunately, despite the cars being competitively quick from the off, it was not the dream start that VW had last year with their new Polo for the funky-looking, great-sounding, fresh i20 WRC – as Thierry Neuville made an uncharacteristic error and crashed out of the event... on the first stage, much to his embarrassment and the team's frustration. And things went from bad to worst when Dani Sordo – who was posting good times in the i20 – was forced to retire with electrical gremlins. Sad news for the ambitious new team who say 2014 is all about learning. But we know they really want some podiums, if not event wins. Never mind. I'm sure they will be back with gusto in Sweden February 5th-8th, when the WRC teams take on even deeper snow than they faced here on the magic Monte, and it's great to have Hyundai so committed to WRC.
Former F1 star Robert Kubica's run of bad WRC luck continued in his new Fiesta RS WRC. Having set two fastest stage times on SS1 and SS2 – proving his pace once again – Kubica understeered off into a bridge in spectacular style shortly afterwards, forcing his retirement and lots of repair work on his car, again. Doh.
And it was also dreadful luck for Mikko Hirvonen – back with his old M-Sport pals in his Fiesta RS WRC – who was all set to take a solid sixth place, when his car packed up on the 15th, very last stage of the rally, having suffered alternator issues. Gutted. But, as rally icon, Francois Delecour always used to say about this magical sport: "That's rallying, no?!"
What an event – only enhanced by being able to watch the coverage live this year on new BT Sport! And on highlights on the Tuesday after the events on ITV4 on domestic UK TV.
Bring on the rest of the 2014 calendar, which this year includes Rally Poland back on the agenda. And with two new teams in VW and Hyundai and Citroen and Ford making improvements to match the new blood and fresh-faced, professional, happy and competitive drivers galore – many with a good chance of taking the title – UK TV coverage and two awesome British drivers in Meeke and Evans to support, it's just so great to see WRC back on its feet. Long live WRC!