- Seven days after leaving the Saudi Arabian desert since finishing Dakar 2022, Sébastien Loeb has struck gold in Monaco.
- Loeb becomes the oldest person to win a World Rally Championship stage at 47 years old.
- Unfortunately, we won't get to see the master in action again, as he was only signed on to drive the Ford Puma for the season's first round.
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Only a week after finishing Dakar 2022 in Saudi Arabia, Sébastien Loeb has become the oldest driver to win an FIA World Rally Championship round after he snatched a sensational Rallye Monte-Carlo victory from long-time rival Sébastien Ogier. The 47-year-old Frenchman trailed Ogier by almost half a minute heading into the penultimate speed test of the four-day event in the French Alps.
When Ogier limped to the finish with a front left puncture, Loeb reclaimed a lead he had conceded to his compatriot on Saturday. He stayed calm through the final test to seal his eighth Monte-Carlo success in a Ford Puma by 10.5sec. After starting his first WRC event for more than a year, Loeb was competing for the British M-Sport Ford squad in a one-off appearance. He joins Ogier at the top of the Monte-Carlo honour roll with eight wins.
Three decades of masterstroke performances
Loeb's victory means he has topped the WRC podium in three different decades. Co-driver Isabelle Galmiche, a 50-year-old schoolteacher making her first top-tier start, became the first female winner of a WRC fixture since 1997.
"I didn't expect so much when I came here," Loeb admitted. "It was a great fight, Ogier was really fast, and I struggled a bit yesterday and even this morning."
The duel between the most successful drivers in the sport's history proved a fitting start to the new hybrid-powered era in the championship's 50th season. Ogier led initially after Thursday's short opening night in his Toyota GR Yaris, but a run of four consecutive fastest times on Friday put Loeb ahead. On Saturday, he failed to find the same pace, and Ogier moved back in front before Sunday's breathtaking finale.
Strong performance for the Ford Puma
This year, a plug-in hybrid Ford Puma rally vehicle replaces the venerable Fiesta WRC car, and it has proved scintillating in its first outing. Craig Breen finished 90sec further back in third in another Puma, giving the British-based M-Sport Ford squad an early lead in the manufacturers' championship.
Kalle Rovanperä languished outside the top 10 after the opening night, but after set-up changes improved the balance of his GR Yaris, he soared up the order to secure fourth. On Saturday, Gus Greensmith claimed fifth in another Puma despite losing time with engine issues after winning his first special stage at WRC level. After a lacklustre weekend for the Korean manufacturer, Thierry Neuville was sixth in a Hyundai i20 N.
The Belgian fought problems all rally, including a broken damper that punched through his bonnet on Saturday. Team-mates Ott Tänak and Oliver Solberg both retired. Elfyn Evans, the championship runner-up in 2021, was on the edge of the fight for victory until he beached his GR Yaris on a bank and remained stranded there for 20 minutes. The Welshman ended 21st.
Next month, the championship heads to Scandinavia for the only pure winter round of the WRC 2022 season. Rally Sweden takes place in Umeå on February 24-27. You can watch all the stages live on the WRC website.
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FIA WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo final positions
1. S Loeb / I Galmiche (Ford Puma) - 3hr 00min 32.8sec
2. S Ogier / B Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris) - +10.5sec
3. C Breen / P Nagle (Ford Puma) - +1min 39.8sec
4. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris) - +2min 16.2sec
5. G Greensmith / J Andersson (Ford Puma) - +6min 33.4sec
6. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20) - +7min 42.6sec
FIA WRC Drivers' Championship (after round 1 of 13)
1. S. Loeb - 27 points
2. S. Ogier - 19 points
3. K. Rovanperä - 17 points
FIA WRC 2022 Manufacturers' Championship
1. M-Sport Ford - 42 points
2. Toyota Gazoo - 39 points
3. Hyundai Shell Mobis - 13 points
All footage and images courtesy WRC and Red Bull Content Pool.
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