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2017 WRC Monte Carlo event wrap-up

By Scott Newman, 24 Jan 2017 News

2017 WRC Monte Carlo event wrap-up

Nine things we learned from the 2017 WRC season opener

The 2017 World Rally Championship kicked off in spectacular fashion in Monte Carlo on the weekend, with the historic event supplying all the uncertainty and drama for which it has become renowned. 

Pre-event interest was higher than usual courtesy of the WRC's new technical regulations providing a clean sheet for the four teams, as well as significant driver shuffles thanks to VW's last-minute decision to end its WRC involvement.

The specialist nature of Monte Carlo means no clear picture has yet emerged as to the form guide, however here are nine things we've learned so far. 

The new cars are brilliant

It appears that the 2017 technical regulations were the shot in the arm the WRC needed. The cars look outrageous, sound as if they are fuelled by pure testosterone and are unbelievably rapid.

Even better, they are spectacular to watch, with more power than grip, on icy, gritty French mountain roads at least. On loose surfaces the increase in wheelspin will make the car slide more and also increase tyre wear.

While the massive wings may stick the car to the ground on dry tarmac in Corsica, Germany and Spain, there the spectacle will come from the cars' sheer speed. Watching the Saturday live stage the pace was breathtaking.

If you're wondering how these cars compare to the monsters of the Group B era, simply put, there is no comparison. Depending on the surface, the 2017 cars are estimated to be around 5sec/km faster than the machines from the WRC's wildest era. 

Monte Carlo is the best rally

It may lack the outright speed of Finland, the crowds of Argentina or the spectacular vistas of the now departed Safari, but for sheer unpredictability and the spectacle of the seeing the best drivers in the world stretched to their limit the Monte is unsurpassed.

Monte Carlo 2The fickle weather and combination of surfaces measn tyre choice is almost always a compromise and watching the WRC elite slither and slide these 280kW hot hatches on snow and ice on near slicks never fails to be jaw-dropping.

Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville discovered how cruel Monte can be, dominating for 12 stages only for the smallest of mistakes to break his rear suspension on stage 13, dropping him from hero to zero. 

Even then, this year's rally had one final sting in the tail, a change in weather during the last stage meaning drivers climbed the mountain on dry tarmac and descended on ice and snow.

Motorsport is dangerous

Sadly, this year's WRC season started in the worst possible fashion when a spectator was struck and killed when Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon lost control on black ice during the opening stage.

Hayden Paddon 3One of the thrills of rally spectating is the proximity to the cars, however while each spot carries with it varying degrees of risk, this spectator was right in the firing line and tragically paid the ultimate price.

Paddon's car was immediately withdrawn from the event.

Sebastien Ogier is a true great

If any doubt remained as to Sebastien Ogier's place in the pantheon of WRC greats, his fourth straight Monte Carlo win should put it to rest. For the past four seasons he's had the privilege of the best car, but that wasn't the case this time.

Monte Carlo Podium 4VW's last-minute pull-out meant Ogier's time in the Fiesta WRC prior to Monte Carlo was extremely limited and it showed, with Ogier making a cautious start and spending 40 seconds in a ditch on stage three.

You could argue Ogier was lucky that Neuville had problems, but like all champions he made his own luck. Whereas Neuville left the road at a place he knew he shouldn't (the corner was marked in his pace notes) Ogier's own off-road excursion on stage 12 happened at a place he knew he could get away with it. 

M-Sport can win the constructors' title

With Toyota and Citroen not fielding three cars until the fourth round in Corsica, Hyundai's stable line-up of three strong drivers (Neuville, Paddon and Sordo) looked to already have one hand on the constructors' title.

Ott TanakOn the form of Monte Carlo, however, M-Sport might have something to say about that. Second driver Ott Tanak drove brilliantly to hold second for much of the event, before holding on to third when car gremlins struck on the final day. He'll be one to watch on the faster loose-surface events.

Meanwhile, the third car of Elfyn Evans, running on DMack tyres, struggled early on the ice and snow but scored three stage wins on the drier tarmac of the second day, the young Welshman showing brilliant speed in difficult conditions.

Thierry Neuville is a title contender

Hyundai's lead driver has had a rollercoaster 18 months, however towards the end of 2016 refound his form to secure second in the championship. Nonetheless, his late re-signing with Hyundai meant he had limited mileage in the 2017 i20 before the season began.

Thierry Neuville 6Not that you'd know it, as the Belgian stormed into the lead on the opening stage and held it in dominant fashion until his unfortunate misjudgement on the last stage of the second full day.

While five points from winning the power stage is a poor return for once of his best drives, the speed and consistency he showed means Neuville is absolutely in the running for the 2017 drivers' championship.

Toyota has done a top job

Not in its wildest dreams could Toyota hace expected to secure a podium placing in its return to the WRC after an 18-year absence. Attrition definitely played its part, but more encouragingly the Yaris WRC showed real speed on damp and slippery tarmac, supposedly the car's greatest weakness.

What's more, it's undoubtedly the most spectacular of the new breed of WRC cars. It looks like an extra from a Transformers movie, spits blue flames like a McLaren P1 and sounds vicious, a combination of chirps, growls and barks.

Monte is arguably lead driver Jari-Matti Latvala's weakest event, and for a driver whose performance is so closely linked to his confidence, this second place is the dream start for the all-Finnish team.

Citroen has a lot of work to do

In stark constrast to Toyota, Citroen's return to the WRC was a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Both drivers of the new C3, Kris Meeke and Stephane Lefebvre, made major mistakes on the opening day before car problems struck both on day two, engine for Meeke and power steering for Lefebvre.

Citroen C3 WRC 8Lefebvre at least recovered to set a fastest stage time on the final day, however Meeke's miserable rally finally ended when he was hit by another car on a road section, tearing a rear wheel off for the second time in the event.

The one bright spot for Citroen was the performance of Craig Breen. The young Irishman was driving a 2016-spec DS3, yet was often faster than Lefebvre in the superior 2017 car and finished an incredible fifth outright, snapping at the heels of Dani Sordo. An amazing drive.

Andreas Mikkelsen needs a drive immediately 

When the music stopped following VW's departure late in 2016, it was sadly Andreas Mikkelsen who was left without a seat, a particularly cruel result given his dominant win in the season-ending Rally Australia.

Andreas Mikkelsen 9Mikkelsen was left to drive a Skoda Fabia R5 in the WRC2 class at Monte Carlo and showed he had no place being there, destroying the opposition - which includes some extremely talented ex- and future WRC drivers - to eventually win the class by almost three-and-a-half minutes.

Mikkelsen has no drive for the upcoming Rally Sweden, however speculation is mounting the talented Norwegian will appear in a few rallies throughout the year in a private car. 

The next round of the 2017 WRC championship is Rally Sweden on February 9-12.