Historic Ogier win kicks off World Rally Championship 2021
Ogier, as the reigning WRC champion and a seven-time championship winner, started the 2021 season in a masterful fashion, showing why he is thought of as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the WRC. He is now the most decorated driver at Monte Carlo, having won the legendary race eight times. However, the win was less familiar territory for TOYOTA GAZOO – this may be the fourth Rallye Monte-Carlo win in Toyota’s history but it’s the first for 30 years.
Dramatic start for the reigning champ
It had been just 46 days since Ogier won the final stage of the WRC 2020 to complete a spectacular championship comeback. Now, he was called into action again. He had initially intended to retire after 2020, but decided to extend his career after last season was truncated and disrupted owing to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The effects of that pandemic were still evident as the 2021 season began: the schedule for Rallye Monte-Carlo was altered, with some stages taking place before dawn. That combined with the icy conditions to make for a technically demanding race where even a small issue could become catastrophic.
It looked like Ogier had lost the initiative early on, after braking difficulties followed by a puncture put him third, 23.4 seconds adrift of Evans, in the middle of the second day.
But from that point, he recovered impressively, closing the gap by 16 seconds before the end of the day. He followed that by regaining top spot in the early morning of day three, finishing the day with a 13-second advantage.
Dreams become reality for Ogier
The final day comprised a gruelling 54km stage with no service stops – but by this point Ogier had the win in his sights. He and Ingrassia performed flawlessly to increase their lead to 32 seconds by the finish line, with Evans securing second place but unable to challenge for first.
After the race, Ogier said he felt emotional to be topping the podium for an eighth time: “This is the rally that gave me the dream to be a driver one day. The rally I watched as a kid.
“This place has always been unique for me for many, many reasons. My idol was Ayrton Senna and he still has the record here [for Formula 1 wins] and I join him a little bit with this record and that makes me proud.”
Evans expressed disappointment at not being able to hold on to the lead, but was pleased with how the TOYOTA GAZOO team – also including Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen, who finished fourth – performed. “As a team it’s a fantastic start to the year,” he said. “We can be happy with the points, but of course you always want more and hopefully next time I can be a bit stronger. Perhaps at the start of the year it was better not to risk everything to try to win, but we know if we want to challenge for the title we’ll have to do that during the year. However, I feel we’ve got a really strong car and a very strong team to go with it.”
On to the next race
This year we go back to a full 12-stage World Rally Championship, and the next stage takes place in Finland on 26-28 February. The only pure winter event in the calendar, Arctic Rally Finland will – as the name suggests – include stages taking place inside the Arctic Circle. So we have plenty of drama and surprises to look forward to.