TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team has started the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship with a one-two finish on Rallye Monte-Carlo as Sébastien Ogier claimed a record ninth victory on the legendary event ahead of team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
Mostly dry weather made this year’s rally more a test of outright performance than usual, and Ogier set the pace from the start with five straight stage wins as he opened up a lead of half a minute by Friday lunchtime.
The GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID was fastest in the first 11 stages of the season, its streak only ended on Saturday afternoon – by which point Ogier was focused on managing his lead. He carried an advantage of 16 seconds over Rovanperä into the final day, when he proceeded to claim his eighth and ninth stage wins of the weekend and finished up with a winning margin of 18.8s.
Ogier’s 56th WRC win is also the first for his co-driver Vincent Landais, in only the second event since he began working with the up-and-coming French navigator at the end of last season. It is also Toyota’s fifth Monte win with a fifth different model of car: the GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID winning all but two of the 18 stages across the weekend.
With Ogier once more only contesting selected events this season, second place plus victory in the rally-ending Power Stage represents an ideal start to Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen’s defence of their first championship titles. Rovanperä grew in confidence and speed during the rally, taking six stage wins in total on his way to a first Rallye Monte-Carlo podium.
Elfyn Evans displayed similarly strong pace to his team-mates throughout the weekend and was second to Ogier before losing around 40s with a damaged tyre in SS5 on Friday morning. He and co-driver Scott Martin fought back to finish fourth, 27.8s from the podium despite a brief spin on Sunday morning. He was also third in the Power Stage to claim three additional bonus points.
The strong start to the season for TGR was completed by Takamoto Katsuta in his WRC Challenge Program-supported entry. He produced his strongest Rallye Monte-Carlo performance to-date alongside co-driver Aaron Johnston, frequently joining his team-mates in the top-four on stage times and finishing sixth overall.
PROVISIONAL FINAL CLASSIFICATION, RALLYE MONTE-CARLO
1 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) 3h12h02m.0s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +18.8s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +44.6s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1m12.4s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +2m34.9s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +3m32.6s
7 Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +3m47.5s
8 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +3m51.3s
9 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +10m03.4s
10 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroën C3 Rally2) +10m07.9s