The Monte Carlo rally delivered on its promise from the very first stage early this morning. By the time you were having your coffee, Robert Kubica’s Fiesta had won two stages, Hyundai’s new i20 WRC was on its roof and reigning World Champion Sébastien Ogier was struggling to make the right tyre choices in the VW Polo. It’s all on TV tonight if you can get BT Sport (full details in yesterday’s preview story).
Robert Kubica, starting in the WRC for only the second time (and for the first time in an M-Sport Fiesta) was today’s big story. Three years on from a near-fatal collision with a roadside barrier in an early-season rally, and still with serious restrictions to the articulation of his right arm and fingers on his right hand, Kubica won both SS1 and SS2 in terrible conditions this morning. And after six stages today he’s still third overall, just a whisper behind Britain’s Kris Meeke who, after a cautious start, is making the most of his return to the WRC with Citroen’s works team.
Leading the rally is Kubica’s team-mate at M-Sport Bryan Bryan Bouffier, something of a Monte specialist. The rally’s famously capricious surfaces have given those with less local knowledge a hard time today. Ogier, obliged to start first now the qualifying stage rule has been dropped, was in trouble this morning — “Full snow! Slick tyres! Crazy conditions!” — hitting the wall with the first turn of the wheel.
Behind him and starting Hyundai’s first ever stage in the i20 Thierry Neuville was fast — quicker than Ogier at the first split — but less than six kilometres in the i20 was on its roof, the third time in three years Neuville has failed to complete the first day’s loop on the Monte. The second i20 of Dani Sordo retired on SS5, but not before setting the second quickest time on SS4. The i20 clearly already has the speed.
Ogier meanwhile set about climbing back up through the field in the afternoon and ended the day fourth behind Kubica, and ahead of Mads Ostberg in the second full-works Citroen. Behind Ostberg is Elvyn Evans, the Welshman making his debut in the M-Sport ‘works’ team. Indeed Evans looked like he was about to take his first ever WRC stage win on SS3 this morning until the flying Bouffier announced his presence.
Two Brits in the top six then, Robert Kubica in astonishing form and the car-of-the-moment appears to be not 2013’s all-dominant VW Polo, but the Ford Fiesta. Is it too soon to say rallying is making a comeback?