Rallye Monte Carlo is one tough beast. They say it’s a tarmac event, but in most cases only proper tarmac you can see (and use) is the one in Monaco. Up there, in the mountains, sections of dry or at least consistently wet tarmac are rare – instead there is ice, black ice, invisible ice, snowy ice and snow in all imaginable shapes and conditions. Today saw conditions change quite significantly on stages, so even the gravel crews were of little use in some places. And once you, as a driver, realize the information you have from pacenotes and gravel crew is wrong, the speed and confidence just evaporate and you’re forced into a cruising mode, also known as let’s-try-and-survive-this-thing. But that’s rally for you! The art of knowing when and how to push but also when and how to lift. Experience helps, of course – if you’ve never been to this event before AND your pacenotes and gravel crew tips are off the mark, then it’s like being back in school.
Speaking of the importance of experience, I made a silly remark concerning Andreas Mikkelsen’s stage end comments in which he said that for him today is all about gaining experience, which at that time sounded to me like he was talking about the experience in general. Second year in a factory team, what more experience do you need, I thought, but one moment later I was kindly instructed to eat my own foot because I obviously only heard one piece of Andreas’ comments and more importantly he really does need experience in Monte Carlo. His only previous experience of the event was 500 meters done before crashing in 2011 and of course (as I forgot, obviously) he was not part of Volkswagen’s initial WRC assault last year, missing the first couple of events. No matter, not the first time I had to kneel on pebbles and go to sleep without dinner. Sorry A., just wanted you to sound as confident as you can, but you cannot make up experience which isn’t there I guess. On the other hand, look at Robert Kubica go! And I’m not even trying to be a fanboy here, just stating the obvious – guy’s fast, but with two days to go, he still has a lot of distance to cover to prove he is rally-fast (as in, make it to the finish).
On almost every event one driver steps into the unknown and goes too fast too often or too soon. This time it was Thierry Neuville’s turn – he made a mistake which turned out to be very expensive. In an event such as this it’s easy to make such a mistake but it’s far from easy to know just where this fine line between too much and not enough really is. You can be fast as the next world champion in 10 corners and in 11th you’ll run into some ice which wasn’t supposed to be there – if what you’ve been doing up to that point was pushing hard, then ice + pushing hard usually spells “you’re outta here boy”. Sadly, Neuville’s mistake was made even more expensive by Dani Sordo retirement, Spaniard forced to call it a day after the battery in his i20 WRC went to join Frodo and Gandalf in the West.
Up there at the top there is an epic battle taking place. Bryan Bouffier still holds the lead and by some margine – 38.8 seconds to be exact. Frenchman was impressive today, but to me it seemed like today was all about impressive performances. Kris Meeke and Robert Kubica are locked in a duel separated only by 7 tenths at the end of the day. After losing quite a bit of time earlier today Sebastien Ogier was able to climb back up the order and is now only 7.8 seconds behind Kubica in fourth place. Elfyn Evans was also impressive, giving away little of his newbie status when WRC and Monte Carlo are concerned – he’s got Mads Ostberg in front of him and 17.9 seconds sound doable enough, but Evans will also want to bring in as many points (and kilometers) as he can.
It was a great day of rallying in France today, and we’re only one day down, two more to go. These results and classifications, they can (and probably will) all change…