New addition Tänak secures second place overall in his first rally
Joined on the Monaco podium by teammate Latvala in third
The 2017 Rallye Monte-Carlo was the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s first rally since its return to the WRC, and Jari-Matti Latvala secured second place. This year, for its second season back, the team welcomed Ott Tänak to the driver line-up and entered the opening rally with three Yaris WRCs.
Before the start of the Rally Monte-Carlo, each of the team’s three drivers set their goals. Latvala, in his second season at the team, plans to focus strategically on the season as a whole, rather than on individual rallies; newcomer Tänak will prioritize getting used to the Yaris WRC; and Esapekka Lappi, who this year participated at Monte-Carlo in a World Rally Car for the first time, wants to gain as much experience as possible.
Lappi receives support from Hänninen, his teammate from last year
For Lappi, it was reassuring that Juho Hänninen, a teammate until last year, was part of the safety crew. At tarmac rallies, course conditions are prone to major changes due to rain and other weather conditions. It is not unusual for surface conditions to differ significantly between the recce (an abbreviation of “reconnaissance,” where drivers check out the courses before the rally starts) and the rally itself. In gravel rallies, car settings and tires can be adjusted to cope with minor differences in driving conditions without issue. On tarmac, however, even the leading drivers have difficulty responding to unpredictable surface grip at full speed. For this reason, just before the start of the SSs team staff are permitted to drive the course and report variations in surface conditions to drivers, with the goal of increasing driver safety. These staff are called safety crews, and each driver is paired with a safety crew of a driver and co-driver they trust. If the safety driver and rally driver share a similar driving style and techniques, the safety crew can be safely entrusted to do their jobs. For Lappi, Hänninen was like a trustworthy older brother; they had competed in the same cars last year, and his former teammate provided significant emotional support.
The road surfaces of the majority of stages at this year’s Rallye Monte-Carlo were dry during the recces. However, snow remained in some shaded areas, and wet surfaces were prone to freezing at night when the temperature dropped, significantly lowering levels of grip compared to during the daytime. After an extravagant ceremonial start in Monaco, those were the road conditions for the two SSs on Day One in France’s mountains, completely different to the recce. SS1, in particular, had numerous frozen sections, making it difficult for drivers to completely eliminate mistakes no matter how cautiously they drove. Some of the leading drivers incurred significant time losses by suddenly drifting off course, and even the world champion, a multiple winner of this rally, had a spin. In these conditions, Lappi recorded the third fastest time on SS1. He managed to overcome initial difficulties and complete the stage thanks to accurate information provided by Hänninen.
Tänak, in his first competitive drive in the Yaris WRC, records the fastest time of the stage on his way to second place overall
Day Two began with Tänak recording the best time on SS3, a stage that was mainly dry with some wet sections. This was Tänak’s first stage win since joining the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT, and he rose to fourth in the overall standings. He then placed second or third in the following stages, when road surfaces were wet due to falling rain, and climbed to second overall. Tänak again set the fastest time in SS6 and went on to conclude Day Two in excellent form. He was now in second place overall, just 14.9 seconds behind the leader. Tänak beamed: “The car feels superb. The handling is very agile and the car moves as I want it to. I can drive confidently even on difficult surfaces. There are certainly areas that can be improved, but I am extremely satisfied with the car even in its current shape.”
Tänak had praised the feel of the car during testing, and the actual rally itself was no different: he started Day Three with absolute confidence in the Yaris WRC. The third day of the rally threw up all conceivable manner of surface conditions—dry, wet, fresh snow, half-melted snow, frozen, and muddy—and, as a consequence, it was not possible to guarantee that vehicle settings and tire choices were 100 percent correct. The drivers were instead forced to make compromises as they sought to drive as best they could, and what they required most from their cars was outstanding responsiveness and stability. Tänak and the other two Yaris WRC crews were thus able to continue their attacks on the day’s stages with confidence. Tänak won SS10 and SS11, while Latvala, who had risen from fifth to third overall on Day Two, maintained the stable pace of a veteran driver. Lappi temporarily dropped to fifth overall due to a puncture but, thereafter, brought about a successful recovery to finish Day Three in fourth place overall—the same position he had ended Day Two. The Yaris WRCs occupied second, third, and fourth in the overall standings—almost ideal positions—as they awaited the start of the final day.
In conditions that were worse than usual, all three crews completed the rally and two ascended the podium
Monaco was the setting for the final day of the rally. Day Four’s stages were all short in distance, and Tänak and Latvala strategically prioritized maintaining their positions in the overall standings. The stages in the French mountains to the north of Monaco were expected to be mainly dry; however, many sections were covered in snow or ice, making surface conditions impossible to predict to the very end. Nevertheless, Tänak and Latvala drove calmly for the entire day, and completed all four SSs. It is said to be a fearsome challenge just to finish the legendary Rally Monte-Carlo. Yet the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team finished second and third overall, and claimed two podium places as a result. The team’s best position of second was the same as last year; this year, however, second was secured not on the back of retirements to rival drivers, but due to Tänak’s innate speed. While Latvala’s third position was one place lower than his second of last year, he was fully satisfied with his performance. In any case, the Yaris WRCs successfully completed a succession of tricky SSs without incurring major issues, and managed to help two drivers onto the podium. For the team, the Rally Monte-Carlo provided huge encouragement for the season to come.
Lappi relinquishes fourth place due to a mistake on the final SS, but manages to complete the rally
Lappi’s final stage provided the only dampener to an otherwise outstanding result. In fourth place overall at the end of Day Three, he had been accumulating experience through steady driving and was trying to maintain his pace to the very end. However, a minor mistake on the final stage led to him driving off course and getting stuck and, while he managed to rejoin the stage, he lost a huge amount of time; by the end of the SS, he had dropped down to seventh in the overall standings. Lappi’s error at the very end prevented the team from securing a 2-3-4 finish. He was devastated. After the stage he was seething at himself and wouldn’t leave his car. His teammates and rivals tried to soothe his anger. Many of the leading drivers had suffered experiences similar to Lappi’s, and they had used them to mature. They were able to understand Lappi’s emotional anguish as if it were their own, and this was no doubt what made them want to cheer him up. Looking at the bigger picture, however, Lappi had achieved his own goal of completing all the stages and, despite losing a number of positions at the end, he also acquired championship points. His experiences at this year’s Rally Monte-Carlo will assuredly be a major source of motivation for him during next year’s edition of the rally.
The battle for the title has only just begun
Shigeki Tomoyama, president of the GAZOO Racing Company, was at the rally to watch the team’s progress. He gave the following summary of the season opener: “The fact that all three cars were able to complete the rally without issue is splendid, and finishing second and third overall in such a difficult rally is something to be proud of. However, our goal this year is to fight for the title and become champions. For this reason, we must further refine the car and fight for victory.” The season has only just begun. Going forward, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s rivals will doubtless get stronger. The team must win through a succession of high-level rallies and continue to record strong results. With November’s Rally Australia marking the finish line, a long season of fighting and excitement has finally started.
|1||Sebastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Ford Fiesta WRC||4h18m55.5s|
|2||Ott Tänak||Martin Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||+58.3s|
|3||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1m52.0s|
|4||Kris Meeke||Paul Nagle||Citroen C3 WRC||+4m43.1s|
|5||Thierry Neuville||Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+4m53.8s|
|6||Elfyn Evans||Daniel Barritt||Ford Fiesta WRC||+4m54.8s|
|7||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Toyota Yaris WRC||+4m57.5s|
|8||Bryan Bouffier||Xavier Panseri||Ford Fiesta WRC||+7m39.5s|
|9||Craig Breen||Scott Martin||Citroen C3 WRC||+9m06.7s|
|10||Jan Kopecky||Pavel Dresler||Skoda Fabia R5||+16m43.0s|