First major test for Hybrid rally cars as Loeb snatches overall lead

Safety aspects of the new Rally1 Hybrid cars faced their first major test on the second day of the opening World Rally Championship round here on Friday, and they passed with flying colours.

Chasing race leader, fellow Frenchman and teammate Sebastien Loeb, Adrien Formaux, navigated by Alexandre Coria, misjudged his speed in the Ford Puma on the 18.33-kilometre third stage from Roure to Beuil, north of Monaco, hit an embankment on the right and flew into a ravine on the left.

The pair emerged amazingly unscathed with the car’s exterior extensively damaged but cockpit safely in place, the safety cell around which the new Hybrid Rally1 cars are build having passed its first major test.

Meanwhile, Loeb ended the day enjoying a 9.9-second lead over defending champion Sebastien Ogier despite finishing fourth in the day’s final stage.

“At the moment we are still leading, it’s not a big gap, but it’s good to be leading after the first day,” Loeb told rally website Dirtfish.

“This afternoon I really pushed but at the moment we can’t really go faster, we are missing some stability and traction with the car but I think I can be happy with my second loop. I think I can say hats off one more time to my friends from M-Sport because the car looks really fast,” world champ Ogier observed.

Formaux’s crash was the talk of the rallying circles in the principality with the team of engineers from the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and individual car manufacturers having proven that the safety features of the power-packed Hybrid were indeed well thought-out.

Images of Formaux punching the ground in anger as Coria momentarily remained in the cockpit before easing out went viral as the Ford camp soldiered on, hoping for better prospects from their remaining three Pumas handled by Sebastien Loeb/ Isabelle Galmiche, Gus Greensmith/ Jonas Andersson and Irishmen Craig Breen/ Paul Nagle.

There was more Stage Three drama when Toyota’s overnight leader and defending champion Sebastien Ogier lost grip downhill, swept into a barrier causing slight damage to the rear left hand side of his Toyota GR Yaris losing the stage by 1.2 seconds to “superman”.

Loeb, 47, doesn’t seem to feel the effects of just completing over 8,000 kilometres and a second place finish at the Dakar Rally that was won by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah.

All the drivers are struggling to come to grips with the new Hybrids and fans too will take some time to get used to the power-packed machines.

In a nutshell, the three main WRC manufacturers – Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford – signed a three-year commitment with the FIA to develop the Hybrid cars that have been launched in Monaco this weekend as the World Rally Championship celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Incidentally, it’s the Monte Carlo rally’s 90th anniversary.

Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux makes a video call at the Monte Carlo casino parc ferme prior to the start of the World Rally Championship Monte-Carlo in Monte-Carlo, Monaco, on January 20, 2021. Formaux crashed out of the rally in spectacular fashion with both he and his navigator emerging unscathed on Friday./Elias Makori | Nation Media Group

Testing of the new cars was concluded last month in Europe and southern France with the drivers impressed at the new technology.

It is part of the WRC’s commitment to introduce environmentally friendly cars. The cars blend a 100 kilowatt electric engine blended with a 1.6-litre, turbo-charged engine, hence the “Hybrid” reference.

As a safety measure, in event of a crash and if spectators want to help the crew to have the car back on the road or to evacuate, they have to wait for a green light to appear at the top of the car’s windshield.

If the light doesn’t appear, or if there is a red light, or no light at all, the spectators should not approach as this means that the car is dangerous and anyone touching it risks being electrocuted.

The same precautions will have to be taken when these amazing cars land in Kenya for the WRC Safari Rally that will run around Nairobi and Naivasha from June 23 to 26.

Friday’s action in Monte Carlo ran through three special mountain stages on the French Alps that were repeated, namely Roure-Beuil (18.33 kilometres), Guillaumes-Peone-Valberg (13.49 kilometres) and Val-De-Chalvagne-Entrevaux (17.11 kilometres).

And the experienced Loeb reigned supreme in all of them in the morning run, overturning Ogier’s lead at the start of the day.

Briton Gus Greensmith, navigated by Sweden’s Jonas Andersson, celebrated his first ever World Rally Championship stage win after clinching the seventh stage, a re-run of Guillaumes-Peone-Valberg, in his Ford Puma, edging out second overall Ogier by 1.4 seconds.

There will be five stages in Saturday’s action, totaling 92.64 kilometres.

Top 10 positions after SS8 on the second day of the Monte Carlo Rally

1. Loeb/Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) One hour, 22 minutes, 49.0 seconds

2. Ogier/Veillas (Toyota) +9.9s

3. Evans/Martin (Toyota) +22.0s

4. Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +47.8s

5. Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +56.7s

6. Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +59.2s

7. Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +1m08.4s

8. Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +1m35.9s

9. Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +2m12.8s

10. Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +2m22.9s.

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