On his home round of the Championship, Ogier leads Rallye Monte Carlo after Thursday evening’s opening two stages with Benjamin Veillas, the man drafted in to fill the seat vacated by Julien Ingrassia at the end of 2021.
His advantage after runs through ‘Lucéram / Lantosque’ and ‘La Bollène-Vésubie / Moulinet’ stands at 6.7 seconds over countryman Sebastien Loeb despite not feeling at one with his hybrid GR Yaris.
“The second stage felt better,” said Ogier, who is aiming to extend his record-breaking win count at the traditional season opener to nine this weekend. “It is hard to know where we are [in comparison to everyone else] but we will keep trying new things with the car.”
Loeb showed no signs of rustiness on his WRC comeback and kept Ogier in check despite the tyres on his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 car going off mid-way through this evening’s second test.
“Yeah, we enjoyed it but this one was hard for the tyres,” he said. “I overheated the tyres in the middle of the stage and I struggled to keep the car in a good [road] position.”
Ogier’s Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans had a character-building opening leg as the Welshman worked to extract the ultimate performance from his car’s energy recovery system. Even so, the 2021 WRC runner-up is only 11.2 seconds shy of top spot.
A beaming Adrien Fourmaux leapt two places, from sixth to fourth, on the second test, to move four seconds clear of his M-Sport Ford running mate, Gus Greensmith.
Seventh-placed Craig Breen divided the two Hyundai I20 N cars belonging to Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak. Breen attributed his low placing to a cautious start on his Blue Oval debut, while Neuville was slowed by braking issues and Tanak "a long list" of gremlins, from an engine issue to a loss of hydraulics.
Takamoto Katsuta was slowed on both Thursday stages, although Toyota's homegrown star refused to be drawn on what the problem was exactly. Oliver Solberg, on his top flight Monte debut, rounds out the top 10 places after struggling to hear the pace notes through his helmet's intercom.