“Meanwhile, at the weekend: Loeb wins again at Monte, Auer takes TRS lead”
FIA World Rally Championship
Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb began his final WRC season in style at the Rally Monte Carlo. The nine-time WRC champion led from stage 2 onward, heading former teammate Sebastien Ogier by just under 100 seconds at the end of the rally. Ogier’s drive was a spectacular one, demonstrating in only their first event, just how serious Volkswagen are about the WRC programme.
Dani Sordo assumed 3rd in his Abu Dhabi Citroën entry, but only after Evgeny Novikov went off in his M-Sport Ford on stage 14, which also claimed Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen) and the impressive Juho Hanninen (M-Sport Ford).
Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen) picked up 4th, while Bryan Bouffier finished 5th, despite losing several minutes on Friday. Mads Ostberg came home 6th after a tough rally peppered with incidents and mechanical issues. Thierry Neuville was running 4th when he retired on stage 4. Sepp Wiegand won the WRC2 class (taking 8th overall), while Sébastien Chardonnet won the WRC3 category (13th overall).
With torrential rain mixing in with freezing conditions and drifting snow, the final two stages were cancelled for safety reasons. The rally was also hit by multiple timing snafu’s throughout the event.
Toyota Racing Series
Lucas Auer jumped to the head of the Toyota Racing Series championship following a profitable weekend at Timaru Circuit on New Zealand’s south island. The Austrian took a win, a podium and a 5th place to jump ahead of Puerto Rican rival Felix Serralles by a mere six points – precious little at this early stage.
In race one, Auer led from pole ahead of Nick Cassidy, despite starting on dirty side of the track, eventually building a four second gap come the chequered flag. Cassidy, meanwhile, busied himself by holding a charging Bruno Bonifacio at bay to round out the podium. Steijn Schothorst ended the short race two seconds shy of Bonifacio, with Damon Leitch a further two seconds adrift. Serralles started and finished 6th, but claimed pole for the second race of the weekend in the process.
Serralles struck back to win the Sunday morning follow-up. Another slick start ensured a solid early lead, although Leitch drew toward the Puerto Rican as the race aged. An off by Spike Goddard saw the race end under safety car conditions locking Cassidy into 3rd, Bonifacio 4th, Auer 5th and Alex Lynn 6th.
Lynn took the Sunday afternoon feature and the Timaru Herald Trophy after jumping Auer as the lights dimmed. The Austrian stayed close throughout, but had no answer for the speedy Essex racer. Serralles ran 3rd early on, only to be passed by Bonifacio; however the latter’s race concluded prematurely due to an engine failure, promoting Serralles back to the podium. Following an off in race two, Schothorst redeemed his weekend with 4th, just ahead of Leitch and Nicholas Latifi.
Once again Jann Mardenborough was the top rookie, taking two 9th’s and 10th spot in the course of the three races.