Ogier ‘inspirational’ says Abiteboul

Cyril Abiteboul

A record ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo triumph for Sebastien Ogier should serve as “inspiration” for the whole Hyundai Motorsport team to improve says recently installed boss, Cyril Abiteboul.

Ogier was in imperious form at last weekend’s season-opener, setting the fastest times on nine of the 18 special stages to finish almost 20s clear with new-for-2023 co-driver, Vincent Landais.

Lady Luck appeared to be looking down on the Frenchman as a 13-minute gearbox swap on Friday morning – and a fix for his car’s hybrid unit on the same day during the lunchtime tyre fitting zone – kept his victory pursuit firmly on track.

It was a good Monte-Carlo all round for Toyota Gazoo Racing, in fact, as Ogier’s team-mate and 2022 World Rally champion Kalle Rovanpera made it a one-two for the Japanese manufacturer.

The doggedness of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was rewarded as he secured the final spot on the podium, albeit 44.6s shy of Ogier.

But whereas Ogier managed to drive around the hybrid problems, those that affected the I20 N Rally1 cars of Neuville, seventh-placed Dani Sordo and eighth-placed Esapekka Lappi conspired to hold them all back in the Alps.

The underlying issues for all three were the ride and balance of their respective Korean superminis, and mapping issues with the energy recovery system that, in the case of Sordo, meant it stopped working completely.

New boss Abiteboul – who is only a couple of weeks into the job after taking over from Julien Moncet at the beginning of January – admits there is much work to be done between now and the second round in Sweden early next month.

“Third place is not a bad start, but we should not lose sight of the fact we have a bigger vision, fighting for wins and championship titles, so we must not get complacent,” said the former Alpine F1 boss.

“There has been lots to digest for myself and for the team; we have had strong drivers, encouraging moments, long days, and lots of work. A podium is nice but we are still 45 seconds from the win.”

Abiteboul added: “[Sebastien] Ogier has been the benchmark all weekend and that should act as inspiration for us all to get stronger. We need to understand what we’re missing and come back with a response.

“Ultimately, we need more pace. We have tried to be more aggressive with the car set-up and in hindsight we should have done this earlier in the weekend, which might have given a better dynamic and more confidence to the crews.”

“Thierry had a strong weekend, being decisive and smart with the team, his set-up, and the tyres. For Dani and Esapekka, it was a valuable learning weekend in tricky conditions. I have been pleased to see progress each day from both.

“Unfortunately, we had a recurrence of the hybrid issues on Dani’s car, so we need to understand from a team perspective what happened to avoid it happening again.”

Run out of Umea, Rally Sweden takes place on February 9-12 and is the only winter event on the World Rally Championship calendar.

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