Loeb wins as battle of the Sebs ignites Monte Carlo Rally

Rally News

The dawn of a new WRC era brought a battle from the past: Sébastien Loeb and co-driver Isabelle Galmiche were victorious in the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally, ahead of Sébastien Ogier

Sebastien Loeb and codriver Isabelle Galmiche after the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

With a combined age of 97, Sébastien Loeb and Isabelle Galmiche proved age is just a number in Monte Carlo


As you age, your reactions reduce by between 2-6 milliseconds per decade. Clearly no one has told Sébastien Loeb or Ogier. Both are supposed to be retired, and Loeb is twice the age of some of his competition, yet nobody could get close to either veteran on this year’s Monte Carlo. The rally might have marked the arrival of a new generation of cars, but the drivers of the old guard held firm.

The blue riband event always throws a curveball or ten. Conditions can change in an instant; previously damp roads ice from one minute to the next and with almost every stage kilometre flanked by precipitous drops, even the smallest mistake can bring terminal consequences.

Further adding to the mix this year are the new cars. Of course, both Ogier and Loeb are not strangers to switching machinery; the younger Seb has raced for no less than four manufacturers in the past decade, while Loeb has run in everything from WRC cars to Le Mans machinery and Dakar racers.

However, the addition of a hybrid system, with teams limited to just three homologated acceleration and regeneration maps across their drivers, meant that all went into the Monte with a degree of uncertainty. Even as late as Saturday night, when he held a seemingly insurmountable lead, Ogier commented that he was not completely happy with the Yaris’s hybrid deployment, saying it didn’t suit his driving style. “It is not compromising me in every section, there are some profiles where it is fine and some where I struggle,” he explained.

Sebastien Ogier talks to Sebastien Loeb after the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

Only Ogier and Loeb ever looked like winning this year’s Monte


From the opening stages, it was clear the Sebs were in a class of their own. By the end of Thursday night and the classic Col de Turini, Ogier had seven seconds over Loeb, who was a further five clear of a chasing Evans. It would be on Friday morning, as the cars headed further into the hills north of the principality, that Loeb reversed the deficit, edging five seconds ahead of Ogier in SS3 (who was briefly leapfrogged by Evans) with the day ending advantage Loeb to the tune of 9.9 seconds.

However, Saturday would see Ogier back in the ascendancy, following two stage wins he opened out a gap of 21.1 seconds by the close of play; Loeb admitting that he was being overly cautious on some of the more slippery sections.

It was on the final stage of the day, SS13, that Ogier really stretched his lead. Loeb had road position prior to the start and opted to gamble and run soft tyres all round, rather than fit the two studs he had on board. This despite the upcoming stage still being covered in considerable quantities of compact snow and ice. Ogier rolled past him on the road stage, spotted his choice and promptly copied it.

Sebastien Ogier on the ,ountains during 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

Ogier took back the initiative on Day 2


M-Sport team principal Richard Millener observed that, for all their data and insight, its engineers are not top-flight rally drivers and even though he reckoned Loeb’s tyre call was 50:50, he had been happy to defer to the racer’s judgement. Come the stage and Ogier was the bolder of the pair, pulling a further 12-seconds over Loeb through the near gripless ice sections. Entertaining as the tyre shenanigans were, on return to Monaco, Ogier pointed out that softs were not the right call after all as Toyota youngster Kalle Rovanperä had won the stage on snows.

From the archive

Mishaps befell a number of the chasing drivers through the penultimate day. Evans was delayed after slithering off backwards down a precipitous drop, from which it took some time to be extricated, while Ott Tänak’s car was retired. Neuville, in a stunning display of spannering managed to patch up his i20 after a front suspension strut failed. Having limped it through the closing stages of the day and back to the service park, he explained that the damper had collapsed but he had managed to jury rig the spring with straps, cable ties and tape, just enough to get the car home. Neuville’s teammate Oliver Solberg also had a challenging drive back through the darkness to service, his i20 missing not only the front bumper, but also all of its lights.

As night fell over Monaco harbour and service crews set to their labours, it appeared the younger Seb had it in the bag. Even for a driver of Loeb’s guile and pace, 20 seconds over the final four stages seemed a tall order. But the closing day still held plenty of peril; drivers would be relying on the pace note edits of their ice crews, and some of the road sections had not seen sunlight even late into the morning, ensuring rime ice remained to catch the unwary.

Sebastien Loeb and Ford Puma in the snow at 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

Loeb wasn’t closing in fast enough on Ogier at the start of Day 3


Punctures also seemed to be an issue, Evans stopping early in the first stage of the day to change a wheel, and they would prove decisive to the final result. Loeb managed to take a few seconds out of Ogier’s lead over the first two runs of the day, but not nearly enough to be in with a chance of overhauling him. Then, in the second half of the penultimate stage, Ogier’s pace dropped sharply, the eight-times Monte winner nursing a deflating tyre. He made it to stage end, but his 20-second lead was gone and Loeb back ahead.

So it was that coming into the final stage, a second lap between Brianconnet to Entrevaux, Loeb led by 9.5 seconds. Could Ogier pull something out of the bag and snatch a victory?

The atmosphere in the M-Sports camp was electric, Millener remarking that they had almost forgotten what it was like to fight at the front. As it stood, even without the win, the team would have three cars in the top five, with regular season driver Craig Breen a solid third, an excellent start for the Cumbria-based outfit.

Toyota Yaris of Sebastien Ogier with a wheel off the ground in the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

Ogier on the limit but it wasn’t enough


Alas, the prospect of a nail-biting power stage was over before it began. Ogier tripped a jump start and earned a 10-second penalty for his troubles. Unaware of the impending penalty, he gave it everything through the stage, admitting afterwards that he overstepped the limit at points. He pushed to within 0.5 seconds of Loeb, but a ninth Monte victory was not to be. Loeb, at 47 years old and long retired from full-time WRC competition, sealed his eighth victory, pulling level with his defeated compatriot.

Despite the slight anti-climax of Ogier’s time penalty, the Monte Carlo delivered yet another classic and sets the scene for what promises to be a close fought battle between M-Sport Ford and Toyota. It remains to be seen if Hyundai’s flashes of pace can translate to consistent performance and reliability. As to whether Loeb might want to covert his opening win into a championship assault? He remained tight lipped, but there’s no doubt the competitive fire still burns brightly and temptation will be knocking.

Sebastien Loeb does a backflip after the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

Retired but still in shape: Loeb celebrates with a backflip on the ramp


Almost as astounding as Loeb’s win is the story of his co-driver, Isabelle Galmiche, the first female Monte winner in a quarter century.  Unbelievably, it was the 50-year old’s first top-flight WRC race, having previously run a few European rounds in R2 and R3 machinery and furthermore, she only co-drives part time – post the rally she returns to her day job as a maths teacher!

She has tested with Loeb on a number of occasions over the past two decades and he heaped praise on her performance, highlighting that Isabelle mastered the complex systems of a Rally1 car with ease and never stumbled her notes, even though the fastest sections and despite very limited seat time before the event.

It just goes to show, even in the 21st century – an era of ever younger and more performance focused elite professional sportspeople – a combination of vast experience, phenomenal pace and flawless co-driving meant a middle-aged retiree and a part-time co-driver, were able to win the world’s most famous rally.