Frenchman Didier Malga drives a beautifully controlled pair of regularities in his bid to repeat 2017 event win
Extreme weather forces the morning stages to be abandoned for safety reasons
The third day’s schedule of the E-Rallye Monte Carlo, penultimate round of the 2023 Bridgestone FIA ecoRally Cup, was reduced from four regularity stages to two after extreme weather hit the Alpes Maritimes overnight. After two days of constant light rain, a deluge of more than 200 mm fell in six hours, which meant tricky conditions were guaranteed when the action resumed.
Overnight leader Eneko Conde, the defending series champion, led the field back up into the mountains from the parc fermé in Monaco to take on more of the classic roads familiar to fans of the FIA World Rally Championship with the 13.098 km La Penne-Sigale stage first on the list.
As a regularity that is subject to everyday traffic laws, the objective was not the fastest possible time through the stage but rather to maintain the target average speed, with penalty points being incurred for passing the splits early or late.
Spaniard Conde and co-driver Lukas Sergnese, who are in contention to reclaim the Bridgestone FIA ecoRally Cup title this season, were only able to set the 17th best score as they opened the road in their Kia E-Niro. Instead it was the Belgian pairing of Bernard Heine and Valérie Piette who took a second stage win in their Volkswagen ID3 to remain in the hunt for the event victory.
The other championship contenders were led by Czech points leader Michal Zd’arsky and his co-driver Jakub Nablek in their Hyundai Kona. The pair set the fourth best score for the stage, ahead of both Conde and Italy’s Guido Guerrini, co-driven by Artur Prusak from Poland, whose Kia E-Niro set the ninth-best score.
Another driver seeking a big result in Monte Carlo is Frenchman Didier Malga, accompanied by partner Valérie Bonnel, who last won the Monte Carlo event in 2017 and held second place overnight behind Conte. Sixth place on the first test helped their cause considerably in their new Tesla Model 3.
It was another French-entered Tesla Model 3 which set the lowest penalty score on the day’s concluding stage: that if Raoul Fresquet and Yorick Muller. The pairing picked up just two penalties or 20 points in the 12.784 km run between Consegudes and Bouyon, to push themselves further up the order.
Amon the title contenders it was Zd’arsky who again came out on top, third on the regularity with just 40 penalty points to underline the quality of driving needed to compete at the top of the field. Conde was close behind in sixth but Guerrini struggled by his own high standards and registered the 21st best score.
At the final overnight halt, with a gala dinner to be enjoyed, Conde had just done enough to maintain his lead once again, with Malga still in second place. French female driver Nadia Delvaux had meanwhile continued her consistent run of competitive times to stand third alongside co-driver Jean Marc Piret at the start of the final day in their Peugeot E-208, followed by Jérome Aymard’s Nissan Ariya and then Heine’s Volkswagen.
The final day will see four regularities in both France and Italy to complete the longest and most challenging round of the Bridgestone FIA ecoRally calendar. After that, however, the real work begins for the officials of the FIA and hosts at the Automobile Club de Monaco, as they must measure and verify the energy consumption of each vehicle. It is this measure which will decide the final overall result, to be announced and celebrated on Sunday.