British rally driver Rhys Yates drove “one of the best events of his life” to finish fourth in the WRC2 category at the momentous Rallye Monte Carlo last week, kick-starting his 2019 World Rally Championship campaign (24th – 27th January).
Known as one of the most difficult events in the World Rally Championship calendar, “Monte’s” reputation is etched in the history books for claiming some of the best drivers in the sport. But despite making his debut on the daunting event, Yates drove with maturity and speed beyond his years, enjoying a trouble-free run and bring his Brettex backed Skoda Fabia R5 home just shy of the WRC2 podium.
Launching his season’s plans at the Autosport International Show just a few weeks ago, Yates has made the leap from a British Rally Championship campaign and selected European outings, into the World Rally Championship WRC2 category for aspiring young drivers this season and all are aiming for the top rung of the WRC ladder.
Contesting events Spain, Portugal, Finland and Germany, the Chesterfield driver will endure the biggest challenge of his career this year and his season would begin in Gap in the South East corner of France on Thursday night.
Famed for its unpredictable conditions, the opening leg of Rallye Monte Carlo did not disappoint with ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures greeting Yates in the mountains near Selonnet.
Yates had recruited the experienced Denis Giraudet to co-drive after previous outings together at the Monza Rally Show, and the duo would need to ensure they made it the first two stages of the event under the cover of darkness.
Understandably, Yates was cautious through the opener, electing to use the 20-kilometre test to bed into his new surroundings. The second stage would allow Yates to find his feet, tiptoeing through the tricky conditions to the end the leg in seventh spot.
Day two was the longest of the event with 125km of flat out driving awaiting the 100 or so crews on the rally. Tyre choice has always been a gamble on the rally, compromising between snow tyres, ice or dry asphalt tyres. Yates made the perfect start to the event on the opening loop of stages on Friday, taking his first top-three stage time of the season and by the end of the day, he had made it into fifth.
Despite the sunshine on the stages, patches of black ice and snow still lay in the shaded valleys, making the stages as notorious as ever. Yates elected to be cautious with his approach to Saturday’s leg and his tactics paid off. A second top three time on the final stage of the day ensured he held onto fifth going into the final day in Monte Carlo.
Just four stages remained for the final day of the event and Yates would need to draw on all his experience to make it through unscathed. He duly delivered, taking fourth WRC2, a stunning 14th overall and his best WRC finish to date.
Yates was overjoyed at his result as he crossed the finish ramp in the iconic backdrop of Monte Carlo harbour.
“This moment is exactly why I love competing in this sport,” he said on the ramp.
“You mention the Monte Carlo Rally to anyone and they immediately connect with you and here I am over the finish ramp, taking fourth place on my WRC2 championship debut. It really doesn’t get much better than that”.
Yates has been working hard to prepare for a full season in the WRC and despite only making the decision to compete late last year, feels his result was a long time coming.
“I think I can safely say I’ve driven one of the best events of my life this week. Everything just came together both in and out of the car. I have a great team around me, and I could really concentrate on the event. Monte is the kind of the rally that punishes you if you take your eye off the ball. But I`ve built myself up to this point and this pace and I know there is more to come. It was a trouble-free run too. We stayed out of trouble and were consistent to the end and that’s how I want to play this year.
To compete on Monte for the first time and come away with fourth, well that’s just mega.”
Yates now only has a few days to spare as the car is brought back to the UK for re-preparation before heading out to round two of the series, Rally Sweden in the middle of February.
Yates is backed by Brettex, Pirelli Motorsport, Rainworth Skoda, Nicky Grist Motorsport and P1 Racewear.