This is one of the longest and toughest stages of the rally. It starts on a wide valley bottom road with fast corners, before narrowing after 7km and climbing to the summit of Col de la Croix at 722 metres. Wider roads take drivers to the Col de Pionnier, before a fast descent and the final climb to the top of the Col de Carri at 1204 metres. Then it is downhill all the way to the finish at Cime du Mas. Although the roads are familiar, the test has not been used in this format since 1997.
How the action unfolded:
The thermometer registered -13°C in La Cime du Mas, but the biting wind present yesterday has calmed to leave more pleasant conditions for the thousands of fans lining the roadsides. Blue skies, bright sunshine and trees bending under the weight of snow – classic Rallye Monte-Carlo stuff.
The first 10 kilometres in the valley were wet asphalt, but once the test started to climb, the roads were snow covered. Studded tyres were the only sensible option for the mountains, but it meant drivers had to look after their tyres on the initial asphalt.
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb was first into the test in his Citroen DS3 and duly set fastest time. There’s not much surprises the unflappable Frenchman, but even he was blown away by the Rally Sweden-like conditions.
“Incredible. The nicest stage of the rally so far. There was more than 20km of full white snow, sunshine and snow banks. I wasn’t in a situation where I needed to push too hard and I didn’t take any risks. I was careful in the fast downhill and I’m here without any mistakes,” he explained.
Second quickest was the Volkswagen Polo R of Sebastien Ogier. After ceding time to Loeb on the asphalt, Ogier reeled him in on the snow and finished just 1.5sec behind. Not that he minded because, as we should all know by now, he’s not worried about comparing his times to his former team-mate.
“It wasn’t easy because it was the first time for me on this stage and it’s my first Monte in a World Rally Car. I preferred to be safe and I could be faster,” he said.
Norway’s Mads Ostberg was chatty at the finish, a sign that he was happier this morning. Third fastest for the Qatar M-Sport man in his Ford Fiesta RS was a great performance.
“We did a good job on the Tarmac. I’m improving on the Tarmac with snow tyres. And my snow driving was OK too. I’m pleased with the stage,” he said.
The battle for third in the leaderboard between Dani Sordo and Evgeny Novikov continued to rage. Novikov was fourth fastest in his Fiesta RS, closing the gap to the Spaniard to just 7.4sec as Sordo dropped time with a spin after the rear of his Citroen DS3 caught a snow bank.
“I will fight, there’s no question,” said the pumped up Russian.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth fastest in a Polo R, the Finn rueing the fact he didn’t have much previous experience of this stage.
Juho Hanninen and Mikko Hirvonen were next up. Hanninen reflected that he pushed too hard on the downhill section to the finish and went too sideways, while Hirvonen’s hopes of closing on Novikov took another knock and he is now more than 30sec behind.
Bryan Bouffier lost well over a minute in his Citroen DS3 after going off in the final third of the stage. “Thanks to the spectators who helped us to continue. It’s a disappointment but that’s it,” he said.
Skoda Fabia S2000 driver Sepp Wiegand was once again fastest in the WRC 2 category, despite saying he had driven cautiously. "It was difficult, very slippery, so we took no risks," said the German, who is 4min 12.1sec clear at the top of the standings. Armin Kremer was second fastest with Yuriy Protasov third.
Citroen DS3 R3T driver Sebastien Chardonnet, the sole remaining WRC 3 entrant, adopted a careful approach in the snowy conditions. He completed the stage cleanly to remain on course for a maximum points haul on Saturday.