After starting from St Nazaire, 75km south-east of the Valence service park, the stage runs along the hillside on narrow, open roads. It climbs Col de Guillens and Col du Portail before passing through the village of Volvent. The route heads up again on narrow, twisty roads to Col de Vache and finally crests Col de Roustans at 1030 metres. It is downhill all the way to the finish, via the village of Chalancon, at the entrance to La Motte Chalancon.
How the action unfolded:
Mixed conditions offered tyre selection headaches, especially as teams had to choose rubber for both this stage and the following Sisteron test before leaving service. Sections of clean asphalt were interrupted by icy corners and patchy snow and that meant full studs were again the option for most.
The roads became increasingly dirty as more cars came through the stage but that didn’t worry Mads Ostberg who claimed fastest time from ninth on the road in the Qatar M-Sport Fiesta RS – his first stage win on his Rallye Monte-Carlo debut.
It’s been a tough week for the Norwegian but he was 2.1sec faster than team-mate Evgeny Novikov and revealed that changes to his car had boosted his confidence.
“I had a good rhythm and a new set up on the car worked well,” he said. “It was very dirty and we had one big moment. It was dry in my notes and it looked dry, but there was a lot of mud on the road.”
Second fastest for Novikov was sufficient to promote him to third on the leaderboard, relegating Dani Sordo who lost time with a spin. “Very difficult, very slippery and very narrow, but everything was fine,” said the Russian, whose few words summed up the views of all the drivers.
Sordo hinted that the set-up of his Citroen DS3 wasn’t perfect and the rear of the car was moving. “I stopped near the beginning. I touched the throttle and the car spun. I didn’t do so well afterwards because conditions were tricky and it’s hard to see where the dirty places are,” said the Spaniard, who was ninth fastest and lies 8.6sec behind Novikov.
A rejuvenated Mikko Hirvonen was third in the stage, 3.4sec behind Ostberg. “Conditions were changing all the time and it was melting in places, but I’m quite happy with the drive,” explained the Finnish Citroen DS3 pilot.
Next up was Sebastien Ogier, the Volkswagen Polo R driver saying with a glint in his eye: “It’s quite difficult especially because Loeb had dragged snow onto the road in the cuts. I hope I put more snow on the road for the others!”
The Frenchman was 1.0sec quicker than rally leader Loeb. “It was not nice to drive. There was always snow on one side of the road, left or right, but there were never two wheels on the same grip. When you braked the wheel on the snow always locked. I didn’t push,” he explained.
Jari-Matti Latvala was sixth fastest, the Polo R pilot again sounding frustrated. “I thought I was driving OK, but it seems not. We have a radio problem so I have no idea of the split times. I don’t know what speed to drive at,” he said.
Bryan Bouffier was seventh despite a clutch issue which meant he had to leave the stop line by firing up his Citroen DS3’s engine ‘on the key’ while in gear. “I hope it will be possible to repair it,” he said.
WRC 2 category leader Sepp Wiegand stopped on the road section before the stage with a broken battery cable. The battery wasn’t charging, but the German made repairs and made it safely though the stage in his Skoda Fabia S2000. He was again fastest from Yuriy Protasov and Armin Kremer.
Sebastien Chardonnet, sole survivor in the WRC 3 category, was a remarkable 12th quickest in his two-wheel drive Citroen DS3 – faster than all the WRC 2 cars.