Stage data: SS2, Burzet – St Martial (30.60 kilometres)
Burzet has been a Monte-Carlo regular for many years. After a fast start over bumpy valley roads, the stage climbs through a series of hairpin bends before passing through a forest into the village of Lachamp Raphael. The route then becomes much narrower on a spectacular technical descent towards St Martial. This final section is north facing, and exposed to the worst of the weather.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Loeb was at his imperious best through today’s second special stage of Rallye Monte Carlo, setting fastest time in treacherous conditions to move ahead of Sebastien Ogier at the top of the leaderboard.
Around 80 per cent of the test was covered by ice and snow, with only 3km of clear conditions at the start. It demanded studded rubber, but the predominantly dry roads in the previous stage took a toll on the spikes, and drivers had to use two already well-used tyres alongside two new ones.
Grip was at a premium, but Loeb showed all the experience gained by six Monte wins to go fastest by 10.4sec and began the journey back to the Valence service park with a 6.7sec lead in his Citroen DS3 WRC.
“I slid a lot in the opening stage and so I had only two tyres with full studs for this stage,” he explained. “It was nearly all snow and ice and I missed some traction.”
Sebastien Ogier showed his opening stage win was no fluke by going second fastest. His Volkswagen Polo R WRC had more studs remaining, and a relaxed Ogier was happy with his work. “We were quite safe and had no moments. I had a good drive and made no mistakes,” he explained.
The two Frenchmen are already more than 30sec clear of their rivals, headed by Dani Sordo. The Spaniard was fifth quickest in his Citroen DS3 WRC and said: “Conditions were unbelievable. Where the snow is disappearing and the asphalt comes though, you can’t judge the grip and it would be easy to make a mistake.”
Third in the stage and fourth overall is Juho Hanninen at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, but the 31-year-old Finn was a relieved man. “After 2km I hit a bridge with the right rear. I thought I would have to stop to change the tyre but it was OK. I drove slowly for the rest of the stage and thought I would lose more time,”
Also going well was Bryan Bouffier whose Citroen DS3 WRC was fourth in the stage, ahead of Sordo and the Fiesta RS WRC of Thierry Neuville.
Qatar World Rally Team’s Neuville is fifth overall, just ahead of former team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn was ninth fastest in the stage,37.2sec behind Loeb and could only marvel at his colleague’s performance. “Seb was amazing. It’s just unbelievable,” he said.
Slipping down the order was Jari-Matti Latvala who incurred a 30sec penalty after checking into the stage arrival control late. “The road section was tight. We stopped to change tyres but there wasn’t enough time for that and we were three minutes late,” explained the Polo R WRC pilot.
Michal Kosciuszko continued to struggle with a misfiring MINI John Cooper, the Polish driver dropping more than two minutes.
Skoda Fabia S2000 driver Sepp Wiegand holds a 43sec lead of the WRC 2 classification after two stages. The German took the lead from early pace-setter Esapekka Lappi, also in a Skoda, who hit rocks midway through SS1, breaking a wheel and front suspension wishbone. German WRC veteran Armin Kremer is second in a Subaru Impreza, with Yuri Protosov third in another Subaru.
Heading to today’s midpoint service, Citroen DS3 R3T driver Renaud Poutot leads the two-car WRC 3 classification by 54.3sec. However the Frenchman is likely to face a tough challenge this afternoon from his rival, Sebastien Chardonnet, in another DS3. A puncture cost Chardonnet more than two minutes on today’s opening stage, but he was 1m13.5s faster than Poutot through SS2.