A repeat of this morning’s opening stage, this is an uphill challenge all the way, starting from just outside the village of Labatie d’Andaure at 500 metres above sea level and finishing at Lalouvesc at an altitude of 1086 metres. The opening five kilometres are on a wide, fast and flowing road, which climbs gently up the side of a valley. From there until the halfway point, the road narrows and becomes more twisty and technical. After that it’s a much steeper climb on a twisty road that snakes its way through woodland to Lalouvesc.
How the action unfolded:
Conditions were similar to those experienced during this morning’s opening pass. The temperature was a few degrees higher at -8°C, but the roads were still predominantly covered with snow and ice. However, ruts started to form as asphalt began to appear through the white stuff.
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb was relaxed at the stage finish after guiding his Citroen DS3 to fastest time – his first of the second leg and fourth of the rally. The Frenchman was quickest by 2.8sec from the similar car of Dani Sordo and extended his advantage over second-placed Sebastien Ogier to 1min 26.3sec.
“Part of the stage was rutted in the ice and snow and it’s hard to push in those conditions,” said Loeb. “It’s really difficult when the car comes out of the ruts, but it was a clean stage with no mistakes.”
Sordo enjoyed the stage, especially the final section which was full snow. He was 5.6sec faster than the Volkswagen Polo R of Ogier, who is clearly becoming frustrated at being asked to compare his times to former team-mate Loeb.
“It was not the plan and never will be the plan. I don’t care about Loeb. He is not doing the championship,” said Ogier, who clearly isn’t going to be drawn into a battle with his former team-mate when he is currently heading the full-time championship contenders.
Mikko Hirvonen was fourth fastest in his Citroen DS3, the Finn sounding slightly happier after what has been a frustrating rally so far.
Rounding off the top five was the Ford Fiesta RS of Evgeny Novikov, the Russian the only leading driver to have left the Valence service park this afternoon with just one spare wheel. “I was too cautious at the start of the stage on the asphalt. I didn’t want to damage the tyres,” he explained.
There was more frustration from Jari-Matti Latvala, who was sixth fastest in his Polo R. The Finn was 20.0sec slower than Loeb and said: “I can’t get a good time in this stage. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but the time just isn’t good. I don’t understand, maybe the tyres are not so good for this stage.”
The Fiesta RS cars of Juho Hanninen and Mads Ostberg were seventh and eighth, Ostberg feeling the effect of the ever-increasing number of ruts. “There are Tarmac lines in the snow. I tried to push hard but lost the lines and I think I went slower to be honest,” admitted the Norwegian.