St Bonnet is a Monte classic. The start and finish are in the village of St Bonnet le Froid, which comes alive as fans flood into the streets to provide a crackling atmosphere. The test comprises a high altitude clockwise loop north of St Bonnet, on predominantly wide and fast roads, but even the narrow sections are quick.
How the action unfolded:
The snow covered St Bonnet stage offered crews the most consistent road surface of the morning loop. It was the same this afternoon, and provided the perfect springboard for Fiesta RS driver Juho Haninnen to take his maiden WRC stage win.
The Finn, on his Ford debut for the Qatar World Rally Team, won the stage by a huge margin of 6.6sec from Evgeny Novikov. Hanninen lies seventh, but less than two seconds adrift of Jari-Matti Latvala.
“That stage is the only one where I feel I can drive to the maximum potential because the road surface and the grip is consistent,” a delighted Haninnen explained. “Okay, I’m very happy with this time, and I want to be able to harness the potential on the other surfaces too but this will take more time and experience in the car.”
Meanwhile the battle for the final Rallye Monte-Carlo podium place intensified when another fantastic time from Fiesta RS pilot Novikov enabled him to close the gap to Dani Sordo to 11.2sec. “I’m on a mission and for sure I will fight for third,” the Russian acknowledged. “I took it easy on the previous stage because I took only one spare wheel. But I pushed here and I will do the same on the one to come.”
Sordo was fourth fastest and more concerned with the pace of his team-mate Loeb than the man now breathing down his neck. “I’m looking at Loeb’s splits and compared to them I’m happy with my stage,” said the Spaniard. “I don’t know how my time compared to Novikov’s because I don’t get them in the car.”
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb reached the end of SS7 in the third fastest time. “If anything it was more slippery than in the morning,” he said. “The snow has been compacted by the cars and there’s a little more snow on top. You have to be very cautious, under control all the time. I had a good stage, so okay.”
Qatar M-Sport driver Mads Ostberg rounded out the top five times, with Hirvonen (Citroen) and Latvala (Volkswagen) still off the pace in eighth and ninth. “The car was understeering a lot and I couldn’t keep it in the clean line,” explained Hirvonen. “It’s difficult to drive. We have tried a few set-up things for the second loop and maybe there are not so good here.”
Latvala said: “Its not the best but it’s difficult to find the best rhythm. I’m trying but unfortunately I can’t get the best confidence. I can’t push more without that.”