From the start in Moulinet, SS14 climbs to the top of the mythical Col de Turini at 1606 metres on a wide road, littered with hairpin bends. A fast and technical descent leads to the finish in the village square of La Bollene Vesubie. SS15 starts along a wide section before passing through Loda and climbing Col de la Porte via narrow, twisty roads. A faster climb leads to Col St Roch before the stage descends to Luceram.
How the action unfolded
A couple of hours before SS14, 75 per cent of the Turini roads were covered in snow and the white stuff was falling. Then it turned to rain, and the roads became a treacherous mix of snow, slush and water. Carnage ensued.
The Ford Fiesta RS of third-placed Evgeny Novikov, Jari-Matti Latvala’s Volkswagen Polo R and Juho Hanninen’s Fiesta RS all crashed out as drivers were reduced to little more than walking pace.
Tyre selection was irrelevant as drivers emerged in a state of shock, describing conditions as the most difficult they had experienced
The man that made the best of it was Bryan Bouffier, who was fastest by 29.1sec in a Citroen DS3. However, his time of 23min 56.9sec for the 23.54kms emphasised just how hard it was.
“My notes were bad. A lot of corners were supposed to be clear but were icy. I stayed in the middle of the road without mistakes. It wasn’t the most beautiful stage I’ve done in my life because it was so slippery, but I did a good time,” he said.
Qatar Ford’s Mads Ostberg was second, the Norwegian stating: “I couldn’t walk through there, I’m sure, and we tried to do this in a car. It was unbelievable all the way from the start. It was so wet with no grip at all. I drove the car in road mode for much of the stage.”
Sebastien Ogier was third, 49.2sec slower than Bouffier. “I was driving at 20kph in places. I touched a barrier at least twice,” explained the Polo R pilot.
Fourth fastest was Sebastien Loeb in his Citroen DS3, 3.5sec behind his fellow Frenchman. “It’s undriveable,” said the nine-time world champion. “The roads were snow and water and we were aquaplaning all the time. We had no grip. We drove at 30kph on the straights because if you go quicker you lose the car completely and you go off.”
With Novikov’s demise, Dani Sordo climbed to third overall in his DS3 after setting fifth fastest time. “It was so bad that I lost control uphill in first gear!” said the Spaniard. “On the downhill section just after the col, there were two right corners where we didn’t have grip.”
Novikov pulled the rear left wheel from his car 3km after the start and although he tried to continue, he stopped shortly afterwards. Fifth-placed Latvala went off the road near the start, while Hanninen retired from seventh in a downhill section 5km from the finish after ripping off the front left wheel.
Mikko Hirvonen was sixth, the Finn admitting: “It was the most difficult stage I’ve ever driven over Turini in my life. It was so easy to lose the car. You just wait for the next wall and hope nothing breaks.”
After the drama of the Turini stage, drivers were moved onto SS15 from Lantosque to Luceram. Conditions were easier, the lower altitude meaning the roads were mostly wet – something for the drivers to give thanks for.
Sordo was fastest by 4.3sec from Hirvonen, with Ogier a further 1.9sec behind. Loeb and Bouffier rounded off the top five times.
“Most of the stage was OK, but at the top of the col it was half ice and half snow which made things difficult,” said Sordo.
Drivers were still stunned by what they had encountered in the previous test and fearing the worst when they return there again shortly.
But for Mads Ostberg the dramas continued before SS15. “We didn’t have time to change tyres so I needed to take care of my studs before the second pass through Turini. I probably lost time but I wanted to ensure my tyres were OK for the next one,” he said.
The Norwegian was sixth fastest, 30.5sec slower than Sordo.