Stage data: SS6, St Bonnet – St Bonnet (25.45 kilometres)
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 stage lived up to its name –‘froid’ it certainly was. Strong winds blew snow from the fields onto the roads and an air temperature of -11°C felt more like -30°C in the wind chill. Conditions were likened to those found in Sweden, and full studded tyres were the only sensible choice.
Evgeny Novikov took full advantage of his decision to fit a new set of studded rubber to his Ford Fiesta RS this morning and duly delivered the first stage win for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team.
The young Russian was fastest by 4.9sec from team-mate Mads Ostberg and said: “I was on the limit. I was very careful in the braking areas. It was a difficult stage but I enjoyed it.”
Ostberg made some changes to the car before the stage and they clearly paid off for the Norwegian. “It worked better but I’m still not pushing,” he explained. “I didn’t want to push and I’m losing a lot of time in the high-speed areas.” Not that much though….
Juho Hanninen made it a Ford 1-2-3 in the stage, 8.3sec behind Novikov, although the Finn was slightly rattled after briefly sliding off the road on a fast right corner.
Fourth fastest was the Volkswagen Polo R of Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn was happier with his driving and realised that his brush with a roadside pole in the opening stage had actually punctured a tyre.
Those at the top of the leaderboard tackled the stage first and were hampered by snow on the road. Conditions improved as they swept the road to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
Consequently Dani Sordo was fifth in his Citroen DS3, but that was sufficient to move the Spaniard into third overall, relegating Mikko Hirvonen. The gap between the two is just 5.0sec.
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier were just behind Sordo, Ogier losing a few seconds after spinning. As first on the road, Loeb endured the worst of the conditions.
“It started to snow and in some places there was a lot of snow in the road. I was making the line and there was no grip. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the first stage - more stressful than enjoyable,” he explained.
Bryan Bouffier spun his Citroen DS3 while Martin Prokop escaped unscathed after hitting a bank with his front left wheel in a high-speed section. Michal Kosciuszko’s troubled event continued when the Pole bent the right rear wheel on his MINI John Cooper Works and lost about a minute.