The stage starts from the village of Lamastre on a fast, narrow, tree-lined road that climbs gently for 5km to the Col de St Genest at an altitude of 709 metres. After that it’s a tricky descent for 5km to the village of Gihoc, then another climb to the Col du Serre (599 metres) before the road levels off and winds through open farmland to the flying finish at Alboussiere.
How the action unfolded:
Reigning world rally champion Sebastien Loeb remains in control of Rallye Monte-Carlo at the halfway point of Thursday’s competition, the Citroen ace heading to service at Valence with a useful lead of 1m17.9sec over Sebastien Ogier.
Loeb, running first on the road, lost a few seconds of his overnight advantage on the morning loop, but emerged from SS7 happy with his lot. “That was okay – a good drive,” he said. “We started the day with a good lead and we should keep that. Perhaps I was a bit too careful at the end of that one, but there was lots of ice, absolutely no grip, and rocks and walls…”
Volkswagen’s Ogier was second fastest on SS7 to maintain a relatively comfortable second overall on his debut event in the Polo R. “All okay, but that was the trickiest of the morning loop I think,” he said. “A lot of ice, low grip and we had to try to conserve our tyres too.”
Loeb’s Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo is third, 1m00.1s behind Ogier.
Another remarkable stage win for Evgeny Novikov on SS7, promoted the Russian ahead of Mikko Hirvonen into fourth, 7.6sec behind Sordo. Before the drive to service, the Fiesta RS driver was full of praise for his experienced gravel note crew of Denis Giraudet and Francois Delecour. “They are quite good, you know! They give me the best pace notes and that’s given me confidence here,” he said.
Citroen DS3 driver Hirvonen completed the mixed asphalt and ice covered SS7 eighth fastest and in low spirits “Not so good again,” Hirvonen shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe I destroyed my tyres on the asphalt section near the start, because at the end it was very slippery and I don’t have any confidence.” Hirvonen lies fifth, 4.1sec behind Novikov.
Jari-Matti Latvala is sixth in Volkswagen’s second Polo R, 25.1sec behind Hirvonen and still dissatisfied with his driving in varied road conditions. “Okay, it’s getting better but I still don’t have the confidence in the mixed. When it’s consistent, either snow or dry, then it’s okay.”
Twenty-five seconds behind Latvala, Juho Hanninen (Ford Fiesta RS) is seventh, despite a small off on SS6. Bryan Bouffier (Citroen DS3) is 56.5sec further back in eighth. Mads Ostberg is ninth, after a good morning’s work during which he set a second and third fastest stage time.
Sepp Wiegand dominated the FIA’s new WRC 2 category on Thursday morning, winning all three stages in his Skoda Fabia S2000 to more than triple his overnight lead to 3m47.s.
The German declared himself happy with his driving, but said the conditions were hazardous. “Everything’s okay, but we’ve had a lot of small but big moments!” he said.
Behind him, there were no changes to the top three. Armin Kremer holds second in a Group N specification Subaru Impreza, but said he struggled to control the car under braking on the numerous icy sections.
Ukrainian driver Yuriy Protosov, also in an Impreza, is 1m28sec further back in third. “There’s been a lot of ice,’ he said. “The surface changes from asphalt to ice all the time and it’s hard to find the grip.
Rashid Al Ketbi (Skoda Fabia S2000) is a distant fourth, 13 minutes behind Protosov, with Ricardo Trivino (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) five minutes further back. Lorenzo Bertelli (Subaru Impreza) completes the WRC 2 runners.
Sebastien Chardonnet heads to Thursday’s midpoint service first in the WRC 3 classification after overnight leader Renaud Poutot crashed on today’s second stage.
Poutot, in a Citroen DS3 R3T, began the day with a 1m05.9s advantage over Chardonnet in a similar car, and stretched this to 1m19.2s with another win on SS5.
On SS6, however, Poutot threw away his advantage when his car left the road. “It was a very slow corner and I was perhaps 2kph too fast - we went off and bumped into a tree,” he explained.
Chardonnet resolved to drive more smoothly today following two costly punctures on Wednesday. He had a scare on SS5, when he drove off the road and had to be pushed back on, but emerged from SS6 with an 8sec lead over Poutot. A stage win on SS7 stretched that to 40.2sec.