Sébastien Ogier halved his deficit to Rallye Monte-Carlo leader Thierry Neuville in Friday afternoon’s opening speed test.
Stage info: SS6
Valdrome - Sigottier 2, 20.04km
Monte-Carlo’s first afternoon challenge spans the departments of Drôme and Hautes-Alpes, south-west of Gap. It’s a rhythmic stage which starts with a fast, narrow and bumpy climb to La Bâtie-des-Fonds - which officially has six residents! The road winds to the top of the Col de Carabes (1261m), before a technical descent to La Piarre and then a fast 5km to the end.
An overshoot in the opening corner of Valdrome - Sigottier cost Neuville 20sec, but the Belgian recovered magnificently to regain all the lost time and more in the next 9km. He couldn’t maintain that pace and ended the test 2.0sec down, as his lead was cut to 1.4sec.
Tyres were again the big talking point and, as in this morning’s loop, the leading duo opted for contrasting strategies.
“I was too fast, with this tyre I just turned and the car wouldn’t turn,” said Hyundai i20 driver Neuville. “I lost around 15sec. We could have been 17 or 18 faster and for the next stages Ogier definitely has the better tyre choice.”
Ogier shared fastest time with Jari-Matti Latvala, but admitted the test, which contained plenty of snow and ice in the opening section, was tricky.
“Not the best tyre choice I think, I struggled with the car,” said the Citroën C3 debutant, who will hope to capitalise on his choice of rubber through the day’s final two stages.
Ott Tänak dropped further away, the Estonian sixth fastest in his Yaris and now 28.2sec off the lead.
The bravest tyre choice came from Sébastien Loeb, who opted for just two studded and four soft compound tyres. Unsurprisingly, the Frenchman struggled for grip in his i20 in the wintry sections, pinning his hopes on regaining time on the drier roads of the final two tests.
He conceded almost 40sec to Ogier, dropping from fourth on the leaderboard to seventh, and said: “Maybe we lost too much on this one….”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Latvala and Kris Meeke all moved ahead of Loeb, but the news was less good for Esapekka Lappi.
The Finn had a heavy impact on the front left of his C3 and limped to the finish with a broken front left wishbone and driveshaft, retiring soon afterwards.
Also in trouble was Pontus Tidemand who stopped in the stage to work on a mechanical problem with his Ford Fiesta and his chances of continuing appeared slim.