Here is a run down of the headline-making events and incidents that shaped Friday’s leaderboard:
SS11: Latvala ends on a high
After a troubled day, Jari-Matti Latvala came good on the final stage of the day as he set the fastest time in the dark at Clumanc-Lambruisse. He was 3.9s faster than his team-mate Sebastien Ogier to move past Elfyn Evans into fifth place. It was a good way to end the day.
Bryan Bouffier’s hopes of catching Sebastien Ogier for the lead were dented on SS11. Curiously, he was 32.4s off the pace on the stage and dropped 51 seconds behind the leader overall. The reason was revealed at the end of the stage. “This stage was not good,” he sighed. “We missed part of the road on the recce and didn't have any pace notes. We had to borrow some from Francois Delecour. They were not perfect for me.”
Kris Meeke’s grip on third place was strengthened when fourth-placed Mads Ostberg surprisingly dropped 21s further behind his team-mate. “I tried to play it safe, but it’s very difficult to drive this car slowly. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.”
SS10: Ostberg nears podium
Mads Ostberg was the man on the move in his Citroen DS3 WRC. He started the day 1m 11s behind his team-mate Kris Meeke, but another strong run on SS10 meant he reduced the gap to 49s going into the final stage of the day. “Things are getting better and better,” said the fourth-place man.
Sebastien Ogier continued his march at the top of the leaderboard with a near-perfect performance on SS10. He doubled his advantage over Bryan Bouffier to 22s. “That was a nice stage and I didn’t push too much. I just tried to drive clean,” he said. It was an effective approach.
Andreas Mikkelsen was the biggest casualty on SS10. The VW driver dropped more than four minutes when his Polo R WRC skidded off the road on an icy left-hand corner. He had to wait for spectators to push him back onto the road. “I though the grip was five or ten percent but it was actually zero,” the Norwegian explained. This error left him more than nine minutes off the rally lead.
SS9: Ogier leads. Kubica out
Sebastien Ogier achieved his goal. His latest attack on rally leader Bryan Bouffier paid off and he took the rally lead on the re-run of the Vitrolles-Faye stage. Bouffier handed the initiative to his rival after he spun early in the stage and had to be pushed out of a muddy field by spectators. Ogier headed to SS10 with a 11.2s lead.
Robert Kubica’s rally came to an abrupt end on SS9. The Pole’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC stopped at the 33km point. Kris Meeke, who started the stage after Kubica, said: “I saw a car off in a ditch. It was just after a black top [shiny asphalt] braking area. I knew it was one of the front runners so I backed off.”
Jari-Matti Latvala’s attack continued to falter. He was forced to stop and change a puncture on his VW Polo at the 5km point. That dropped him from 6th to 8th place. Elfyn Evans moved up to an amazing 5th place after another putting in another consistent stage time.
SS8: Bouffier fights back
Bryan Bouffier fought back on SS8 to prevent Ogier from eating any further into his advantage at the top of the leaderboard. The rally leader finished the stage 0.2s faster than Ogier’s VW. It wasn’t a big advantage, but it was enough to bring his rival’s charge to a temporary halt.
There was drama at the end of the stage as both Mads Ostberg and Sebastien Ogier were forced to throw their cars into a field at the side of the road to avoid having an accident on the stage stop line. Ogier wasn’t pleased. “This is crazy!” he barked at the marshals.
Armin Kremer’s WRC2 lead was shortlived. Having inherited top spot on SS7 when overnight leader Yurii Protasov picked up a puncture, Kremer suffered a similar fate on SS8 and lost close to four minutes. That handed the lead back to a grateful Protasov.
Elfyn Evans extended his advantage over M-Sport World Rally Team team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn was unable to see out of his Fiesta’s windscreen when the demister broke. That allowed Evans to add another 30s to his advantage in seventh place.
SS7: Ogier on a charge
Sebastien Ogier showed the rest of the field he meant business on the daunting 49-kilometre opener. The VW ace was fastest over every split time and stopped the clocks 11.7s faster than leader Bryan Bouffier.
It was enough to lift Ogier into second place overall. His tricky start yesterday was now a distant memory.
The battle for the remaining podium place was close as Citroen’s Kris Meeke and Ford Fiesta driver Robert Kubica traded split times. Meeke eventually emerged 4.3s faster than his rival to cling on to third place. “The black top [shiny asphalt] was really tricky,” Meeke said. “A one-metre patch can easily put you off the road.”
Drama at the head of the WRC2 field. Overnight leader Yurii Protasov suffered a puncture and has to stop in the stage to change his Fiesta’s wheel. He lost more than two minutes and that handed the category lead to Armin Kremer.