Sébastien Loeb held a slender 3.0sec advantage over arch-rival Sébastien Ogier following Friday morning’s topsy-turvy action in the second leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Stage info: SS4 / SS5
SS4: Aspres Les Corps – Chauffayer 1, 25.81km
This test, unused since 1994, runs north-east along one valley before turning back on itself in the opposite direction. It contains several extremely fast sections as it climbs and falls throughout, passing through several hamlets in the second half.
SS5: Les Costes – St Julien en Champsaur 1, 25.40km
The entire stage runs at an altitude of more than 1000 metres, peaking at 1542 metres. It’s very fast at the start, before narrowing for a few kilometres and then opening out again. It descends towards the finish to end in Sébastien Ogier’s home village.
After doubling his overnight lead to 28.3sec in a blistering drive through the opening stage, Loeb dropped time in both SS4 and SS5 in his DS 3 as conditions favoured his fellow Frenchman, who was 11 places further up the running order.
Sunshine thawed the ice which made the opener so tricky, and the early cars in the start order dragged mud onto the road. That hindered Loeb and Ogier admitted he was doing his best to make things as hard as possible for his rival.
“We tried to make some cuts and put some snow on the road for the guys behind,” said Volkswagen Polo R pilot Ogier. “We have a disadvantage with our road position, so now we try to turn this to our advantage.”
Ogier was second through both SS4 and SS5, reclaiming more than 21sec in the latter. “Sometimes you have to fight. It was very, very muddy and I had to take big, big risks just to drive like that,” admitted Loeb.
Jari-Matti Latvala enjoyed a better rhythm to regain third in his Polo R, although the Finn is 67.7sec behind Ogier. Having ceded third in the opener, he relegated Ford Fiesta RS duo Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans, the latter admitting to clipping a bank in SS5.
Kris Meeke is just 0.4sec behind in sixth with Andreas Mikkelsen close behind the Northern Irishman. Mads Østberg, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo complete the top 10.
Although Robert Kubica’s hopes of overall success ended last night, the Pole flew this morning to win both SS4 and SS5 in his Fiesta RS.
All the top drivers opted for studded tyres, but with the sun ensuring sections of bone dry asphalt, retaining the spikes became increasingly difficult and many drivers ended the last stage of the group struggling for grip.
Stéphane Lefebvre led WRC 2 in a DS 3 R5 by just 1.7sec from the similar car of Martin Koci, with Quentin Giordano almost a minute behind in third.