Sébastien Ogier threw caution to the wind as he upped both his pace and risk level to claw back time from Rallye Monte-Carlo leader Thierry Neuville.
Stage info: SS11/12
SS11: Lardier et Valenca - Oze 2, 31.17km
This is familiar to drivers as it features the opening two-thirds of last year’s monster 51km stage. It climbs initially on patchy ice before crossing the Col d’Espréaux and Col des Verniers, where snow can be expected. From there it descends through the valley to Oze.
It contains a bit of everything – long fast straights, twisty, narrow sections and climbs and descents.
SS12: La Bâtie Montsaleon - Faye 2, 16.78km
This is fast throughout, and the final section is REALLY quick! A new stretch of bumpy road at the start leads onto the final part of the long 2016 stage, crossing Col la Croix and Col de Faye.
He outpaced the Belgian by 2.1sec in the second pass through the long speed test from Lardier et Valenca to Oze. He regained a further 7.6sec in the following special stage to leave the gap at 51.0sec with one test remaining in Saturday’s penultimate leg.
His efforts took him over the limit in SS12 as his Ford Fiesta understeered into a field and almost clipped a signpost as he regained the road.
“We knew it was an open area, but I didn’t expect so much dirt on the road. We understeered off, but you take risks because I knew it was only a field on the outside. I had to try to do a bit more here,” he said.
Neuville was unflustered and after opting for studded winter tyres on his Hyundai i20 Coupe for the first stage of the loop, he played it safe by retaining them for the following drier and cleaner test.
“This morning we took slicks but this time we went for the safe choice and we had a car which was a bit more manageable to drive. I have a big lead but the rally is still long and we have to drive well and be clever,” he said.
Ott Tänak retained third in his Fiesta, but only after a scare. His M-Sport team replaced the Estonian’s gearbox in service but it was selecting gears on its own in SS11, with a power steering problem adding to his worries.
“It was a very sick car. We managed to fix the problems between stages and this one was a lot easier to drive,” he said after SS12.
Jari-Matti Latvala adjusted the set-up on his Toyota Yaris in service and was happier with its handling. He retained fourth, with Dani Sordo easing away from Craig Breen in fifth.
For a second time Elfyn Evans was fastest in SS12, his Fiesta having won the stage earlier this morning also.