SS9/10: Ogier conquers the elements
Frenchman stretches clear on Saturday morning, as battles rage behind
SS11: Agnières-en-Dévoluy - Corps 2, 29.16km
Set in the heart of the Dévoluy mountains, this test is pacy and mostly downhill on narrow roads that are far from easy. The big difference with last year is a modified second half towards Corps, via Pellafol, but crews will still enjoy superb views of the Sautet dam.
SS12: St Leger les Mélèzes - La-Bâtie Neuve 2, 16.87km
The start has been moved to allow crews to race through Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes, including a spectacular ‘donut’ at the roundabout entering the village. A steep but pacy climb to Col de Moissière (1574 m) negotiates several hairpins exiting the Ancelle ski resort, after which it descends on a narrow and bumpy road which twists and turns through Sapet forest. The final section is wide with a series of long open hairpins to the finish.
With sunshine having melted much of the snow, conditions were somewhat easier than in the morning, even if fog still made for a challenging run. Holding more than a minute in hand over Tänak going into SS11 (Agnières-en-Dévoluy – Corps), Ogier maintained a cautious approach, refusing to take risks as he insisted his priority was simply to ‘stay in the lead’.
The Frenchman’s Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT rival, however, was less circumspect, storming to the fastest time on SS11 by more than 15 seconds – despite sliding into a field that caught out several of the front-runners – and going second-quickest through the following test (Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve) to close to just 39.5sec adrift of the defending world champion.
“I didn’t know what happened on SS11,” the Estonian admitted. “I was just happy to get out of the field again unscathed. The conditions were still tricky on the next stage, so we didn’t push too hard. Nothing special.”
Third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala is now just over a minute back from team-mate Tänak in the second of the three Yaris’ following a solid and consistent run, but the previous Toyota symmetry was broken when a mistake from Esapekka Lappi resulted in the Finn picking up a puncture on SS11 that cost him over two minutes.
That error elevated Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT’s Kris Meeke to fourth overall – albeit more than three minutes behind the current podium-sitters – with Lappi fifth and doing his best to redress the balance as he completed SS12 13.5sec quicker than the Ulsterman, who made brief contact with a snow bank.
Elfyn Evans leapfrogged M-Sport Ford stablemate Bryan Bouffier into sixth when the Frenchman went wide at a junction on SS11, and the Welshman stayed ahead on the next one despite having no intercom for much of the stage and consequently not being able to hear his pace notes.
SS12 winner Thierry Neuville continues to run eighth in his Hyundai i20, ahead of Craig Breen in the second Citroën C3 – the latter still paying the price for his ‘road-sweeping’ morning. Jan Kopecky remains comfortably in charge in WRC 2 in tenth overall.