Thierry Neuville narrowed the gap to Rallye Monte-Carlo leader Sébastien Ogier in a tense opening to Sunday’s final leg in the mountains above Monaco.
Stage info: SS13/14
SS13: La Bollene Vesubie - Peira Cava 1, 18.41km
The rally’s signature stage features the climb to the summit of the mythical Col de Turini (1607m), one of the championship’s iconic locations. After starting in front of La Bollène-Vésubie city hall, drivers face a straightforward climb of Turini on medium to wide roads. The difficulties may start when approaching the pass and especially on the treacherous descent to Peïra-Cava on a fast and winding road under the trees, where snow and ice are likely.
SS14:La Cabanette - Col de Braus 1, 13.58km
This stage was driven competitively for the first time last year and is a well-known testing location. It starts with a famous downhill section, south-facing and filled with 16 hairpin bends. It climbs to Col de l’Orme (1000m) and Col de l’Ablé (1149m), before a final downhill portion leads to the access for Col de Braus, with four more spectacular hairpins on the way.
The Belgian regained 1.0sec in his Hyundai i20 over the famous Col de Turini speed test before clawing back a further tenth in the following special stage from La Cabanette to Col de Braus. It left the gap at 3.2sec with two more tests remaining.
The roads were clear except for the odd ice patch and both drivers made the straightforward choice of Michelin’s soft compound tyres, but neither was happy as they emerged from the opening loop.
“Difficult, the car is not 100 per cent. A small issue,” said Ogier, before quickly departing and refusing to elaborate further. He and co-driver Julien Ingrassia were later spotted working on their Citroën C3 by the roadside en route to the next stage.
Neuville was more talkative. “The first stage was very tricky to drive, the tyres were overheating quite early. I wasn’t happy with my driving in the next one because I had to play too much with the engine mappings because of the ice, and lost the brakes also,” he said.
It was all change in the battle for the final podium place. After winning all four of Saturday’s stages, Ott Tänak maintained his supreme pace to go fastest in both stages and climb ahead of Sébastien Loeb and Jari-Matti Latvala into third.
But even he was not fully satisfied. “We tried to improve the car a bit from the previous stage but at the beginning it was a bit worse. Now we have some time to discuss it, I want it to be better,” said the Estonian at the Col de Braus finish.
His Toyota Yaris was 2.8sec clear of Loeb’s i20, with Latvala a further 1.0sec back in his Yaris. Loeb admitted he could not do more while a frustrated Latvala was unhappy with his driving and pointed to an understeer issue.