Sunday | 28 Jan 2018

SS14/15: Ogier on the brink

Sébastien Ogier is on the verge of a fifth consecutive Rallye Monte-Carlo victory after extending his lead on the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship curtain-raiser to 46.2sec over the course of Sunday’s opening two stages.

Stage Info: SS14/15

SS14: 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 (1607 metres), one of the championship’s iconic locations. A new start in front of La Bollène-Vésubie city hall leads into 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.

SS15: La Cabanette - Col de Braus 1, 13.58km
This stage has never been driven competitively after it was cancelled at the last minute in 1973, but it 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 (1000 metres) and Col de l’Ablé (1149 metres), before a final downhill portion leads to the access for Col de Braus, with four more spectacular hairpins on the way.

Toyota new boy Ott Tänak might have turned up the wick on the reigning world champion on Saturday – slashing a deficit that had at one point been as great as 1min 18.4sec to just 33.5sec overnight – but Ogier swiftly reasserted his supremacy on Sunday morning, flying through the snow and ice of SS14 (La Bollene Vesubie - Peira Cava) with the fastest time to increase his overall margin to a comfortable 45.0sec.

The Frenchman outpaced Tänak again on SS15 (La Cabanette - Col de Braus) – despite finding himself temporarily blinded by a smoke flare let off by a spectator – meaning he will head into the event’s final two speed tests 46.2sec clear of his rival.

“I’m not pushing,” affirmed Tänak. “Others can push if they want to, but I’m taking no risks in these tricky conditions. We have a big gap behind so we’re playing safe.”

Indeed, the Estonian’s Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala – who continues to run third – is now 1min 05.5sec adrift of the sister Yaris after adopting a similarly cautious approach to Sunday morning’s action, with no pressure from behind.

Fourth-placed Esapekka Lappi in the third Toyota has consolidated his advantage over Citroën’s Kris Meeke, with the Finn now 13.0sec clear of the Ulsterman, who described the conditions on SS15 as ‘hellish’ and admitted that ‘this rally never ceases to amaze me’.

M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans remains sixth overall, although the Welshman is coming under increasing threat from Hyundai’s charging Thierry Neuville, who took 17.8sec out of him on SS14 and a further 6.9sec on SS15. Evans admitted to struggling for confidence due to understeer in his Ford Fiesta. With 31.99km of competitive running left on the schedule, the gap between the pair is down to just 8.7sec.

Eighth-placed Bryan Bouffier survived a half-spin on SS14, with Craig Breen in the second Citroën C3 a lonely ninth and runaway WRC 2 leader Jan Kopecky rounding out the top ten.

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