Ott Tänak was quickest through Friday morning’s opening speed test at Rallye Monte-Carlo as overnight leader Thierry Neuville extended his advantage in tricky conditions.
Stage info: SS3
Agnières-en-Dévoluy – Le Motty 1, 24.63km
Set in the heart of the Dévoluy mountains, this test is pacy and mostly downhill on narrow roads that are far from easy. It twists and turns in and out of trees, and crosses several villages with stunning views of Lake Sautet and its dam before the finish in Le Motty. There is plenty of snow throughout the test.
Snow, sheet ice and clear asphalt provided an abrupt wake-up call for drivers but Tänak coped best of all in his Ford Fiesta WRC to head Belgian Neuville by 1.6sec. But it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Estonian.
“It was really tricky, some bad moments,” he said. “I had some radio interference too. I could hear people from our team talking and that was a little distracting,” said Tänak, who climbed to third, 17.8sec behind Neuville.
Second for Neuville left the Hyundai i20 Coupe driver with a 16.5sec lead. “It was very slippery but I had a good balance with the car. There was slight understeer in places but it’s really nice to drive,” he said.
Kris Meeke was third to climb to second overall in his Citroën C3. Toyota duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen were next up while Dani Sordo completed the top six through the test.
All the top drivers fitted studded winter tyres but they didn’t help M-Sport team-mates Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans, who visited the same ditch early in the stage.
“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I don’t know what happened, I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned. I was doing 10kph but slipped into the ditch and became stuck. It’s super tricky. First on the road is a disaster and it’s not the start we wanted,” said Ogier, who dropped 40sec to plunge to eighth.
Evans yielded more than two minutes, the Welshman unwilling to go into details of his troubled run at the finish.
Hayden Paddon did not restart this morning after being withdrawn by Hyundai following last night’s opening stage accident, but Stéphane Lefebvre returned after retiring last night with transmission problems in his C3.