Two consecutive stage wins enabled Thierry Neville to stretch his Rallye Monte-Carlo lead to more than a half a minute on Friday morning.
Stage info: SS4 / SS5
SS4: Aspres les Corps - Chaillol 1, 38.94km
This stage joins two 2016 tests into one. Much of it lies above 1000 metres and it peaks at 1542 metres, meaning wintry weather is likely on the opening section to the Col de Festreaux. The following downhill run is clear on a wide and fast road. It is more technical from the midpoint, with ice and snow a strong possibility on the final few kilometres to Chaillol.
SS5: St-Leger-les-Mélèzes – La-Bâtie-Neuve 1, 17.82km
Apart from a different start and finish, this is identical to the 2016 test. A steep climb to the Col de Moissière mixes clear roads and snowy asphalt, after which the stage 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 leading to the finish.
Having posted second fastest time in the day’s opener, the Belgian was quickest in both SS4 and SS5 in his Hyundai i20 Coupe to lead Ott Tänak by 31.7sec as competitors returned to Gap for service at the midpoint of the leg.
Neuville stalled at a SS4 hairpin but the smile on his face at the end of the following test showed how much he enjoyed the morning.
“There’s less ice than during the recce so my notes were a bit slow on the final downhill part,” he explained at the finish of SS5. “It’s nice with studs on the asphalt. There’s a lot of movement to make a nice show – but it’s not efficient!”
Kris Meeke was Neuville’s closest challenger but the Briton retired in SS4. His C3 skidded on ice and hit a bank, leaving Meeke to park it in a field with broken front suspension (below).
Estonian Tänak was third in both tests to retain a comfortable advantage over Ford Fiesta team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who recovered from a trip into a ditch in this morning’s opener. He was second in both tests to climb from eighth to third, 27.4sec behind Tänak.
Jari-Matti Latvala took on the role of lead Toyota Yaris driver in fourth following the retirement of team-mate Juho Hänninen, who crashed out of third in SS5 when he hit a tree.
Latvala’s morning was not without its problems. His car refused to start in parc ferme and the crew pushed it into service. The engine eventually fired up but the team had no time to fine-tune the Yaris’ set-up and he struggled all morning with the handling.
Dani Sordo was fifth, despite concerns about his i20 Coupe stalling under braking when entering hairpins.
He was ahead of Craig Breen’s Citroën DS 3, the Irishman surviving two spins in SS4. The Skoda Fabia R5s of WRC 2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen, and Pontus Tidemand were followed by Elfyn Evans and Bryan Bouffier.
SS3: Tänak fastest, Neuville builds lead
Ogier and Evans lose time after ditching Fiestas
Neuville takes early Monte lead
Belgian beats his closest rival by 8.5sec to head the field after two stages
Rallye Monte-Carlo photo shoot
The WRC class of 2017 attend traditional photoshoot