Elfyn Evans distanced overnight leader Thierry Neuville to lead Rallye Monte-Carlo following a dramatic Friday morning in which world champion Ott Tänak retired following a huge accident.
Evans completed a clean sweep of victories in the morning loop of three speed tests to claim an 8.9sec advantage over Neuville, but the big talking point was Tänak’s crash on his Hyundai i20 debut.
The Estonian’s car flew off the road after a compression 9.2km into the Saint-Clément – Freissinières (SS4) test. The badly damaged car came to rest on a road more than 100m down the hillside. Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja climbed out of the car on their own before being taken to hospital for precautionary checks.
After winning the opening test, Toyota Yaris driver Evans demoted Neuville with fastest time in Saint-Clément – Freissinières. Another win in Avançons – Notre Dame du Laus sent the Welshman back to the Gap service park with a smile on his face.
“The feeling is generally pretty good in the car and the right tyre choice was made as well, so thanks to the team for that. It’s been great so far,” said Evans.
Neuville slowed his i20 briefly at Tänak’s accident but the Belgian could not improve on third fastest in both stages.
“We had a difficult opening stage in tricky conditions and I didn’t feel very confident, especially in the last part. It worked a bit better stage by stage, but conditions are going to be tricky this afternoon and we need to make the right tyre choice,” said Neuville.
Second in both stages enabled Sébastien Ogier to close the gap on Neuville to 0.8sec, although he was struggling for confidence on his Yaris debut. “I’m still learning the car and have to find the limit when it’s bumpy,” he said.
Sébastien Loeb was a lonely fourth in another i20, the seven-time Monte winner hampered by gravel dragged onto the road by his rivals in front. He was 38.7sec behind Ogier and 41.5sec clear of Esapekka Lappi’s Ford Fiesta.
Lappi dropped 10sec after sliding into a field in Avançons – Notre Dame. The Finn had 24.6sec in hand over fellow countryman Kalle Rovanperä, who enjoyed a clean morning on his Yaris debut to hold sixth.
Takamoto Katsuta was more than two minutes further back in seventh, ahead of WRC 3 leader Eric Camilli. Ole Christian Veiby was ninth, and leading WRC 2, with Nicolas Ciamin completing the leaderboard.