SS4/5: Neuville edges ahead

Thierry Neuville held a slender Rallye Monte-Carlo lead over world champion Sébastien Ogier following a shortened but tricky morning’s action on Friday.

Stage info: SS4/5

SS4: Roussieux - Laborel 1, 24.05km
A new start 5km upstream of the small hamlet of Roussieux leads onto the 2018 route. It crosses the Col du Reychasset (1052m) and Col de Pierre Vesce (1056m), before finishing in the charming Laborel village. It’s a rhythmic stage but the traps are more than numerous if conditions are bad…..

SS5: Curbans - Piegut 1, 18.47km
Driven in 2000 and 2004 between Piégut and Urtis, this is the first time this test has been used in this format. It is characterised by many uphill and downhill hairpin bends and is also twisty in places and fast in others. The roads are narrow and the time gaps could be significant.

The Belgian, third overnight in a Hyundai i20, headed Ogier by 3.4sec after typically mixed conditions in the French Alps ensured tyre choice played a significant part in drivers’ fortunes.

The opening speed test from Valdrome to Sigottier was cancelled due to the number of spectators packed into unsafe positions near the finish.

A thin layer of frozen snow in the opening half had prompted many drivers to opt for Michelin’s studded winter tyres. The cancellation meant their advantage was lost and compromised their pace through the remaining two stages, which were drier.

Neuville’s defensive options worked well. He was second in both tests but returned to service in Gap breathing a sigh of relief. “I had a rear tyre which was very worn at the beginning. The rubber was gone and nothing must be left of it, but we managed,” he said.

Ogier’s choice was weighted more towards studs. Although disappointed that the stage where he should have profited was scrubbed, the Citroën C3 pilot went fastest through the final test from Curbans to Piegut.

Overnight leader Ott Tänak slipped to third in his Toyota Yaris. The Estonian was in the same tyre tangle as Ogier and he trailed Neuville by 16.9sec.

The leading trio retained last night’s significant advantage. More than half a minute further back in fourth was i20 debutant Sébastien Loeb. He won the Roussieux - Laborel stage, but a low start position meant he struggled on mud and gravel dragged onto the asphalt by those ahead.

Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen was fifth, heading a quintet of drivers blanketed by less than 11sec. Jari-Matti Latvala vaulted from ninth to sixth, the Finn happier after finally settling into a more relaxed style with his Yaris in the last stage of the loop.

A cautious Esapekka Lappi yielded a couple of places in his C3 but remained ahead of Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta and Kris Meeke.

Meeke ended the final stage with the radiator grille of his Yaris packed with leaves, the result being a lack of turbo boost for the final 5km. Pontus Tidemand completed the leaderboard.

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