Sat 21 Jan 2023

Ogier consolidates Monte lead as Toyota team-mates up the ante

Sébastien Ogier cemented his position at the head of the Rallye Monte-Carlo leaderboard while his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mates raised the stakes on Saturday morning.

Starting this penultimate day with an already sizeable advantage over GR Yaris colleague Kalle Rovanperä, Ogier displayed a sensible approach - easing off ever so slightly through any sections which he felt could pose a risk to his standing.

The Frenchman’s lead was trimmed by just 6.0sec across the three-stage loop and he arrived to the mid-leg tyre change zone at Puget-Théniers still half a minute in front.  

"Since this morning, the target is to try to stay safe,” Ogier said. “There are a lot of cuts with a high risk of punctures, so I took it easy."

Defending world champion Rovanperä’s sights were not set on Ogier. Instead, he focused his efforts on increasing the gap to third-placed Thierry Neuville, who began the day only 1.9sec behind.

A stage win on the opener from Le Fugeret to Thorame-Haute more than doubled Rovanperä’s buffer, and he outpaced his Hyundai i20 N rival on the next two tests to end the loop 12.4sec clear.  

Also pushing hard was fellow Toyota star Elfyn Evans, who had been running as high as second overall on Friday before dropping back to fifth due to a puncture.

Evans consistently posted top-three stage times to pile the pressure on M-Sport Ford driver Ott Tänak, and finally took fourth overall when the Estonian’s Puma developed a power steering fault on the second stage. Tänak, who now trails Evans by 11.4sec, still has some steering assistance, but not as much as usual.

"Actually, it's quite well manageable," Tänak said of the problem. "We are lucky it's not a full failure, it's just heavy steering."

His team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, who suffered a more severe steering failure on Friday, did not fare any better. The Frenchman hit a bridge when he was caught out by a slippery corner in SS9 and retired with rear-right suspension damage.

Takamoto Katsuta, also driving a Yaris, leapt ahead of Dani Sordo to complete the top six. The pair are split by 20.4sec, with Sordo’s Hyundai partner Esapekka Lappi only 4.5sec further back in eighth overall.

WRC2 frontrunners Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel complete the top 10 halfway through the day.

  • Full coverage from Rallye Monte-Carlo is available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.
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