Rallye Monte-Carlo has always provided surprises on the FIA World Rally Championship’s calendar. This jewel in the top flight sport’s crown is held in winter and brings with it changeable weather conditions and grip levels, and the bravest drivers in the world aiming to top one another. The first half of Day Three’s stages have been completed and the top three crews are covered by 16.6s after more than 150km of special stages.
With a slender lead, one of the smallest in the event’s 88-year history, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin and team-mates Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia are battling one another for the lead. Welshman Evans leads six-times WRC champion Ogier with an advantage of just 4.8s over his team-mate. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) hold third place and some 16 seconds adrift, and still very much in contention for overall victory.
All the favourites fitted their WRC cars with studded tyres for this morning’s stage stages run over 37.6km of speed tests in changeable conditions with limited grip levels. With Evans holding the lead for much of yesterday’s running of six stages, Ogier held the overnight lead of 1.2s over Evans, and extended that to 2.8s at the end of Stage 8 – the morning’s first test – only for the ‘Welsh Wizard’ to strike back on Stage 9 with the fastest stage time by 7.6s over Ogier and thereby retaking the lead of the rally by 4.8s. This tantalising fight is a nail-biting affair, and Team Principal Tommi Makinen must be on tenterhooks in the Service Park.
Belgians Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul haven’t made any mistakes on Day Three, but are drifting back ever so slightly to the hard-charging Toyotas ahead of him. The Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT’s Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena are comfortable in fourth place after a drama-free morning’s racing, and are sensibly not chasing for the podium as they rather consolidate their fourth place. They now sit nearly two minutes behind the leader and 35 seconds clear of fifth-placed Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (M-Sport Ford WRT).
In the WRC2 class battle, Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) and Ole Christian Veiby/Jonas Andersson (Hyundai i20 R5) are locked in a rally-long fight, with Ostberg holding steady at just over 11 seconds ahead of Veiby. Nikolay Gryazin/Yaroslav Federov (Hyundai i20 R5) are still third, some two minutes behind Ostberg.
Stage 9 – Top 5:
01) T. Neuville – 10m 28.8s; 02) S. Ogier +0.8s; 03) E. Evans +2.4s; 04) S. Loeb +14.9s; 05) T. Sunninen +16.0s
The road conditions for Stage Ten were miserable: dirty, muddied and slippery with black ice sections. The WRC crews relied heavily on the Gravel Crews to provide up-to-the-minute information on the road’s condition, so that the rally drivers could strike in the stages.
Evans kept his head clear to concentrate on his driving performance, and it was such that the Welshman surprised even Ogier to leap back into the lead.
He commented: “It was a good run and I felt I was able to be smooth and carry speed in most places.”
For team-mate Ogier, he wasn’t able to attack to the limits in order to match his team-mate, but the two Toyota Yaris WRC crews have gained a mental advantage over their rival Neuville.
The Belgian said at the end of Stage Ten: “We are much more confident. I thought I had a good stage but when I have seen the time maybe it’s not good enough.”
With a repeat of the same stages in the afternoon, will Ogier use his vast experience to reel Evans back in? Or, will the Welshman keep his team-mate in his rear-view mirror? Neuville – and Hyundai – have their work cut out.
Ostberg reported feeling uncomfortable in his car’s setup for the second stage on the studded winter tyres, but he still managed to eke out a 2-second advantage over Veiby in the WRC2 Class. The Norwegian is now 13.1s ahead of Veiby leading into this afternoon’s action.
Stage 10 – Top 5:
01) E. Evans – 12m 34.4s; 02) S. Ogier +7.6s; 03) T. Neuville +13.8s; 04) E. Lappi +18.5s; 05) G. Greensmith +26.7
Classification After SS10:
01) E. Evans/S. Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) – 02h 06m 38.3s
02) S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.8s
03) T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +16.6s
04) S. Loeb/D. Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m 56.2s
05) E. Lappi/J. Ferm (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2m 31.4s
06) K. Rovanperä/J. Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m 59.3s
07) E. Camilli/F. Buresi (Citroën C3 R5) +9m 10.2s
08) T. Katusta/D. Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +9m 49.7s
09) N. Ciamin/Y. Roche (Citroën C3 R5) +10m 32.4s
10) M. Ostberg/T. Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +10m 52.0s