When one thinks this Rallye Monte-Carlo couldn’t become any more action-packed, the next loop of stages deliver driving thrills to never forget. No-one would have predicted that at the end of Stage 11 of the Rallye Monte-Carlo’s 16 speed tests that two drivers from the same team would be tied at the top of the general classification.
Tommi Mäkinen, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Team Principal, is smiling ear-to-ear in the Service Park this evening in Gap, France after his two newest signings have dominated proceedings at the WRC’s 2020 season opener thus far. At the end of the penultimate stage of Day Three – Stage 11 – Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin were tied for the overall lead.
The best efforts of Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul and their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC could do nothing to upset the Toyota twosome in front, other than apply a constant vice-like pressure on them. The Belgian claimed this stage’s fastest time, nearly 50s quicker than the morning’s run through it. He also managed to cut his deficit to Evans and Ogier by 5.5s. There’s no doubting his efforts; the Toyota pairings have proven to be those few tenths of a second too quick…
The snow and ice on laying on the roads and beside it make for a tricky downhill run to the finish. Behind the leading trio, drivers cautiously picked their lines. WRC2’s Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) didn’t heed that memo and blitzed to another class fastest stage time, growing his lead over Ole Christian Veiby/Jonas Andersson (Hyundai i20 R5). French stars Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta R5 MkII) passed Nikolay Gryazin/Yaroslav Federov (Hyundai i20 R5) after they made a mistake in the stage to snatch third place in this competitive class.
Stage 11 – Top 5:
01) T. Neuville – 09m 34.6s; 02) S. Ogier +0.8s; 03) E. Evans +5.6s; 04) E. Lappi +5.7s; 05) S. Loeb +17.3s
Neuville applied yet more pressure on Ogier and Evans in the final stage of Day Three, taking a 4.6s chunk out of his deficit to them thanks to a fantastic stage time in Stage 12. The Toyota pairings of Ogier and Evans weren’t too bothered by the time gap lost to Neuville, as the melting snow and ice’s slushy remains made for a tricky test.
Ogier, who admitted as much after the stage, was overly cautious in his speed over the mountain and to the stop line. With four stages to be contested tomorrow, every second counts… However, Evans spun and lost a handful number of seconds.
A Hollywood scriptwriter would not have been able to make this scene any more dramatic: Evans kept his cool, recovered his Yaris WRC and confidently completed the stage – 4.9s quicker than Ogier.
Evans heads to bed this evening as the leader of the Rallye Monte-Carlo by 4.9s on his debut for his new team, with a six-times World Rally Champion team-mate unable to best him after three days of head-to-head rallying. Simply incredible.
Nueville sits in third place overall and only 1.5s behind Ogier. The top three crews are once more covered by just 6.4s. Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) suffered a spin in Stage 12 too, and have dropped into the striking distance of M-Sport Ford WRT’s Esappekka Lappi/Janne Ferm in fifth. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Gazoo Racing) holds sixth place on his WRC debut, a performance and composure that surely sets him up for a podium position later in this season.
WRC2’s Ostberg enjoys a healthier-looking advantage over second-placed Veiby, after the youngster spun in Stage 12. The slush and mud made for even more difficult running for the WRC2 teams than those ahead of them, with stage times far slower than on the morning’s loop. The Ford versus Hyundai battle a little further down the order saw Ford’s Fourmaux retain third place over Hyundai’s Gryazin at the overnight halt.
Stage 12 – Top 5:
01) T. Neuville – 12m 12.0s; 02) E. Evans +4.6s; 03) S. Ogier +9.5s; 04) E. Lappi +11.5s; 05) K. Rovanperä/J. Halttunen +17.8s
Competitors will on Sunday tackle four stages, taking in the legendary Col de Turini, before crowning the first WRC event winner of 2020.
Classification After SS12:
01) E. Evans/S. Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) – 02h 28m 35.1s
02) S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.9s
03) T. Neuville/N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +6.4s
04) S. Loeb/D. Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m 24.3s
05) E. Lappi/J. Ferm (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2m 38.4s
06) K. Rovanperä/J. Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m 27.3s
07) T. Katusta/D. Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +10m 31.1s
08) E. Camilli/F. Buresi (Citroën C3 R5) +11m 15.2s
09) M. Ostberg/T. Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +12m 13.7s
10) N. Ciamin/Y. Roche (Citroën C3 R5) +12m 39.5s