Elfyn Evans has assumed the lead of the Monte Carlo Rally, ahead of Hyundai’s Ott Tänak, as Toyota team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä slipped down the leaderboard on the sixth stage.
Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts, the first repeated stage of this year’s Monte Carlo Rally, was claimed by Ogier in the dark earlier on Friday morning, as indeed all three of the morning’s stages were as the reigning World Rally Champion climbed from fifth to first position.
But his charge came to an end on SS6 when the front-left tire on his Yaris WRC punctured, costing him 34.7 seconds to Evans and dropping him to third place overall, 23.4s behind the new leader. A spin at a hairpin, where Evans had a slight moment on the first pass, added to the woe.
“There is so many cuts it’s very hard to know where,” Ogier explained. “We knew these tires are very weak for punctures and unfortunately it happened already.”
While Evans claimed his first fastest stage time of the weekend, Rovanperä – who started the stage just behind Tänak in fourth overall – ran into trouble in the other Toyota just a few hundred meters after the start of the 12.18-mile stage.
“I made a mistake in the beginning of the stage,” he said. “There was a really muddy cut and I lost the car from the cut and we went into the field and had to reverse out, it took a lot of time.”
The damage was clear on the timesheets as he leaked 47.6s to Evans on the test to slip to fifth, 3.4s behind Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville – who felt he had a “nice stage” with his new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.
Tänak now finds himself in second spot but 20.4s behind Evans with Ogier lurking a mere three seconds further back. The 2019 champion admitted “in places I’m still lacking a bit of confidence” but he wasn’t too concerned: “It was so tricky so not the place to be a hero.”
Evans, who beat Tänak on the stage by 6.9s, found the going similarly tough: “It was alright but gosh it was difficult! Now the grip is changing much more extremely, we had good grip and then nothing at all.”
Dani Sordo set his most competitive time of the rally so far, dropping just 10.6s to the quickest time but he still finds himself all alone in sixth with big gaps up ahead and behind.
Takamoto Katsuta was an impressive fifth fastest in his Toyota Yaris WRC to jump up to eighth place, 3.9s up on 2C Competition Hyundai rival Pierre-Louis Loubet. M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 is sandwiched between them, just 0.9s behind Toyota junior Katsuta.
“My gravel crew Juho [Hänninen] and Craig [Parry] did a very good job,” praised Katsuta. “I didn’t push but look at the time is pretty OK so confidence is also coming so I’m happy with this stage.”
Gus Greensmith, who feels his performance so far this week is “the worst of his career” was 31.5s off Evans’ pace on SS6, struggling with a failing intercom.
“There wasn’t too much vision and the intercom was failing so it’s on and off what I can hear so that was very tricky,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen was sixth fastest through SS6 to tighten his grip on seventh place overall and the WRC2 lead. He is now 32s ahead of Fourmaux with one stage of the day left.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 13m32.5s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +6.9s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +9.7s
4 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai) +10.6s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniell Barritt (Toyota) +11.3s
6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (Toksport Škoda) +15.2s
Leading positions after SS6
1 Evans/Martin (Toyota) 1h19m31.7s
2 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +20.4s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +23.4s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m01.1s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1m04.5s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +2m04.3s
7 Mikkelsen/Floene (Toksport Škoda) +3m36.0s
8 Katsuta/Barritt (Toyota) +4m07.1s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +4m08.0s
10 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +4m11.0s