Elfyn Evans has taken a small bite out of Sébastien Ogier’s lead as Thierry Neuville continued his strong start to Sunday morning of the Monte Carlo Rally with his second stage win of the weekend.
Briançonnet – Entrevaux will be run as the powerstage later on Sunday morning, and the first miles of the test in particular looked like a winter postcard with snow covering the route and forming alongside it in banks.
Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith were the first cars on the road and demonstrated how tricky the conditions were, as both made a mistake at a tightening right-hand bend. While Loubet ran marginally wide and kissed the Armco barrier, Greensmith went in deeper and had to execute a three-point turn as his Ford Fiesta WRC was dragged into a spin.
Hyundai’s Neuville was unfazed however, setting a time 4.5 seconds faster than next-best Evans on the stage. The scratch time was his second with new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe as the pair continued to learn how to work together.
“We’re working a bit on our rhythm in the car,” said Neuville. “It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t matching all the time but it’s a difficult job for the co-driver here.”
Rally leader Ogier gave up 1.3s to his team-mate Evans to prove there is still life in the victory fight, but with an advantage of 19.7s with two stages to go, Ogier is still very much favorite and he confessed to taking “no risks at all”.
Evans was also taking it easy.
“To be honest again I was careful but what do you do in these conditions?” he said.
“It can be over so easily, just trying to strike the balance between going slow but not going off the road.”
Kalle Rovanperä in fourth had started SS13 close to a minute behind Neuville after a puncture on the previous test gifted his Hyundai rival the final podium place.
While Neuville kept up his strong pace on Sunday’s second stage, Rovanperä surrendered another 19.3s to lie 1m12.8s behind in fourth overall as he conceded defeat in the quest for a podium.
“After the puncture I think there is nothing really we can do, the gap is too big for sure,” Rovanperä said.
“I was not pushing anymore, I just try to keep my position. I know with my driving it’s impossible to catch [Neuville].”
Sixth-placed Takamoto Katsuta mimicked Loubet and Greensmith’s mistake, but got sucked into the Armco barrier before the corner itself and was dragged along it before recovering the moment. However the time loss has applied the pressure, with seventh-placed WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen now just 20s behind him.
“We spun and we lost more than 30s for sure. My gravel crew did a good job so it was the right information,” said Katsuta.
“Quite disappointed but we are here to finish.”
Dani Sordo – who himself has little to fight for with the sole mission of claiming manufacturer points for Hyundai – is 3m21.9s ahead of Katsuta’s Toyota in fifth.
Greensmith and the Rally2 cars of Adrien Fourmaux and Eric Camilli complete the top 10.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 11m29.6s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +4.5s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +5.8s
4 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +8.2s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +19.3s
6 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai) +21.7s
Leading positions after SS13
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 2h36m54.9s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +19.7s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m03.7s
4 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2m16.5s
5 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +2m49.5s
6 Katsuta/Barritt (Toyota) +6m11.4s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (Toksport Škoda) +6m31.4s
8 Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondson (M-Sport Ford) +7m37.5s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +8m27.7s
10 Eric Camilli/François-Xavier Buresi (Citroën) +8m55.7s