Thierry Neuville has taken the lead of Rallye Monte-Carlo from Elfyn Evans with another fastest stage time as Sébastien Ogier began to drift out of ultimate contention.
Neuville reached the end of the La Cabanette / Col de Braus stage emphatically claiming that “it’s not made for a Hyundai this stage.”
But it may not have been made for a Toyota either, as Neuville outpaced Evans by 5.4 seconds and Ogier by 6.5s to lead the rally by four seconds with just two stages left to go.
“To be honest not a good stage for us,” said Neuville before knowing the times of his rivals. “It’s not made for a Hyundai this stage. Our car is too long for the tight corners.
“The conditions were tricky so hopefully the conditions offset this a little but yeah, not happy with this stage.”
Evans knew he may lose time in SS14, but admitted it was hard to know where to push: “I knew in here to be honest when I came to the end that I hadn’t had a great, great stage,” he said.
“So difficult to find the grip. You push in some places then you’re like an inch from the barrier so it’s difficult.”
Ogier’s deficit to rally leader Neuville now stands at 11.2s, meaning he faces the very real prospect of being beaten on his home rally for the first time since 2013.
“We are not really able to have the speed at the moment,” he said, thinly.
Almost three minutes behind the red-hot battle for victory, Esapekka Lappi’s pursuit of Sébastien Loeb finally paid dividends on SS14 as the nine-time world champion made a mistake towards the end of the stage.
Loeb locked up the brakes of his Hyundai and overcooked a tight right-hander, yanking on the handbrake in an attempt to guide the rear round.
The rear of the i20 WRC ended up teetering on the edge of the road but spectators were quick to rush to his aid and get him back into contention.
But a total of 29.1s were dropped, leaving Loeb 16.7s behind in fifth overall.
“Our tires are completely destroyed,” he rued. “I had absolutely no grip at all at the front. I made a little mistake at the hairpin. We had too soft a tire choice [for this loop], not going well.”
Kalle Rovanperä is doing a quietly impressive job in sixth overall on his first WRC rally in the top-flight. On Sunday morning, the 19-year-old experimented with tires in order to gain a larger understanding of how his Yaris WRC behaves.
“[This stage was] not so nice,” he admitted. “It was really difficult on the last stage with three [super-softs] plus one [soft], and this one was really difficult with a soft tyre [too]. We basically knew it [would be difficult with this set-up] but we wanted to try the car [in different conditions].”
Teemu Suninen has continued to make up places in his Ford Fiesta WRC, hounding the Citroen C3 R5s ahead of him.
The M-Sport star is now up to ninth ahead of WRC2 leader Mads Ostberg and could be poised to overhaul WRC3 leader Eric Camilli later in the morning such is his progression. Takamoto Katsuta looks out of reach in seventh, though.
Leading positions after SS14
1 Neuville (Hyundai)
2 Evans (Toyota) +4.0s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +11.2s
4 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +2m56.5s
5 Loeb (Hyundai) +3m13.2s
6 Rovanperä (Toyota) +3m55.9s
7 Katsuta (Toyota) +10m59.0s
8 Camilli (Citroën) +12m30.9s
9 Suninen (M-Sport Ford) +13m13.0s
10 Ostberg (Citroën) +13m15.1s