Sébastien Ogier vaulted past both of his Toyota World Rally Championship team-mates Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä to lead the 2021 Monte Carlo Rally after four stages.
Ogier was the quickest driver on Friday morning’s opening stage to move himself into third place, and continued his climb up the leaderboard on the following Chalancon – Gumiane test.
The seven-time world champion started SS4 7.9 seconds behind his young team-mate Rovanperä and 5.7s in arrears of Evans but found himself at the head of the pack at the end of it.
Ogier was 7.6s quicker than next-best Rovanperä, which should have placed him 0.3s behind in second place, but the reigning champion leads the rally as Rovanperä picked up a 10s penalty for checking into the start of the stage one minute late.
“We had a problem with the car before the stage and we couldn’t make it to the time control in time,” confirmed Rovanperä, who is now 9.7s shy of the lead.
“It’s building a little bit better the feeling,” said new rally leader Ogier. “I tried my best and the end of the stage, the last five kilometers are very enjoyable, very nice.”
Evans was jumped by Ogier but passed Rovanperä to remain second overall, 3.3s behind Ogier’s lead. However he lost 9s on SS4 which caused some concern.
“[There was] nothing really wrong, it didn’t feel like such a bad run,” Evans said. “It was really slippy in the middle so maybe [I was] a bit too careful.”
Ott Tänak won both of Thursday’s two stages to lead the rally overnight but slipped to fourth place on Friday morning’s opener. That trend continued on Chalancon – Gumiane as he dropped 11.9s to stage winner Ogier, putting him 12.7s behind overall.
When asked if he was surprised by the time loss, the Hyundai driver said: “I don’t know. Generally [it was an] OK stage [but the] engine is a problem in the hairpins, we always lose boost.”
Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe’s partnership is now four stages old, and the Hyundai pair continue to occupy fifth position overall.
Running three studded tires and one slick, Neuville’s i20 Coupe WRC appeared to be snaking around a lot in the drier conditions SS4 presented than the previous test where that compound choice was more effective.
It wasn’t a particularly strong stage time for last year’s Monte winner, who dropped 28.3s to Ogier to now lie over half a minute adrift of the rally lead.
“The roads are getting dirtier as you can see the tires are dropping,” Neuville said, before admitting “I did the maximum with the tire I have”.
The third Hyundai of Dani Sordo was in a similar situation to Neuville, and sixth-placed Sordo confessed “I was sideways all the time in the corners” declaring: “Honestly it’s very difficult to drive like this.”
The Spaniard finds himself in no man’s land on the leaderboard, 52.5s down on Neuville but more than a minute clear of the WRC2 fight behind him for seventh place.
That scrap is currently headed by Andreas Mikkelsen, who put some distance between himself and M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux on SS4, outpacing him by 15.1s.
Fourmaux said he “decided to push less” on the stage as “the rally is long so it’s easy to make mistakes”.
Pierre-Louis Loubet, Gus Greensmith and Takamoto Katsuta are all separated by just 2.2s in ninth, 10th and 11th overall respectively; but none of the Rally1 drivers are happy.
Loubet felt he was “too careful everywhere”, Greensmith said he was “just not driving well at all”, while Katsuta confessed “I have not so much confidence”.
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 13m36.8s
2 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +7.6s
3 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +9s
4 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +11.9s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +28.3s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +32.6s
Leading positions after SS4
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 52m12.1s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +3.3s
3 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +9.7s
4 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +12.7s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +34.7s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +1m27.2s
7 Mikkelsen/Floene (Toksport Škoda) +2m34.8s
8 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +3m00.1s
9 Loubet/Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +3m24.5s
10 Greensmith/Edmondson (M-Sport Ford) +3m25.7s