Ott Tänak suffered a punctured and fell from fifth to a share of eighth place on the Monte Carlo Rally, as Elfyn Evans scored his first stage win of the 2022 World Rally Championship season.
Temperatures on Saturday morning were lower than on Friday, with stages later on the three-test loop expected to be covered by some frost or even snow. That meant tire strategy between the crews varied greatly, which is likely to have a profound effect later in the morning.
Tires ruined Tänak’s morning though but for a different reason. He had been in the thick of the Hyundai/M-Sport squabble from fourth through to seventh positions, but he fell backwards on the first stage on Saturday with a rear-left puncture.
“Since the beginning [of the stage], I had a slow puncture or something so I don’t know [how I got it],” he said.
The time lost dumped him down to eighth overall, dead level with Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä – who was an impressive second-fastest on the stage.
Evans beat Rovanperä by 0.7 seconds despite not feeling particularly happy with his run, suggesting he was “a bit hesitant in places still”.
He was significantly faster than both of the two leaders: Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.
Ogier lost 3.9s to Evans and was downbeat at stage-end, saying: “Not so happy with the car, still fighting with it, the hybrid was not helping me.”
The reigning WRC champion did reduce his deficit to rally leader Loeb to just 6.5s, though, as the M-Sport driver went just seventh fastest on Saturday’s opener.
“It was more difficult today,” said nine-time champion Loeb. “The road is very dirty in our position and I think we paid a little bit with our two super-soft tires, there was lots of movement and understeering.”
Thierry Neuville made his fourth place overall more comfortable by beating both Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith, but the Hyundai driver wasn’t happy.
“Similar as yesterday morning I can’t drive fast, it’s impossible,” said Neuville, who was fined €900 for speeding in the service area on Saturday morning.
“I get a lot of slip and understeer, and we had the radio working in the stage as well so we could hear the other drivers talking.”
Breen, who dropped 1.1s to Neuville, said: “I made some improvements to the car, I definitely feel more confident today. It’s just the same, step-by-step improving with every kilometer.”
Greensmith ended the stage 10.7s behind Breen and 23.2s adrift of Neuville, surviving a close moment with the protective barrier on Saturday morning.
Oliver Solberg was first onto the stage, where the problems he experienced on Thursday and Friday resurfaced together on Saturday morning. Solberg’s cursing of the “f****** s*** intercom” as he crossed the line indicated he wasn’t in a buoyant mood.
“I don’t know why it’s [not working] this morning again,” he added at stage-end.”
Rovanperä therefore moved 25.3s up the road of Solberg in ninth overall, adding 15.2s to his advantage on SS9.
He confessed he found it hard to commit to the pacenotes on this, his first ever pass of Le Fugeret / Thorame-Haute, but his feeling with the GR Yaris Rally1 was at least improving.
Takamoto Katsuta remained over half a minute clear of Rovanperä but dropped 5.6s on SS9. However, he was elevated to seventh following Tänak’s tire woe.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 9m12.8s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +0.7s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota) +3.9s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Waydaeghe (Hyundai) +5s
5 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +6.1s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +6.3s
Leading positions after SS9
1 Sébastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) 1h32m09.1s
2 Ogier/Veillas (Toyota) +6.5s
3 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +14.7s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +45.5s
5 Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +58s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +1m08.7s
7 Katsuta/Johnston (Toyota) +1m34.9s
8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +2m06.2s
9 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +2m06.2s
10 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +2m31.5s