Kalle Rovanperä now leads the Monte Carlo Rally, with his World Rally Championship team-mates Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier both also overhauling the Hyundai of Ott Tänak to form a Toyota 1-2-3.
While the Monte Carlo Rally started on Thursday afternoon as opposed to the evening due to French coronavirus curfew rules, Friday morning’s opening Aspremont – La Bâtie-des-Fonts stage was an early affair and therefore ensured there would be night stages on this year’s Monte.
Though the stage started relatively flat and dry, as the elevation increased there were treacherously icy sections that first man on the road Ogier declared was “much different than during the recce” so “we had to trust a lot the info from the gravel crew”.
Ogier, who was hampered on Thursday’s pair of stages with a brake pedal that was occasionally going to the floor, felt he was “definitely too safe” on SS3 but added: “Let’s see.”
The reigning World Rally Champion was correct to await his rival’s stage times, as he stopped the clocks with the quickest time of all, 2.7s faster than Evans, to promote himself from fifth to third.
New rally leader Rovanperä lost 5.7s to seven-time Monte winner Ogier on SS3 and 3s to Evans’ Yaris, but holds a slender 2.2s lead with Ogier 7.9s in arrears overall.
“It’s going quite nicely,” said Rovanperä. “I made one stall on the hairpin so I lost a few seconds there but otherwise it was good.”
Tänak headed into Friday’s leg 3.3s clear of Rovanperä at the head of the field and was the only driver to have won a stage on Thursday. But his stranglehold was broken by Ogier on SS3 as Tänak slithered to a time 17.7s slower than his rival. He is now 0.8s behind Ogier overall, but unfazed.
“Just in the ice I was careful but we are here so it’s important,” was his end-of-stage assessment.
Tänak’s Hyundai team-mates Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo both selected a slightly different mix of Pirelli tires for Friday’s first three stages, choosing three slick and three studded tires while the rest of the Rally1 field took four softs and two studs.
Neither were quite able to make it work, as Neuville dropped 7.3s and Sordo 28.8s to the stage winner. Neuville was more content with his lot as he continues to adjust to his new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.
“It was OK,” he said. “We did the stage on our rhythm. Obviously I have a different tire choice but I wasn’t able to take the maximum out of it.”
Sordo meanwhile, who was suspicious of a strange noise coming from his i20’s differential on Thursday afternoon, admitted he had “zero, zero confidence”.
“It’s so difficult to calculate the speed in the corners,” the sixth-placed driver said. “The car is OK but we drive really, really bad.”
Andreas Mikkelsen continues to lead WRC2 and is now up to seventh at the expense of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who Mikkelsen managed to catch on the road by the end of the test.
Loubet was a full 57.2s slower than Mikkelsen and fell to 10th place overall behind three Rally2 cars. Adrien Fourmaux is eighth, second in WRC2 and just 10.2s shy of Mikkelsen’s class lead, with 34.2s in hand on third-placed Nikolay Gryazin.
Mikkelsen said: “I was a bit unconcentrated when I catch Loubet I started to look at him and didn’t listen to the pacenotes too well but that’s OK. Tricky stage!”
Fourmaux, who dropped 1.3s to Mikkelsen on the stage, added: “It’s really nice to drive in the dark now but the stage was really, really tricky honestly.
“But it’s nice to drive and the day I think will be very long so we need to stay focused. We are not so far on this stage so I’m happy, that’s good.”
The sole-surviving M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC of Gus Greensmith is 11th overall, 2m50.2s shy of the lead, and remains ahead of Takamoto Katsuta’s Toyota Yaris WRC – though only 0.1s separates the pair in the overall classification.
Loubet is 5.2s up on Greensmith in his 2C Competition Hyundai.
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 14m00.9s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +2.7s
3 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +5.7s
4 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +7.3s
5 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +17.7s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +28.8s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 38m27.4s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +2.2s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +7.9s
4 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +8.7s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +14.3s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +1m02.5s
7 Mikkelsen/Floene (Toksport Škoda) +1m58.3s
8 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +2m08.5s
9 Gryazin/Aleksandrov (Movisport SRL Volkswagen) +2m42.7s
10 Loubet/Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +2m45s