On the same stage he crashed out on 12 months ago, Ott Tänak suffered another nightmare run to drift outside the top 10 as Sébastien Ogier continues to lead the Monte Carlo Rally ahead of his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.
It was almost completely white on SS10 as the predicted overnight snowfall created a stage which, ironically, may have been a welcome sight for the crews as despite the lack of grip the conditions were at least more predictable than patchy ice.
There were demons to lay bare for Tänak but it would appear his Saint-Clément – Freissinières curse hasn’t been lifted.
While there was no accident in 2021 for the 2019 World Rally Champion, his performance was a disaster. Stopping twice on the stage, the Hyundai driver gave up almost nine minutes – being passed by both Ogier and Evans on the test.
A rear-left tire problem was what cost Tänak dear. With only five tires aboard his Hyundai and one punctured on the previous test, it was an absolute disaster for Tänak and he is now in 14th place.
It wasn’t a smooth run for the rally leader Ogier either though, who lost 42.2 seconds to Tänak’s team-mate Thierry Neuville who was quickest by far on the stage and took his first stage win with new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.
Despite still not “feeling comfortable” in his Hyundai, the amount of time Neuville pulled out on his rivals on SS10 has brought him to within 1.4s of the podium places.
“We did a better stage than the first one definitely, we had a much better rhythm in the car,” Neuville said. “I’m hesitating too much but I’m trying to be efficient at least.”
Ogier’s 42s loss to Neuville wasn’t of too much significance to him as the ice got more polished for cars further down the road order, and he said: “I hope I don’t lose 42s to Elfyn, that’s the most important!”
The Frenchman actually outpaced Evans by 3.9s to extend his lead to 14.3s. Evans had been marginally ahead through most of the splits but stalled at a hairpin towards the end of the test which ultimately cost him the chance to take a swipe at his team-mate.
“It was just very difficult in there,” Evans said.
“It felt maybe a bit too careful everywhere but it’s difficult to find the right balance in these conditions,” he added, echoing his thoughts from earlier in the rally.
Kalle Rovanperä was mystified to have seen his advantage in the third Toyota on the podium eroded so dramatically by Neuville, telling stage-end reporters “the rhythm was quite good” so “I don’t know why the time is like that”.
Dani Sordo’s lonely drive continued on Saturday’s second of three stages; the Spaniard felt “I didn’t really have good information” from his gravel crew about the surface changes on the test.
“I was not really well here,” he rued. “I was feeling in the car it was not good.”
He is however up to fifth place following Tänak’s stop.
Despite Sordo’s pessimism, he had reason to smile as he completed a Hyundai 1-2-3 on the stage with Pierre-Louis Loubet stopping the clocks second quickest as the first man on the road.
Loubet “didn’t take too many risks in the fast sections” but lost just 12s to Neuville’s benchmark in his 2C Competition-run car. It was good enough to propel him back into the top 20 following his stage seven retirement.
Takamoto Katsuta is up to sixth place in the fourth Toyota, overhauling WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen who confessed to taking it carefully on the stage with grip levels he described as “constantly low.”
M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith was down in the dumps once again though, despite also rising up the classification: “To be honest it felt like I was driving a pretty good weekend, but the time’s shocking! Sums up this weekend.”
Tänak’s puncture, as well as one for Adrien Forumaux, elevated him to eighth position as Fourmaux dropped to ninth, now just 15.6s ahead of Citroën-driving Eric Camilli in what is now a tight battle for second in WRC2.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 16m28.3s
2 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +12.0s
3 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai) +14.0s
4 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +24.2s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +30.6s
6 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +42.2s
Leading positions after SS10
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 2h04m31.6s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin +14.3s
3 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +50.3s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +51.7s
5 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +1m33.2s
6 Katsuta/Barritt (Toyota) +4m27.6s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene (Toksport Škoda) +4m46.3s
8 Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondson (M-Sport Ford) +5m43.4s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +7m14.6s
10 Eric Camilli/François-Xavier Buresi (Citroën) +7m29.6s