Sébastien Ogier has extended his Monte Carlo Rally lead to 11.3 seconds over Elfyn Evans to complete a clean sweep of Friday morning’s stages that were dominated by Toyota.
The Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze – Villebois-les-Pins stage that concluded Friday’s first loop of three tests was more “like a French stage than a Monte-Carlo stage” according to Mads Østberg who was commentating for the WRC’s All Live service.
Despite the slight change in stage characteristics, Ogier was once again quickest on SS5 to round out a very strong morning.
After his cautious start on Thursday’s pair of stages, hampered by a brake pedal issue, Ogier now has a solid lead at the head of the pack.
“I had a good loop, I think I tried my best,” said Ogier. “[I felt] much more confident than yesterday and with brakes of course it’s helping!”
Evans started Friday’s leg ahead of Ogier but leaked time on both SS4 and SS5. He lost 8s on the latter of those, which Evans put down to Ogier’s knowledge of the roads as well as his own cautious approach.
“This is probably a stage he knows quite well in this direction, I haven’t used it before,” Evans said, comparing his run to his team-mate’s. “We were basically too careful on the shiny tar, it was quite difficult there, so not great.”
The third Toyota of Kalle Rovanperä had a disastrous run through SS5, which dropped the Finn from third to fourth.
Rovanperä had led the rally after SS3 before a 10s penalty for checking into the start of SS4 late dropped him behind both Ogier and Evans.
But it got worse on SS5 as he lost 18.5s to stage winner and rally leader Ogier to lie 28.2s behind in arrears. Running fifth on the road, with Ogier running first, appeared to hamper him.
“It was just really, really dirty,” Rovanperä said. “The guys in front have a much cleaner road so there is a lot of smooth gravel on the road for me where I can’t push.”
Ott Tänak finds himself third overall at Rovanperä’s expense, 24.8s adrift of Ogier’s lead, despite beginning Friday at the head of the field.
The Hyundai driver struggled to find the same pace that he did on Thursday’s two stages, and endured “a strange moment on a very fast corner” on SS5 when the rear of his i20 Coupe WRC kicked out on a loose gravel section.
“We are having some kind of surprises and I’m not so happy with that, so it’s a bit so and so,” he said.
His morning was still better than team-mate Thierry Neuville’s, however. Neuville selected three studded tires and three slicks whereas the majority of the field opted for just two studded compounds and four slicks. It was a decision he described as “not the best tire choice”.
While the incorrect Pirelli compound didn’t cost the Belgian too much time on SS3, it pegged him back on SS4 and his cause was hampered further as he revealed at the end of SS5 that his gravel crew wasn’t able to drive through SS4 earlier in the morning “so we had no corrections on the pacenotes”.
A spin on Montauban-sur-l’Ouvèze – Villebois-les-Pins capped it all off, as Neuville surrendered 28s to Ogier to trail by 1m02.7s overall.
Neuville’s tire selection was mimicked by Dani Sordo, whose off-form weekend continued on Friday morning’s final stage. Having lost another 37.8s on the stage, Sordo is now over two minutes adrift of the lead in a lonely sixth overall, 1m02.3s behind his team-mate Neuville in fifth.
“We don’t have the speed,” was his blunt assessment of the situation.
Andreas Mikkelsen leads WRC2 in his Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo, occupying a strong seventh overall despite driving a less powerful machine.
Adrien Fourmaux is second in class and eighth overall, 23.8s behind Mikkelsen, having outpaced the class leader by 1.5s on SS5 in his Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Gus Greensmith chose a softer compound of slick tire for the loop than his Rally1 rivals but later confessed it wasn’t the correct move, describing the error as a “lesson learned”. The M-Sport driver has been sapped of any confidence throughout Friday morning.
After five of the Monte Carlo Rally’s 14 stages, Greensmith is 11th, 17.6s behind Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta and 21s behind Pierre-Louis Loubet, who described his SS5 as a “disaster”.
“I’m glad we do this one only once!” added Loubet, who is 7.8s behind his compatriot Fourmaux despite driving a quicker 2C Competition Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 13m35.8s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +8s
3 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +12.1s
4 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +18.5s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +28s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +37.8s
Leading positions after SS5
1 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) 1h05m47.9s
2 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +11.3s
3 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +24.8s
4 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +28.2s
5 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m02.7s
6 Sordo/del Barrio (Hyundai) +2m05s
7 Mikkelsen/Floene (Toksport Škoda) +3m32.1s
8 Fourmaux/Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +3m55.9s
9 Loubet/Landais (2C Competition Hyundai) +4m03.7s
10 Katsuta/Barritt (Toyota) +4m07.1s