As ever, the opening two stages of this year’s Monte Carlo Rally have thrown up their fair share of challenges.
The first stage of the new World Rally Championship season, La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini, was relatively stable in terms of conditions – a salty section on the rise to the famous Col de Turini aside.
But the rally’s second stage, La Cabanette / Col de Castillon, proved far more challenging with one particularly icy corner reeking havoc for the crews
As last year’s world champion Kalle Rovanperä was the first to discover it, and was lucky to avoid a major moment as he lost the rear of his Toyota and nudged a bank before continuing on his way.
Others, though, didn’t get away with it. Take Thierry Neuville for example, who was the highest profile victim as he slid off the edge of the corner and lost what might have been a stage victory.
Neuville’s route note crew hadn’t spotted the ice, and that’s what ultimately led to him sliding off.
“I was completely surprised,” he said. “We got caught out and we lost six/seven seconds.”
Ott Tänak best described the peril of discovering an icy corner in the dark: “I would say the tricky part at the moment is the slippy places are not so obvious,” he said.
“We don’t have any snow and also like we had on the second one now it’s just like black ice but on Tarmac with the lights you can’t see where it is so it’s tricky.
“For tomorrow, overnight if we get some humidity you can get some frost and ice and it’s fingers crossed that the gravel guys will find all these places.
“Otherwise it can be a big surprise. I think all three stages will be tricky tomorrow.”
Esapekka Lappi didn’t have this black ice noted in his pacenotes either, but as the eighth car on the stage he therefore started SS2 21 minutes after first on the road Rovanperä.
Live TV pictures had revealed that there were some dangerous corners and Lappi therefore received that intel, but he believes this actually left him “f*****”.
He told DirtFish: “On the second stage there was one icy corner which we didn’t have on the notes.
“I got the warning before the stage and then I was f**** – where is the corner?,” Lappi chuckled.
“It’s not the easiest way to find it, and then we lost a lot of time because I was expecting it to be in many places and then I was way too slow in these places where you could have actually gone much faster.”
Sébastien Ogier had no such worries. He said starting further back allowed him to see the lines where the others had drifted off. Ogier leads the rally by six seconds overnight.
“Yeah, I am happy with that,” he said.
“Obviously being in the lead is a real positive. I think Elfyn had a very good start too. He’s not far behind, so it’s very positive for us.
“It was kind of consistent condition tonight so it helped for sure to get the feeling straight away and be able to push. But still there was some more difficult sections like at the end of stage one on top of Turini, there was a lot of salt on the roads so pretty slippery conditions.
“Also, this icy corner on stage two, it was very surprising that nobody expected, but at least we benefited starting a couple of cars back as I could see a bit the line and even got the info before I started.
“So it was helping me not to do a mistake there. So yeah so far so good.”
But with three days to go, Ogier is aware the challenge has only just begun.
“Tomorrow is a long day without service so that’s always a challenge too,” he said. “We have to see what conditions we get. That’s the thing.
“It looks like tonight is going to be quite cold and probably the morning too. So at the moment, most of the roads look pretty dry, but like we’ve seen tonight it can develop sometimes some tricky places.
“So yeah hopefully we will get the right info tomorrow morning when we make the tire choice.”