Thierry Neuville has taken the lead of Rallye Monte-Carlo for Hyundai and the Belgian heads archrival and reigning FIA World Rally champion Sebastien Ogier (Citroen) by 3.4 seconds after only two of the three Friday morning stages ran. Ott Tanak, who took the early advantage in the WRC season opener, has dropped to third, 13.5 seconds further adrift.
More fresh challenges laid in wait on today’s longest day, which was scheduled to cover two loops of three stages. However, the day’s opener ended up being canceled for safety reasons. Neuville fared well, second fastest through the two stages to climb from third into the lead, despite nearly puncturing on a worn tire.
The cancellation of SS3 didn’t work entirely in Ogier’s favor tire-wise, but the Frenchman kept up the pace and then set fastest time in the final stage of the loop to marginally close the gap to Neuville. Tanak was not on the optimum rubber for the two stages that ran and fell 16.9 seconds off the lead.
Sebastien Loeb was a driver to benefit and the Frenchman set his first fastest time in a Hyundai on the first stage, despite a late puncture. He jumped from eighth to fourth but dropped a little time in the final stage when mud and gravel dragged onto the roads by cars ahead made it a stage of survival for him.
Andreas Mikkelsen felt his Hyundai’s setup was potentially not perfect but has had a good morning and has climbed from an overnight ninth to fifth. Jari-Matti Latvala suffered with overheating tires in the first stage but finally felt relaxed at the wheel at the end of the loop. He is sixth and just 2.2 seconds adrift of Mikkelsen.
Esapekka Lappi also wasn’t on ideal rubber but the Finn is feeling good in the C3 WRC and is also within striking distance of Latvala. In a close group, Elfyn Evans is just 3.3 seconds further behind with fellow Briton Kris Meeke also chasing. Meeke lost boost in the final stage, the radiator clogged with leaves, but he too is in the battle with a group of drivers ahead. Pontus Tidemand rounds out the top 10.
Gus Greensmith continues to lead the FIA WRC 2 Pro Championship category, despite losing the brakes at one point, although rival Kalle Rovanpera set the pace through both the morning’s stages. In WRC 2, Yoann Bonato won both stages to maintain his lead in the category ahead of Adrien Fourmaux and Guillaume de Mevius, who picked up a puncture in the first stage.