PHOTO: Kris Meeke climbs through breathtaking scenery on the Les Costes-Chaillol 1 stage on Friday morning (Citroen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier led Rallye Monte-Carlo after Friday’s second leg following an enthralling fight with Kris Meeke in which the lead changed hands three times.
The triple world champion was 9.5sec clear of the Briton after gaining the upper hand in the last of six special stages on mountain and valley roads in the French Alps near Gap, a handful of kilometres from his childhood home.
“It was exciting to have a great battle with Kris. It wasn’t such a bad day, just a small mistake this morning when I touched a bridge and a slow puncture on the left-rear in the final stage,” said the Volkswagen Polo R driver.
After trailing Meeke by 6.9sec overnight, Ogier regained the initiative in Friday morning’s final stage. However, the Citroën DS3 pilot was back ahead after the penultimate test only to succumb to a super finale from Ogier, who claimed the last win by more than nine seconds.
“There must be something in that stage that Seb knows!” joked Meeke, who won two stages to Ogier’s four. “I think he lives about 3km from there, so I’m happy to give him that one.”
Andreas Mikkelsen was third until a high-speed spin in the penultimate stage cost a place and knocked his confidence. He ended 25.7sec behind Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who enjoyed a clean run after Thursday night’s suspension issues. Latvala was almost a minute adrift of Meeke.
Thierry Neuville struggled with handling problems in Hyundai’s new-generation i20 due to suspension that was too soft. However, the Belgian was inside the top five all day, ending 14.0sec behind Mikkelsen.
Mads Østberg was sixth, the Norwegian admitting it was taking time to settle with new co-driver Ola Fløene. A deflated Dani Sordo was seventh, the Spaniard ill at ease with his i20.
A broken anti-roll bar and an unscheduled trip into a field failed to disrupt Citroen’s Stéphane Lefebvre en route to eighth. Bryan Bouffier was ninth in a Ford Fiesta RS, despite hitting a tree in the penultimate stage, and Ott Tänak was 10th after rolling his Fiesta.
Bright sunshine and midday temperatures of 6˚C meant the roads were mainly ice-free and tyre choice was relatively simple.
However, patchy ice caught out Robert Kubica and Kiwi Hayden Paddon, who retired in the opening stage. Kubica slid his Fiesta into a tree and Paddon broke his i20’s suspension after swiping the same obstacle.
Eric Camilli crashed his Fiesta RS out of eighth on his World Rally Car debut and Lorenzo Bertelli also stopped after hitting a wall in his Fiesta. Camilli will not restart tomorrow due to roll cage damage.
Saturday is the longest day with 173.96km packed into five stages. It includes two passes through the marathon 51.55km test from Lardier et Valenca to Faye and the classic Sisteron, before competitors journey south to Monaco.
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER DAY TWO:
- S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 1:29:06.1
- K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +9.5
- J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:08.1
- A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:33.8
- T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:47.8
- M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:18.5
- D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +3:07.8
- S. Lefebvre / G. Moreau (Citroën DS3 WRC) +3:32.0
- B. Bouffier / V. Bellotto (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:18.6
- O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:25.8