PHOTO: Ogier is on the cusp of a memorable win for M-Sport (M-Sport pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier will start the final stages of the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo today on the cusp of a memorable win for himself, his new M-Sport team and their new Ford Fiesta.
Thierry Neuville had never been headed since Thursday night’s start, but an impact midway through the final speed test of Saturday broke his Hyundai i20 Coupe’s rear-left suspension and handed the advantage to Ogier.
The Frenchman was 47.1sec ahead of Ford Fiesta teammate Ott Tänak, with just four tests in the mountains above Monaco standing between the four-time world champion and victory. It would be the fourth-straight Monte win for Ogier, a debut win for the Fiesta and M-Sport’s first WRC event win since 2012.
Jari-Matti Latvala’s third place for Toyota, 1min 33.5sec behind Tänak, also was significant. The world’s biggest car maker is returning to the sport after 17 years and also debuting its Yaris WRC and the popular Finn as its new lead driver.
Conditions on Saturday were extremely varied, with snow-covered, muddy, wet and dry roads.
Neuville extended his lead to more than a minute the morning and although Ogier clawed back a few seconds, the Belgian remained firmly en route to a maiden Monte-Carlo triumph.
Ogier drove on – and over – the limit all day. He understeered into a field and later clipped a bank.
“Thierry has driven a great rally, with fantastic speed. To drive the whole of Monte-Carlo in these conditions at that speed is a hard challenge. Monte-Carlo is a rally where you need luck. I wished him no bad luck, he did a great job,” Ogier said.
Neuville worked furiously to make repairs and limped to the finish having lost more than 30 minutes and plunging to 15th.
“It was quite a slow left corner and on the exit the rear went wide and I hit something. I don’t know what,” he said.
Tänak had a new gearbox fitted but it started to select gears on its own. His power steering failed at the same time, but the Estonian fixed the issues and he comfortably held off Latvala.
An over-aggressive approach on this morning’s dry roads cost the Finn time on the following snow-covered sections as his studded tyres lost their edge.
Craig Breen climbed to fourth in a Citroën C3 when Dani Sordo dropped a minute in the final stage when broken power steering sent his Hyundai off the road.
The gap between them is 16.9sec. Elfyn Evans was in stunning form in his Fiesta, winning three stages to climb to sixth.
Kris Meeke’s difficult debut with the Citroen C3 continued. Returning to competition after going out on Friday, he had an ignition failure on SS10 and cam in 38th at the end of the day.
But worse was to come – the Citroen was hit by another vehicle during the road liaison to the relocated service park in Monte-Carlo. The collision damaged the rear-right wheel and Meeke was forced to retire from the rest of the weekend.
Sunday’s finale includes a double ascent of the famous Col de Turini, one of the season’s iconic landmarks. Two loops of two stages make 53.72km of action, with bonus points available to the fastest five drivers in the final Power Stage.
Overall classification after Day 3:
1. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3:26:10.7
2. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.1
3. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:20.6
4. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen DS3 WRC) +3:47.3
5. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai 120 Coupe WRC) +4:03.2
6. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +7:27.2
7. Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Škoda Fabia R5) +9:15.2
8. Jan Kopecky / Pavel Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5) +12:34.4
9. Bryan Bouffier / Denis Giraudet (Ford Fiesta R5) +14:41.9
10. Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (Škoda Fabia R5) +14:59.3