PHOTO: Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala skates his Volkswagen Polo R across an alpine summit before he retired from Rallye Monte-Carlo on Saturday (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier will start Sunday’s final leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo with a near two-minute lead after his two closest challengers retired during a dramatic afternoon in the French alps.
Although the Frenchman won only one of Saturday’s five speed tests near Gap, he journeyed south to Monaco with a 1min 59.7sec advantage over Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen. Thierry Neuville was 12.5sec back in third in a strong showing for his new-generation Hyundai i20.
Kris Meeke, who twice demoted Ogier from the lead in an exciting opening two legs, retired from second. The Briton hit debris in the penultimate test, holing the sump guard on his DS 3 and damaging the gearbox.
“It’s a shame for Kris as he was very fast this weekend and we had to produce a big performance to stay ahead of him,” said Polo R driver Ogier.
“It was an exciting fight. Now it’s a different rally for me, I just have to concentrate on getting to the finish.”
Third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala slid into a ditch in SS11 and broke the front left suspension arm on his Polo R. He made repairs after the test but had no chance of checking in at the next control in time and called a halt.
There was no Rally 2 service facility available to repair cars in Monaco on Saturday night and so neither Meeke nor Latvala will restart on Sunday.
Mikkelsen dropped over a minute after a bad tyre choice in the morning but recovered to head Neuville by more than a minute. However, the Belgian’s inspired selection of winter tyres for the final two stages ensured victory in both and he closed in.
Modified suspension settings provided a better feeling for Neuville on the slippery and bumpy sections after a difficult opening two days.
Mads Østberg steered clear of trouble to hold fourth in his Ford Fiesta RS, the Norwegian still fine-tuning his pace-note relationship with new co-driver Ola Fløene. He is 2min 13.7sec behind Neuville and more than three minutes clear of Stéphane Lefebvre’s DS 3.
Lefebvre twice spun but headed Bryan Bouffier in sixth before the last stage. However, Bouffier broke the rear left suspension arm on his Ford Fiesta RS and used a ratchet strap to try to hold it together before embarking on the long liaison section to Monaco. He later retired.
Ott Tänak ended the day sixth ahead of Dani Sordo, who lost six minutes with damaged suspension in the opening stage. WRC2 leader Elfyn Evans, Armin Kremer and Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard.
Sunday’s final leg comprises three stages covering 45.50km. Two passes over the 12.07km Col de L’Orme-St Laurent sandwich the 21.35km test from La Bollene Vesubie to Peira Cava. The latter contains the famous Col de Turini, one of the highlights of the WRC season, where huge crowds will gather to watch competitors cross the famous mountain.
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER DAY THREE:
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 3:19:05.7
2. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:59.7
3. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:12.2
4. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:25.9
5. S. Lefebvre / G. Moreau (Citroën DS3 WRC) +7:29.4
6. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:42.3
7. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +10:44.5
8. E. Evans / C. Parry (Ford Fiesta R5) +17:14.5
9. A. Kremer / P. Winklhofer (Škoda Fabia R5) +19:26.4
10. E. Lappi / J. Ferm (Škoda Fabia R5) +19:38.1