PHOTO: Andreas Mikkelsen races his Polo R through a French village (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier ended Friday’s intriguing second leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo with a comfortable lead after a mistake by Sebastien Loeb concluded a thrilling duel between the two world champions.
Loeb’s mistake broke his Citroen DS3’s rear-left suspension and handed Ogier a 1min 45.4sec advantage in his Volkswagen Polo R over teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, with Andreas Mikkelsen completing a 1-2-3 for the German squad after climbing from seventh on the aftnernoon stages. He is 49.4sec behind Latvala.
Frenchmen Loeb and Ogier traded times in a topsy-turvy day through six stages in the mountains north of Gap.
Overnight leader Loeb doubled his advantage to almost 30sec in icy conditions in the morning’s opening stage. But as the sun thawed the roads, Ogier took advantage of an early position in the start order to reduce the gap to 3.0sec as Loeb struggled for grip.
Ogier moved ahead in the penultimate stage when Loeb lost a handful of seconds after spinning at a hairpin. Then Loeb skidded on ice and hit a rock midway through the final stage and dropped six minutes limping out, eventually stopping for good in the following liaison section.
Crews faced extremely variable and difficult conditions when choosing their combinations of soft slick, studded and winter tyres. Surfaces on the three special stages, each of which was tackled in the morning and afternoon, alternated constantly between wet asphalt, snow and ice, with thick fog adding to the hazard.
“It was a tough day with extremely difficult conditions,” Ogier said.
“The duel with Sébastien Loeb was not only thrilling for the fans, but was also exciting for Julien (Ingrassia, co-driver) and me in the cockpit.
“Whilst he had the advantage on one stage, I was able to make up ground on the next. In the end it proved important that I never lost my cool, even despite the gap early on.
“Loeb’s crash on the final stage is obviously a shame for many rally fans, as it means our duel for the lead is over. However, despite our lead, the next couple of days will be anything but easy.”
Ott Tanak impressed on his M-Sport Ford debut and is fourth overnight, while Mads Østberg climbing from eighth to fifth in the final kilometres in a DS3.
Elfyn Evans was frustrated with his afternoon tyre choice and dropped more seconds with a spin in SS6 as he slipped to sixth.
Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo are seventh and eighth, with Martin Prokop and Henning Solberg completing the top 10.
Kris Meeke also fell foul of the last stage when he broke is DS3’s rear-left suspension but, unlike teammate Loeb, Meeke was unable to exit the stage.
Robert Kubica was well down the order after electrical issues on Thursday night but the Pole showed great pace to win three of the Friday stages. But he was another final-stage victim, going off the road before puncturing later after hitting a tree.
Saturday’s third leg comprises four stages, including the marathon 51.70km from Lardier et Valença to Faye. Competitors face 128.41km of action as they journey south to Monaco, arriving in the Principality at 18.58 to prepare for the final day on Sunday.