Rallye Monte-Carlo master Sébastien Ogier escaped an uncharacteristic second error to remain on target for a fifth consecutive WRC win on Friday night.
He spun his Ford Fiesta into a ditch on Friday’s penultimate speed test and watched his lead of almost 40sec dwindle as fans manhandled it back onto rain-soaked mountain roads in the French Alps.
The incident followed a previous spin on an icy bend during a crazy opening night of the four-day event on Thursday, but the reigning champion still led this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 14.9sec from Ott Tänak.
“It was a difficult day but we’re here and still leading,” said Ogier. “It would have been better without the spin, we would have been a minute ahead. Tomorrow must be better.”
Tänak climbed from fifth overnight, but lacked the confidence to push hard in the heavy rain on his Toyota Gazoo Racing debut. Driving a Yaris, the Estonian won two of the day’s six speed tests and was one of three drivers to take on the mantle of Ogier’s closest pursuer.
Andreas Mikkelsen, second overnight, conceded the position after overshooting a junction in the opening stage before retiring on the following liaison section with a broken alternator in his Hyundai i20.
Team-mate Dani Sordo moved up but fell back to third, after a mix-up in tyre selection and a misted windscreen delayed the Spaniard. He ended 59.7sec behind Tänak.
Toyota’s Finns, Esapekka Lappi and Jari-Matti Latvala, were fourth and fifth to complete an impressive showing by the Japanese manufacturer. Lappi trailed Sordo by 10.2sec and was just 0.2sec ahead of his colleague, who struggled with understeer this morning.
Kris Meeke was a lonely sixth, the Northern Ireland driver 1min 35.4sec further back in his Citroën C3 and admitting he needed those ahead to hit problems to give him any chance of climbing higher.
Bryan Bouffier was seventh ahead of fellow M-Sport Ford driver Elfyn Evans, who won two stages as he recovered from a time-consuming puncture on Thursday night.
Thierry Neuville, who dropped more than four minutes on Thursday after sliding into a snow bank, climbed to ninth in his i20. The Belgian has set himself the target of a top-six finish.
Craig Breen was a deflated 10th, the Irishman losing more than three minutes on Friday morning with a brake problem in his C3.
Saturday’s drivers will face two identical loops of two stages north of Gap before a repeat of Thursday night’s Bayons – Breziers test. After 117.55km of action, they make the long journey south to Monaco ahead of Sunday’s finale in the mountains above the Principality.
1. S Ogier FRA Ford Fiesta 2hr 07min 15.4sec
2. O Tänak EST Toyota Yaris + 14.9sec
3. D Sordo SPN Hyundai i20 + 59.7sec
4. E Lappi FIN Toyota Yaris + 1min 09.9sec
5. J-M Latvala FIN Toyota Yaris +1min 10.1sec
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull Media