SNOW PUTS THE BALL BACK IN THE COURT OF THE PEUGEOT 207 SUPER 2000 RUNNERS
Today's snow didn't come as a surprise. However, when it did eventually blow in over the route of the 2011 Rallye Monte-Carlo, it succeeded in turning the provisional order on its head. With one leg remaining, five Peugeot 207 Super 2000s figure in the tonight's top-seven, including two cars at the top of the leaderboard which is led by Peugeot France's Bouffier/Panseri.
The Rallye Monte-Carlo true to tradition!
This may be the event's centenary edition, but the 2011 Rallye Monte- Carlo is turning out to be as incredible as ever! As was the case on Wednesday, today's first two stages were entirely dry and had little influence on the sharp end of the leaderboard, other than the fact that they saw the 207 S2000 of Solberg/Patterson ease into second spot, although still 50 second adrift of the early leader Hanninen.
At 2pm, the news reached the service park that it was snowing on the stages. Some teams had difficulty believing in this sudden shift in the conditions and tyre choices amongst the front-runners ranged from slicks to studded snow tyres!
Peugeot's different drivers went for different options, with Petter Solberg choosing intermediates, while Stephane Sarrazin, Bryan Bouffier and Guy Wilks all opted for non-studded snow tyres.
The Peugeot 207 S2000 in front
The first part of the day's penultimate test was damp, but the layer of snow became deeper and deeper as the stage climbed in altitude. The fastest time was the work of Bryan Bouffier whose tyre choice helped to put him in the overall lead, ahead of Stephane Sarrazin, while the morning's principal pace-setters fell back dramatically, with Hanninen and Solberg both having chosen the same rubber.
"How could I have guessed that the conditions would change to that extent?" quizzed the Norwegian driver. "I went straight on once and then span and clipped a rock, but I survived!"
The awesome conditions produced a cascade of errors, and the new leader Bryan Bouffier was no exception. "When I performed my double spin at high speed on the second snowy stage, the thought immediately passed through my head that my rally was over! At the service halt before the final loop, I insisted on having two studded snow tyres put in the boot as spares. I put them on the front for the second stage and they gave me the grip and traction I needed."
Two Peugeot 207 Super 2000s in the lead ahead of the final leg
Francois Delecour, who is competing in a privately-entered Peugeot 207 Super 2000, was the only top driver to choose studded tyres all-round at the service halt. "I saw an opportunity and I grabbed it. Situations like this afternoon put the accent on the driving. Given my position, it was worth taking a gamble," beamed the former Monte winner who profited from the afternoon's two stages to move up from eighth to second place, less than 30 seconds behind Peugeot France's Bouffier.
Two other Peugeot drivers, Guy Wilks and Stephane Sarrazin, follow in fourth and fifth places this evening. "I am pleased with my position," admitted the Briton. "I was on non-studded snow tyres, so I preferred not to take any risks. To help my chances in the 2011 IRC, the main thing for me here is to reach the finish."
Sarrazin/Renucci dropped a little ground on Thursday's last stage, but others lost much bigger chunks of time simply trying to stay on the road. Another 207 privateer, Jean-Sebastien Vigion, for example, lost more than a quarter of an hour struggling through on slicks! Of the 13207 Super 2000s that started the second day, 11 succeeded in reaching this evening's parc ferme ahead of the third and final leg which promises to provide a particularly thrilling fight.