TWO PEUGEOTS LEAD THE RALLYE MONTE-CARLO
Following Wednesday's action-packed leg, the second day of the 2009 Rallye Monte Carlo has provided further drama and surprises. Although several Peugeot 207 Super 2000 runners had a difficult start to the morning, Sebastien Ogier and Freddy Loix succeeded in inheriting first and second places when Skoda's Juho Hanninen dropped time with a puncture on the today's final stage.
Leg 2's programme featured two attempts at a loop of three stages and, once again, the main topic of conversation at the early morning service halt was tyres. With the first test reported to be essentially frosty, the second entirely snowy and the third almost dry, it wasn't easy for the drivers to select the ideal compromise.
The first stage of the day lived up to the event's reputation as one of the world's most difficult rallies when Stephane Sarrazin made a mistake at the wheel of his Peugeot France/Peugeot France dealer network-backed 207 Super 2000 and lost more than four minutes. Meanwhile, Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg) picked up a puncture seven kilometres from the finish and was forced to fit a non-studded tyre for the following, snowy stage. The second attempt at the same stage in the afternoon saw the reigning IRC champion go off and retire.
Despite his earlier disappointment, Sarrazin had no intention of throwing in the towel and went on to put in a first class run in the afternoon. Fastest times on SS7 and SS9 handed him the best aggregate time for today's second loop thanks to his particularly well-founded choice of rain tyres. Young Sebastien Ogier chose the same tyres for the repeat visit. Having had just two days to familiarise himself with the 207 Super 2000, the Monte Carlo rookie and BFGoodrich Drivers Team representative put in a remarkably mature run to post top-five times on each of today's six stages. That consistency has promoted him to the top of tonight's provisional leaderboard, more than 32 seconds clear of Freddy Loix and almost 55 seconds ahead of Juho Hanninen.
Peugeot Belgium-Luxemburg's Freddy Loix has also enjoyed a consistent run so far. He is still hunting for his first fastest time of the event, but his faultless drive and 'safe' tyre choices have taken him to second overall in tonight's standings.
Peugeot UK's Kris Meeke is fourth despite a mistake on SS6 which resulted in him finishing the stage on a rim and losing valuable seconds.
News of the other Peugeot 207 Super 2000s: Tobia Cavallini (Racing Lions) is 14th, 13m 12s off the lead, while Slovenia's Andrej Jereb has retired.
Tonight's top-four namely Ogier (Peugeot), Loix (Peugeot), Hanninen (Skoda) and Meeke (Peugeot) are covered by less than a minute this evening, and tomorrow's finale promises to be particularly thrilling, especially since rain is expected for all five stages, including the two visits to the legendary Col du Turini which will be shown live on Eurosport.
Sebastien OGIER: "It would have been difficult to pass Hanninen in normal circumstances. I had a puncture yesterday, too, and I had a technical problem today when my gearshift lever broke on this morning's second stage. That resulted in me going off and losing something like 20 seconds. I won't be able to take my eye off the ball an instant tomorrow because the others are hard on my heels. The first stage takes place practically in my own back garden, but I have never covered it competitively. It's nice to be leading the Rallye Monte-Carlo at first attempt, but I am acutely aware that there is still one third of the event to come..."
Stephane SARRAZIN: "I was a little too cautious down one steep downhill section which my ice-note crews had told me was very icy. My engine stalled and I slid off into a ditch. Thankfully, the spectators succeeded in getting me back on the road but the incident easily cost me four minutes. I managed to post two fastest times from three this afternoon and my car is performing really well, so anything is still possible..."
Nicolas VOUILLOZ: "Maybe I haven't been good at coping with the pressure on this rally and it's been something of a non-event for us. Yesterday we went off and punctured, and we punctured again on this morning's first stage, although we don't really know why. We knew we were no longer in the running for victory after that because we were forced to use a non- studded tyre on the snow on SS5 and we didn't have any brakes. On the second loop, I got my braking wrong, hit a bank and bent a rear track rod. We succeeded in making repairs but we went OTL and weren't able to start the next stage."
Freddy LOIX: "Today's conditions were very difficult but typical of the Rallye Monte-Carlo. This is my first time on snow and ice in the 207 and the event has gone well so far. We haven't made any mistakes and we have succeeded in keeping out of trouble to climb up the order. Our aim tomorrow will be to defend second place."
Kris MEEKE: "I am pleased with my day despite my mistake this morning. We ended the stage on the rim but we're still in the rally. Given the conditions and how much drama there has been so far, anything can still happen. We will see how it goes..."