Citroen ace Sebastien Loeb remains on course to take a seventh Rallye-Monte Carlo victory on Saturday after completing the penultimate day of the event with a lead of 1m47s over Sebastien Ogier.
Just three stages comprised today's third leg. The opening St Jean en Royans test in the Vercors region east of Valence preceded the start of the long journey south to Monaco. En route drivers tackled two more stages, including the famous Sisteron, near Digne-les-Bains, bringing today's total to 92.00km.
Last run in 2002, Sisteron is one of the Monte’s most formidable challenges, with a route that includes a bit of everything, from steep climbs and high speed descents to wide open sprints and twisty, technical sections. The route was dry at the beginning and end, but there were five kilometres of rutted ice from the 21km point as the road climbed to the 1308 metre summit of the Col de Fontbelle.
Loeb was first to arrive at the stage end, his Citroen DS3 fitted, like most of the front-runners, with a combination of winter and asphalt tyres. “It was the right decision for sure, but the mix is certainly not the most exciting to drive,” he said. “But we have to do it because I think it’s the best option. Overall I’m very happy with the job we have done today.”
After another impressively trouble-free outing in his Ford Fiesta RS, Evgeny Novikov is third, 1m32.5s behind Ogier. “It’s been a fine day,” the Russian acknowledged. “On this stage I had two studded and two winter tyres. So I made up some time in the ice but we lost a bit at the beginning and the end where it was dry. I’m happy though.”
Citroen DS3 driver Dani Sordo is fourth after a spin earlier in the day, but only 1.7sec adrift of Novikov, setting the scene for a terrific battle for the final podium place tomorrow.
After a frustrating few days, during which he struggled to get a comfortable feeling in his Volkswagen Polo R, Jari-Matti Latvala made a breakthrough on SS13, arriving at the finish in the second fastest time. “Let’s have more like this - a few more Sisterons please!” he grinned. “Now I’m starting to get my confidence. Much better!” The Finn’s performance moved him ahead of Mikko Hirvonen into fifth, 43.3sec behind Sordo.
Hirvonen slipped to sixth, 14.2sec back, and still in the doldrums after another unhappy stage in his Citroen DS3. “Not looking good,” was the Finn’s blunt assessment. “I was really cautious which meant I overheated the brakes because I was on them too much. I lost a lot time at the end. It was a really bad stage.”
Fiesta RS driver Juho Hanninen lies seventh, 56.4sec behind Hirvonen, with Mads Ostberg in an identical car eighth, 1m02.7s further back. Bryan Bouffier is ninth with Martin Prokop completing the top ten.