Sebastien Loeb remained firmly in control of Rallye Monte-Carlo after today’s second leg. The 38-year-old Frenchman extended his overnight advantage over Sebastien Ogier from 1min 20.3sec to 1min 34.8sec in his Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3.
Loeb won two stages, opening his account on the first test this afternoon and ending the leg by winning the final test by just 0.5sec from Volkswagen Motorsport’s Ogier.
Competitors tackled two identical loops of three stages in the northern Ardeche and Haute Loire regions north-west of Valence. The 132.50km of asphalt was covered by deep snow and hard-packed ice, although conditions became rutted during the second pass. Temperatures were bitter and a biting wind made the -11°C recorded this morning feel like -30°C.
“We kept the lead that we had this morning and that was the main goal for the day. The penultimate stage in St Bonnet was full of snow and offered really nice conditions. But this last test was a bit rough, with a lot of cuts and just one line through the ice,” said an unflustered Loeb.
There are still two days to go but we’re happy with the car.
“I don’t care about him. You need to get that into your minds!” said the Polo R pilot. “There are still two days to go but we’re happy with the car. We’ve had no problems at all so we’ll cross our fingers and try to preserve second.”
Dani Sordo and Evgeny Novikov are engrossed in an exciting battle for third. Both displaced Mikko Hirvonen from a podium place, while Novikov also saw off Jari-Matti Latvala as he climbed from sixth to fourth, 15.2sec behind Sordo.
Sordo and Novikov were fourth and fifth through the final test, although the Spaniard was not so happy as his Citroen DS3 arrived at the finish. “It’s a good battle but I didn’t have a good feeling in this stage and the time wasn’t so good. The stages continue to be difficult tomorrow, but I’m really looking forward to Sisteron (SS13),” he explained.
Novikov took full advantage of a brand new set of studded tyres to win the final two stages of the morning in his Fiesta RS for the Qatar M-Sport squad. The Russian promised to continue to attack tomorrow.
Fifth and sixth were Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, both somewhat subdued at the wheel of a Citroen DS3 and Volkswagen Polo R respectively. The pair are separated by 20.5sec.
“It has been a really difficult day,” admitted Hirvonen. “It’s not so often that I feel as bad after a day, but I’ve been really struggling and I’m not happy.”
Latvala was not quite as crestfallen, but far from content. “I’ve had fewer problems today but I’m not happy with my times. It’s not been a positive day in that sense. I have an idea of what to change and I hope it works,” he said.
Juho Hanninen climbed to seventh, the Finn delighted at claiming his maiden WRC win on his debut in a Fiesta RS. “I’ve learned a lot about this car. It’s not easy because I need to accept that I don’t know the car so well and there’s a lot of potential I can’t use when the grip is changing. When the grip is the same, it’s OK. When I get used to the car it will be good.”
In eighth is former Monte winner Bryan Bouffier, whose eyes were opened in the final stage. “It was a Tarmac road?” asked the Citroen DS3 pilot. “I’m not so sure! The guys in front are crazy, cutting like hell. I want to finish and I’m trying to do well. Up to now it’s positive.”
Rounding off the top 10 is a lonely Martin Prokop. The Czech driver is more than eight minutes behind Ostberg and almost five minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
“I’m really happy to finish because I had some big, big moments and I’m pleased to stay on the road,” admitted Prokop.
The only other WRC car still running is the MINI John Cooper Works of Michal Kosciuszko in 14th, the Pole’s incident-packed rally continuing with a spin in the final test tonight, after which he was helped back onto the road by spectators.
“It was difficult to find my speed in the fast sections. I don’t trust my ability in a WRC car in the really quick parts at the moment,” he admitted.