On the verge of a record-breaking eighth Rallye Monte-Carlo triumph, Sébastien Ogier produced another flawless performance in the French Alps on Saturday.
After gaining a substantial lead of over half a minute on Friday, Ogier’s focus shifted to maintaining his advantage as the Monaco-hosted event moved into the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence for six asphalt speed tests covering 111.78 kilometers.
Ogier had to deal with the most contaminated road conditions today due to the fact that the running order was determined by the reverse rally classification.
Part-time Toyota driver Ogier drove cautiously. He was in no mood for taking chances, and he really didn’t want to have to deal with the same disappointment he did this time last year when a puncture was caused by a sharp rock and his chances of winning were ruined.
However, the 39-year-buffer old’s was more than cut by the charge of GR Yaris teammate Kalle Rovanperä due to his caution. He had a 16.0 second lead going into the last day on Sunday.
Ogier believes he has enough of time, but the last four stages are extremely difficult. If he were to win here, he would move beyond his current tie for first place on the Rallye Monte-Carlo honor roll with former rival Sébastien Loeb.
“That, I think, ought to do it,” he declared. The last one was the worst for getting a flat, so I took it easy and am relieved that phase is done.”
Two of the morning’s three stages were won by defending champion Rovanperä, giving him a comfortable lead over Hyundai i20 N star Thierry Neuville.
Neuville retaliated by claiming two new benchmark marks, but after a hard push from the former in the pitch black of Ubraye – Entrevaux, Neuville found himself 16.0 seconds behind the third-place finisher.
After getting a flat on Friday, Elfyn Evans came back strong to put three Toyotas in the top four. The Welshman passed Ott Tänak on the second stage and maintained a position inside the top three for every stage, eventually finishing 24.5 seconds behind Neuville.
Tänak, a former member of M-Sport Ford, felt both relief and disappointment upon driving his normally light-steering Puma again.
Although Tänak’s problem prevented him from challenging Evans, the power steering did not fully break, which was something he would have feared because there was no scheduled mid-leg servicing.
Sixth-placed Yaris rookie Takamoto Katsuta overtook Dani Sordo on the opening leg from Le Fugeret to Thorame-Haute and moved up the standings to sixth overall. Seventh-placed Sordo was still baffled by the fact that his stage times weren’t particularly competitive.
Tänak struggled due to a problem with the power steering.
Esapekka Lappi, now in eighth place, said he felt “far more comfortable” in his brand-new i20 N after making adjustments to his setup overnight. A flat tire on the right rear wheel on SS12 was an annoyance, but it didn’t have any major impact on his overall position.
As a result of Pierre-Louis Loubet’s retirement due to rear suspension damage sustained after striking a bridge on SS9, Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel advanced in the standings. There are just four stages left, and the top 10 are all WRC2 leaders.
The Alpes-Maritimes will host the season finale on Sunday. Starting with the always exciting Luceram / Lantosque, the event then moves on to a repeat of Thursday night’s La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini. These two phases are performed once again, with the second phase comprising the bonus-giving Wolf Power Phase.