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SS5: Ogier fastest
Having started Rallye Monte-Carlo with a fastest time on Wednesday’s opening stage, Sebastien Ogier did the same this morning, taking the second stage victory for the new Polo R on the 19km snow-covered SS5.
Ford Fiesta RS driver Evgeny Novikov was second fastest, 2.9sec slower than Ogier, with rally leader Sebastien Loeb 5.4sec off Ogier’s pace in his Citroen DS3.
Weather conditions in the Valence service park were clear and crisp with a temperature of -3 degrees Celsius as teams carried out the pre-stage 20-minute service. Sixty-four kilometres away at the start of SS5 however the temperature had plunged to -10 degrees.
In contrast to the mixed dry and ice-covered stages of day one, SS5 was more consistent, with seventy percent of the stage covered in packed snow. The studded winter tyre was the preferred choice, with many drivers electing to ration their supply of 20 by reusing some of the ones they had used on day one.
“That’s a great start,” said Ogier. “Very good conditions. Very slippy but fun to drive.”
Novikov, whose car was shod with a full set of brand new studded tyres, felt a more aggressive driving style had paid off. “I was a bit too careful yesterday so today I decided to push a bit harder on the snow where I feel comfortable - I’m happy with this time,” he said.
With a rally lead of 1m14.9s, Sebastien Loeb, was happy with his driving but concerned about his start position of first on the road. “These are proper Monte-Carlo conditions,” he said. “The end was full of snow, it was bright and sunny so really nice to drive. I’m not sure its good to be first of the road in the morning but we’ll see.”
Loeb’s team-mate Dani Sordo was fourth fastest, with Mads Ostberg rounding off the top five times.
Finns Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen) were eighth and ninth fastest respectively, and both were unhappy with their driving. “I don’t know what the problem is but I just don’t have the speed here,” said Hirvonen. “It must be me because the car is fine.”
Latvala, who clipped a roadside pole on the stage, said: “I’m struggling on the snow and can’t get the feeling. I’m not going very well and that’s not good.”
click: wrc.com/monte ss5
SS6: New studs pay dividends for Novikov
The stage lived up to its name –‘froid’ it certainly was. Strong winds blew snow from the fields onto the roads and an air temperature of -11°C felt more like -30°C in the wind chill. Conditions were likened to those found in Sweden, and full studded tyres were the only sensible choice.
Evgeny Novikov took full advantage of his decision to fit a new set of studded rubber to his Ford Fiesta RS this morning and duly delivered the first stage win for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team.
The young Russian was fastest by 4.9sec from team-mate Mads Ostberg and said: “I was on the limit. I was very careful in the braking areas. It was a difficult stage but I enjoyed it.”
Ostberg made some changes to the car before the stage and they clearly paid off for the Norwegian. “It worked better but I’m still not pushing,” he explained. “I didn’t want to push and I’m losing a lot of time in the high-speed areas.” Not that much though….
Juho Hanninen made it a Ford 1-2-3 in the stage, 8.3sec behind Novikov, although the Finn was slightly rattled after briefly sliding off the road on a fast right corner.
Fourth fastest was the Volkswagen Polo R of Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn was happier with his driving and realised that his brush with a roadside pole in the opening stage had actually punctured a tyre.
Those at the top of the leaderboard tackled the stage first and were hampered by snow on the road. Conditions improved as they swept the road to leave a cleaner and faster line for those behind.
Consequently Dani Sordo was fifth in his Citroen DS3, but that was sufficient to move the Spaniard into third overall, relegating Mikko Hirvonen. The gap between the two is just 5.0sec.
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier were just behind Sordo, Ogier losing a few seconds after spinning. As first on the road, Loeb endured the worst of the conditions.
“It started to snow and in some places there was a lot of snow in the road. I was making the line and there was no grip. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the first stage - more stressful than enjoyable,” he explained.
Bryan Bouffier spun his Citroen DS3 while Martin Prokop escaped unscathed after hitting a bank with his front left wheel in a high-speed section. Michal Kosciuszko’s troubled event continued when the Pole bent the right rear wheel on his MINI John Cooper Works and lost about a minute.
click: wrc.com/monte ss6
SS7: Loeb still Monte master at Thursday midpoint
Reigning world rally champion Sebastien Loeb remains in control of Rallye Monte-Carlo at the halfway point of Thursday’s competition, the Citroen ace heading to service at Valence with a useful lead of 1m17.9sec over Sebastien Ogier.
Loeb, running first on the road, lost a few seconds of his overnight advantage on the morning loop, but emerged from SS7 happy with his lot. “That was okay – a good drive,” he said. “We started the day with a good lead and we should keep that. Perhaps I was a bit too careful at the end of that one, but there was lots of ice, absolutely no grip, and rocks and walls…”
Volkswagen’s Ogier was second fastest on SS7 to maintain a relatively comfortable second overall on his debut event in the Polo R. “All okay, but that was the trickiest of the morning loop I think,” he said. “A lot of ice, low grip and we had to try to conserve our tyres too.”
Loeb’s Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo is third, 1m00.1s behind Ogier.
Another remarkable stage win for Evgeny Novikov on SS7, promoted the Russian ahead of Mikko Hirvonen into fourth, 7.6sec behind Sordo. Before the drive to service, the Fiesta RS driver was full of praise for his experienced gravel note crew of Denis Giraudet and Francois Delecour. “They are quite good, you know! They give me the best pace notes and that’s given me confidence here,” he said.
Citroen DS3 driver Hirvonen completed the mixed asphalt and ice covered SS7 eighth fastest and in low spirits “Not so good again,” Hirvonen shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe I destroyed my tyres on the asphalt section near the start, because at the end it was very slippery and I don’t have any confidence.” Hirvonen lies fifth, 4.1sec behind Novikov.
Jari-Matti Latvala is sixth in Volkswagen’s second Polo R, 25.1sec behind Hirvonen and still dissatisfied with his driving in varied road conditions. “Okay, it’s getting better but I still don’t have the confidence in the mixed. When it’s consistent, either snow or dry, then it’s okay.”
Twenty-five seconds behind Latvala, Juho Hanninen (Ford Fiesta RS) is seventh, despite a small off on SS6. Bryan Bouffier (Citroen DS3) is 56.5sec further back in eighth. Mads Ostberg is ninth, after a good morning’s work during which he set a second and third fastest stage time.
Sepp Wiegand dominated the FIA’s new WRC 2 category on Thursday morning, winning all three stages in his Skoda Fabia S2000 to more than triple his overnight lead to 3m47.s.
The German declared himself happy with his driving, but said the conditions were hazardous. “Everything’s okay, but we’ve had a lot of small but big moments!” he said.
Behind him, there were no changes to the top three. Armin Kremer holds second in a Group N specification Subaru Impreza, but said he struggled to control the car under braking on the numerous icy sections.
Russian driver Yuriy Protosov, also in an Impreza, is 1m28sec further back in third. “There’s been a lot of ice,’ he said. “The surface changes from asphalt to ice all the time and it’s hard to find the grip.
Rashid Al Ketbi (Skoda Fabia S2000) is a distant fourth, 13 minutes behind Protosov, with Ricardo Trivino (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) five minutes further back. Lorenzo Bertelli (Subaru Impreza) completes the WRC 2 runners.
Sebastien Chardonnet heads to Thursday’s midpoint service first in the WRC 3 classification after overnight leader Renaud Poutot crashed on today’s second stage.
Poutot, in a Citroen DS3 R3T, began the day with a 1m05.9s advantage over Chardonnet in a similar car, and stretched this to 1m19.2s with another win on SS5.
On SS6, however, Poutot threw away his advantage when his car left the road. “It was a very slow corner and I was perhaps 2kph too fast - we went off and bumped into a tree,” he explained.
Chardonnet resolved to drive more smoothly today following two costly punctures on Wednesday. He had a scare on SS5, when he drove off the road and had to be pushed back on, but emerged from SS6 with an 8sec lead over Poutot. A stage win on SS7 stretched that to 40.2sec.
click: wrc.com/monte ss7