Sebastien Ogier’s Monte Carlo Rally lead ballooned to more than a minute after the first two Saturday stages, despite him damaging a wheel. The reigning world champion started the day 14.9s clear but smashed his main rival Ott Tanak on a devilishly tricky 18-mile opening stage topped by Andreas Mikkelsen.
Ogier broke part of the left-rear wheel rim on his M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC but still completed SS9 almost a minute faster than his 2017 World Rally Championship teammate.
Tanak was quickest on the second, shorter morning stage but complained about a damper problem despite clawing back 15.5s against a conservative Ogier, whose lead stands at 1m03.4s.
Jari-Matti Latvala jumped two spots in one stage to end the morning third overall.
The Toyota driver was just 0.2s behind teammate Esapekka Lappi after Friday’s running and was on course to overhaul his fellow Finn for fourth when it emerged that third-placed Dani Sordo had stopped on the stage.
Latvala took full advantage, beating Lappi by more than half a minute on the stage to vault into a clear third as Sordo’s podium challenge came to an end with his Hyundai in a ditch.
That means all three i20 WRCs have had their season openers ruined.
Sordo’s woe put Thierry Neuville up to eighth as he recovers from a torrid Friday, while Mikkelsen had dropped out of contention on Friday with an alternator problem.
He returned as a Rally2 runner and benefitted from a favourable road position, running after the other WRC drivers, to top SS9 despite suffering “three spins in a straightline”. He then set the second-best time on SS10.
Kris Meeke is fifth but had his advantage over Bryan Bouffier trimmed to just over half a minute after a tricky couple of stages.
Comfortable WRC2 leader Jan Kopecky is now into the top 10 thanks to Sordo’s off.
Source: Story and image: motorsport.com