Monte-Carlo, saturday: Advantage Evans in Monte-Carlo thriller
Sébastien Ogier is just 4.9sec adrift of team mate Evans
SS9/10: Evans rockets back into Monte lead
Elfyn Evans hurtled back into the lead of Rallye Monte-Carlo with a brave attack on icy mountain roads in the French Alps on Saturday morning.
The Welshman relegated Toyota Gazoo team-mate Sébastien Ogier with a gutsy charge through the second 20.73km La Bréole – Selonnet speed test. He returned to mid-leg service in Gap with a 4.8sec advantage in his Yaris.
The second half of the stage was shaded and covered in ice, but Evans excelled to stop the clocks 7.6sec quicker than his second-fastest team-mate to regain the lead he yielded to Ogier yesterday afternoon.
“I felt I was able to be smooth and carry good speed in most places. I tried not to destroy the studs in the first part. It was difficult because the sun is out and conditions have improved since the gravel crew went through,” said Evans.
Ogier had stretched his overnight lead in the opening St Leger les Mélèzes – La-Bâtie Neuve stage and the Frenchman appeared unperturbed at losing it with a repeat run through the stages to follow this afternoon – when he is notoriously strong.
“I’m happy to make it through because they were very tricky conditions and I struggled with the information I had from my gravel crew. The roads are hard to read,” Ogier explained.
Thierry Neuville couldn’t match the flying Toyotas. Despite winning the opener, the Hyundai i20 driver was 13.8sec adrift of Evans in the next and arrived at service 16.6sec off the lead. “I thought I had a good stage but when I saw the times maybe it’s not good enough,” he said.
Sébastien Loeb was fourth, almost 1min 40sec adrift, and lucky to be there after swiping a bank in the opener. Esapekka Lappi was fifth in a Ford Fiesta, and another to lament the way the conditions had changed since the passage of his safety note crew two hours before.
Lappi reduced the deficit to Loeb to 35.2sec, while Kalle Rovanperä completed the top six in another Yaris, the young Finn reaping the benefits of a less aggressive approach in the second stage.
WRC 3 leader Eric Camilli climbed to seventh in a Citroën C3 after Takamoto Katsuta spun his Yaris into the snow. Co-driver Dan Barritt had to scoop snow out of the Yaris’ grille and almost three minutes ticked by before he restarted.
Nicolas Ciamin and WRC 2 leader Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard.
After SS12: Advantage Evans in Monte-Carlo thriller
Elfyn Evans finished Saturday’s penultimate leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo with a narrow lead after a gripping see-saw battle with team-mate Sébastien Ogier in the French Alps.
The Toyota Yaris debutants swapped the lead on three occasions before Evans ended with a 4.9sec advantage over Ogier, with Thierry Neuville hot on their heels in his Hyundai i20.
Neuville won three of the day’s four speed tests and is only 1.5sec further back, leaving this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship poised on a knife-edge ahead of tomorrow’s closing leg in the mountains above Monaco.
Studded winter tyres were essential for this morning’s two special stages which contained lengthy sections of snow and ice. Overnight leader Ogier stretched his advantage in the first, before Evans struck back to lead at the mid-leg service.
Rising temperatures ensured drier afternoon conditions when the two stages were repeated. The pair were tied after the first, with Ogier ahead on a tiebreak, before Evans fought back to snatch the lead for the third time in the rally.
The Welshman admitted he had a close escape after flirting with a ditch in the final stage.
“On the last corner of ice on the stage I decided to be a little optimistic with the throttle and off she went. I definitely used my lucky card for the weekend - it was a good job there was nothing in the ditch,” he said.
Ogier admitted a safety-first approach cost the lead. “I was a bit cautious in the last stage and I lost too much, but the gap is still very close and it’s a simple reset for tomorrow. We still have the chance to win,” he said.
Neuville was happier with the last-minute information provided by his safety note crew, which drives the stages a couple of hours before competitors to provide condition updates.
“We’re still in the fight for the win which is positive and we’re pleased with the performance today. We’ve had improvements in the corrections to our ice notes and that provided us with more confidence during the day,” said the Belgian.
Sébastien Loeb was fourth in another i20, more than two minutes further back, after swiping a bank this morning and spinning this afternoon. His errors allowed Esapekka Lappi to close to within 14.1sec in his Ford Fiesta.
Kalle Rovanperä was an untroubled sixth in another Yaris, ahead of Takamoto Katsuta who
spun this morning. WRC 3 leader Eric Camilli was eighth, ahead of WRC 2 frontrunner Mads Østberg and Nicolas Ciamin.
Sunday’s finale is based in the Alpes-Maritimes mountains above Monaco. It features two passes of two stages, covering 63.54km, and includes the legendary crossing of the Col Turini. The afternoon finish takes place against the backdrop of Monaco’s famous harbour.
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