Sébastien Ogier closes in on a record-breaking ninth Rallye Monte Carlo win. The Frenchman leads the rally by 16 seconds over his Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä heading into Sunday.
Ogier produced another faultless drive in the French Alps on Saturday. However, reigning WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä closed the gap by 20 seconds during the day.
Having built up a sizeable advantage of over half a minute on Friday, Ogier’s attentions switched to lead preservation as the Monaco-based fixture headed into the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence for six asphalt stages totalling 111.78km.
With today’s running order based on reverse rally classification, Ogier had to contend with the most polluted road conditions as gravel, rocks and mud were swept onto the stages by those running higher up the field.
Ogier, who drives part-time for Toyota this season, took a vigilant approach. He was in no mood for risk-taking and desperate not to repeat last year’s disappointment, where a sharp rock caused a late puncture which put the brakes on his victory bid.
But, as a result of his caution, the 39-year-old saw his buffer more than halved by charging GR Yaris colleague Kalle Rovanperä. He heads into Sunday’s finale 16.0sec clear at the top.
Ogier is confident he has enough time in hand but, with four treacherous stages still remaining, anything could happen. Victory here would put him top of the Rallye Monte-Carlo roll of honour, beating the record he currently shares with old foe Sébastien Loeb.
“I think it should be enough,” he said. “The last one was the most dangerous one for punctures so I took it easy and I am happy that stage is over now.”
Reigning champion Rovanperä started strongly and won two of the morning’s three stages to put some distance between himself and Hyundai i20 N star Thierry Neuville.
Neuville responded by claiming two benchmark times himself, but a big push from the former under the darkness of Ubraye – Entrevaux left Neuville 16.0sec adrift of his rival in third.
Elfyn Evans made it three Toyotas in the top four with a solid comeback drive following his Friday puncture. The Welshman leapfrogged Ott Tänak in the day’s second stage and never strayed outside the top-three times for each test, ending 24.5sec off the heels of Neuville.
More power steering problems for M-Sport
For M-Sport Ford returnee Tänak there were feelings of both relief and disappointment after a technical fault left his Puma with heavier steering than normal.
Although it left him unable to put up a fight against Evans, the flipside of Tänak’s issue was that the power steering did not fail completely – something he would have been dreading as there was no mid-leg service in the schedule.
Yaris youngster Takamoto Katsuta climbed to sixth overall after leapfrogging Dani Sordo on the first run from Le Fugeret to Thorame-Haute. Sordo, who now holds seventh, continued to feel puzzled by the lack of competitiveness in his stage times.
Gryazin keeps WRC2 lead despite late puncture
In WRC2, Nikolay Gryazin is stilll leading the pack with the new Skoda Fabia RS Rally2. The 25-year-old led Rossel by 46.7s heading into the final stage of Saturday but that lead was trimmed to 15.2 seconds due to a puncture in the final stage of the day.
Pepe López moved up to P3 in WRC2 in the final stage. The Spaniard’s gap to fourth-placed Stéphane Lefebvre is just 2.9 seconds. The 23-year-old Erik Cais sits in fifth, a further 18.8 seconds behind Lefebvre.
Oliver Solberg is competing in Monte Carlo but isn’t registered in WRC2 for this event. However, like yesterday, the young Swede showed his pace as he was the fastest Rally2 driver in three of today’s six stages. He went wide in SS12, damaging the rear-left of his Skoda. As a result, he dropped over two minutes. He sits in P16 overnight.
Sunday’s finale returns to the Alpes-Maritimes. The familiar Luceram / Lantosque opens proceedings and is followed by a re-run of La Bollène-Vésubie / Col de Turini, which crews have already driven in anger on Thursday evening. Both stages are repeated once again with the latter forming the Wolf Power Stage where bonus points are available.
WRC Rallye Monte Carlo 2023 – O/A after SS14 (Saturday)
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Ogier / Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||2:27:11.5|
|2.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+16.0|
|3.||Neuville / Wydaeghe||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+32.0|
|4.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+56.5|
|5.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||+1:37.3|
|6.||Katsuta / Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+2:15.7|
|7.||Sordo / Carrera||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+3:08.8|
|8.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+3:11.4|
|9.||Gryazin / Aleksandrov||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+8:06.1|
|10.||Rossel / Dunand||Citroën C3 Rally2||+8:21.3|
Photo, text: Red Bull Content Pool