WRC

THIERRY NEUVILLE HELD A SLENDER RALLYE MONTE-CARLO LEAD OVER WORLD CHAMPION SÉBASTIEN OGIER FOLLOWING A SHORTENED BUT TRICKY MORNING’S ACTION ON FRIDAY.

The Belgian, third overnight in a Hyundai i20, headed Ogier by 3.4sec after typically mixed conditions in the French Alps ensured tyre choice played a significant part in drivers’ fortunes.

The opening speed test from Valdrome to Sigottier was cancelled due to the number of spectators packed into unsafe positions near the finish.

A thin layer of frozen snow in the opening half had prompted many drivers to opt for Michelin’s studded winter tyres. The cancellation meant their advantage was lost and compromised their pace through the remaining two stages, which were drier.

Thierry Neuville (BEL) Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) of team Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT is seen racing at shakedown during the World Rally Championship Monte-Carlo in Gap, France on January 24, 2019

Neuville’s defensive options worked well. He was second in both tests but returned to service in Gap breathing a sigh of relief. “I had a rear tyre which was very worn at the beginning. The rubber was gone and nothing must be left of it, but we managed,” he said.

Ogier’s choice was weighted more towards studs. Although disappointed that the stage where he should have profited was scrubbed, the Citroën C3 pilot went fastest through the final test from Curbans to Piegut.

Overnight leader Ott Tänak slipped to third in his Toyota Yaris. The Estonian was in the same tyre tangle as Ogier and he trailed Neuville by 16.9sec.

The leading trio retained last night’s significant advantage. More than half a minute further back in fourth was i20 debutant Sébastien Loeb. He won the Roussieux – Laborel stage, but a low start position meant he struggled on mud and gravel dragged onto the asphalt by those ahead.