Sébastien Ogier, the defending champion, clawed back a handful of seconds from Thierry Neuville early on Saturday afternoon by setting the fastest time on SS12, the second pass between Esparron and Oze (18.79km). The suspense remains intact at the top of the 92nd Monte-Carlo Rally, with the Toyota driver only 2.2 seconds behind the Hyundai driver.
The margin is tiny, insane, barely believable: one hundredth of a second per kilometre, if you divide 2.2 seconds by the 220 km covered since the start on Thursday evening in the Alpes de Haute-Provence. That’s the gap between Neuville and Ogier, with around a hundred kilometres left until the grand finale on Sunday in Col de Turini. The battle is total, intense, between two drivers at the top of their game who have, so far, avoided all the traps of this 2024 edition.
Behind Neuville and Ogier, their rivals are falling behind, one by one. First there was Tänak, who crashed out on SS3 and has been doing his best since Friday morning to climb back on the podium. The most recent setback was that of Elfyn Evans, who led from Thursday evening until Saturday morning, but who is now unable to set a single fastest time.
Munster stuck in a barrier
“It did not feel so great, but that’s a bit chronic (this week),” said the Welshman at the end of SS12, at siesta time. He didn’t even mention the hybrid system that had abandoned him for a few minutes this morning. The reigning world vice-champion is now a privileged observer of this battle of the chiefs, 16.5 seconds behind the Belgian and 14.3 seconds behind the 8-time World Champion, in a Toyota Yaris strictly identical to his own.
The main incident of SS12 involved Grégoire Munster, who had been very clean and efficient up to that point in his M-Sport Ford Puma, on his first Rally1 event, in the top category (his 24th rally in WRC conditions). The Belgian (with a Luxembourg licence) made a small error at km 6.3 and his Puma got stuck in a wooden safety barrier on the edge of a ravine. The co-driver then went to the side of the road, upstream of the bend, to warn other competitors who slowed down at this point, all losing a handful of seconds. The stage was not neutralised.