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SS8: Ogier rejoins Neuville and closes the gap on Evans

It was quite a day of rallying, which ended in a draw between two of the WRC’s greatest players : three fastest times for Thierry Neuville (SS3, SS6, SS7), three also for Sébastien Ogier (SS4, SS5, SS8) in this 92ndRally Monte-Carlo where the Frenchman is the title holder… with absolutely no guarantee of retaining it on Sunday.

“We did our job. We came back well (in the overall standings). It was a good day,” soberly summed up Ogier at the pitstop on SS8, which was run entirely at night and in which he put his foot down to finish the day on a high. The Frenchman from the Hautes-Alpes, eight-time world champion and nine-time winner in Monte-Carlo, is now just 4.5 seconds behind his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans, who was dominant on Thursday evening but much more cautious on Friday (no best time all day).

“This rally is never easy. And it’s very difficult at night. I had a lot of information, but I couldn’t manage everything at once. I had to trust the notes. It was very difficult to assess the road conditions. I’m happy to have got to the end of the day without a single problem,” said the Welshman.

His lead over Neuville was 15 seconds on Friday morning when he left Gap. On Saturday morning, it will be just 4.5 seconds over another big WRC customer: the formidable Seb Ogier, who is not aiming for the world title this year. That’s something to think about before taking any unnecessary risk…

Neuville steps up the pace

The other contender for the 2024 world title is bound to be a Hyundai driver. And after eight out of 17 stages in this first round of the season, Neuville has taken the upper hand, for the time being, over his team-mate Tänak: “I’m happy to be here. It wasn’t a good morning, but we had a much better afternoon. We need to stay focused and do a better job tomorrow. We’ve made a few changes to the set-up. It went well on the first two stages [of the day]. Here, the conditions are tricky, so it’s not easy to stay focused, but we’re here”, Neuville reckoned before heading back to Gap.

His Estonian team-mate, who was driving for M-Sport Ford in 2023, needs to regain confidence in the Hyundai. That is definitely happening, slowly but surely. “We managed to finish [the stage]. It was really scary and we didn’t have a good pace, but we’ll see…”, said Tänak, the 2019 world champion, at the end of a nerve-wracking day.

The final word on Friday’s rally goes to Ogier, the local hero, who delighted the many fans lining the roads of his native region with his immaculate driving style: “It was a lot more slippery than this morning, with a lot of mud. We had a difficult start to the rally, but we expected that with our starting position. Now, I’m happy that we’ve managed to get closer [to the lead]. Tomorrow should be fun”.

Saturday: 120 km on the menu

On Saturday’s menu, there are six more tricky stages, spread over two loops of three stages, totalling 120km of timed sections. Given the current very narrow gaps between the contenders for victory, both in Rally1 (three drivers within 16 seconds of each other) and in WRC2 (three drivers within five seconds), it’s reasonable to expect that Day 3 of this rally will be very lively. If not completely wild.

Classification SS8

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