A gap of over 20 seconds between Ogier and Loeb: the last special stage of this Saturday (SS13, 20 km), the second pass between Saint-Geniez and Thoard, was decided just before the start: “We put on the slicks at the last minute, but Ogier saw it…”, smiled Loeb at the end. “I was going to use my snow tyres, because it was the safest option, but when we saw that Seb was putting on the slick tires, we changed our mind at the last minute and put on the slick tyres as well”, Ogier explained later. And he was right, since he managed to extend his lead over Loeb from 5 to 21.1 seconds in the space of 20kms.
Fans will never know if, by putting on his two studded Pirelli tyres in this SS13, instead of keeping them in the trunk, Loeb could have rocked this rally again, just like Friday morning when he took the lead, at the expense of Ogier, by signing four best times in a row. And now, with four stages to go, “21 seconds is a bit far away”, Loeb admitted before heading back to Monaco for a good night’s rest, after a suspenseful day which did not end as he hoped.
What is certain is that Ogier, on four soft tyres, lost less time -5 seconds- on Rovanperä, who started with two snow tyres, than Loeb -21.1 seconds- on four soft tyres too. Another sure thing is that Rovanperä took advantage of the situation to post his second best time in a row, after SS12, and completed a grand slam by Toyota on Saturday (with 2 stage wins for Ogier and one for Evans). So the Finnish hopeful will start the last morning of the rally, early on Sunday (67kms over four stages), in 4th place, with a chance of a podium because he is only 37 seconds behind Craig Breen, 3rd in his Ford Puma Hybrid.
Further down the standings, Gus Greensmith (Ford Puma), now 5th but 6 minutes 33 seconds back, lost all chances of a podium by showing up 18 minutes late before the start of SS11, after having a puncture and suffering a major mechanical problem in SS10, already losing a bit less than two minutes on the leading quartet in that stage, and then spending a long time trying to repair on the side of the road. Worse still, Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), now 6th and 7 minutes 44 seconds behind Ogier, saw his front right damper pierce through his bonnet and he finished the day in slow motion, to save big points on Sunday in the championship, and possibly to aim for bonus points in the Power Stage.
In WRC2, big favourite is now Norway’sAndreas Mikkelsen, who is now 7th overall without competition from former class leader Frenchman Stéphane Lefebvre (Citroën C3), who disappeared in the morning: sanctioned by a 30-minute time penalty, he then hit the bank at the end of SS10, spinning and losing his right rear wheel. Game over.