To kick off the grand finale of the 92nd Monte Carlo Rally in style, Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) put pedal to the metal in SS15 (La Bréole-Selonnet, 18.31km), the same stage where Sébastien Ogier had been dominant on Friday (SS5, SS8). This was enough to extend his lead over the Frenchman from 3.3 to 8 seconds, with just 33km of timed sections remaining…
It was very early on Sunday morning, daylight was just breaking and there was black ice everywhere in the second part of this very fast special, but none of the top drivers let themselves be surprised. Especially not Neuville and Ogier, engaged in a sumptuous mano a mano keeping rally fans on the edge of their seats since Thursday night.
“It’s great! At the start, I pushed a lot, and towards the end I was a bit more cautious, but I think that everyone else must have done the same. We did some good things and I’m happy with my time,” said a beaming Neuville, still very much at ease in his Hyundai i20N. Thanks also to star engineer François-Xavier Demaison (ex-Citroën, VW Motorsport and Williams F1), who has already made some precious improvements to the South Korean car.
“The conditions were interesting, with a bit of black ice in places, so I was perhaps too cautious. He [Thierry Neuville] pushed a lot,” admitted Ogier when admiring his Belgian rival’s performance, posted on the end of stage board, after having conceded 4.7 seconds to him over 18 km. Without slowing down so much on the way.
The two other members of the initial Group of Four, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans, also showed in that stage that they were ready to take as many points as possible this Sunday: 7 for the whole of the final day, 5 for the Power Stage, i.e. a maximum of 12 points to add to the points already scored on Saturday. To be continued.