Sébastien Loeb (Ford), very fit and wide awake, early in the morning, posted the best time in the first special stage of Friday, SS3 between Roure and Beuil (18.3 km). It was the first best time for the new Ford Puma Hybrid in WRC and it allowed the French legend to come back within 5.5 seconds of Sébastien Ogier (Toyota) in the overall standings.
“It was a tricky stage, it was a lot slippery in some places, it was tougher, with more ice than during the recce, but I’m happy with what I did,” Loeb said, pumped up by his successful start on Thursday evening, in the first two stages. A very sharp and very efficient Loeb, who returns to the WRC with a new co-driver, the very experienced Isabelle Galmiche, and carrying glasses that give him the looks of a (very fast) retired driver, at almost 48 years old.
Still at the top of the standings, Ogier had a fright at the end of the stage, when his rear bumper touched the safety rail on the left, because he was a bit wide in the previous turn. Nothing serious, but a real warning at the start of a day that promised to be tough, with six stages on the menu (100 km), before and after the mid-day regroup at Puget-Théniers, and with no chance to return to the service park in Monaco harbour.
“We had to make compromises in the choice of tyres, and the road conditions were changing a lot”, told Ogier at the end of the stage. He left Monaco this morning with 4 soft tires and 2 super soft for the whole day, whereas Loeb chose five soft tyres. His teammate at Toyota, Elfyn Evans, also got a free scare in the final corners of SS3, touching with the rear left of his car as well, without breaking anything. And finishing 3rd in this stage, behind the untouchables: Loeb and Ogier.
Still not confident at all in his hybrid Hyundai, Thierry Neuville, winner of the event in 2020, achieved a nice spin in a hairpin, in the middle of the stage, losing a few seconds but not damaging anything, and finished 11.6 seconds behind Ogier. “It’s a nightmare, I’ve never been so scared in a car, there’s still a lot of work to do,” the Belgian said, and he rarely talks nonsense when things are not going well.
The crash of the morning was for Adrien Fourmaux, in his Ford Puma identical to Loeb’s. The young Frenchman was on fire, matching Ogier at the first split time, after 5.7 km. But this did not last and he made a small mistake with huge consequences at km 12, hitting the embankment, rolling off and ending down under the road after jumping over the safety rail. His Ford Puma is destroyed, but the crew is safe.