After a short night in Gap, the 67 remaining competitors of the 92nd Monte-Carlo Rally set off on Friday morning on a slippery and tricky special stage between Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes and La Bâtie-Neuve (SS3, 16.68km). The first laurels of the day went to Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), who set his first fastest time of the rally, and the first damage was done to three members of the Top 8: Tänak, Katsuta and Munster, who all crashed out in the same corner.
You had to be wide awake this morning on Col de Moissière (1574m), as the road was very slippery on SS3. “On some portions of ice, there was no grip at all, so I was very careful. We’ve sorted out our problem from last night, so it’s going better,” explained Neuville at La Bâtie Neuve, after a long descent that was much drier than the ascent to the pass.
The Belgian, who won in Monaco in 2020, was 5.3 seconds quicker than rally leader Elfyn Evans (Toyota) in that stage, and the third fastest time on SS3 was set by Sébastien Ogier, 6.6 seconds behind Neuville. “It was OK, but I was more bothered by the dirt on the road than by the icy patches,” said the title holder, wide awake but very cautious on his home turf. “I was careful because the road conditions were very mixed,” also admitted Evans. He is well aware of the number of points to be taken in this opening round of WRC 2024, since he sometimes has a tendency to squander opportunities.
Tänak, Katsuta and Munster trapped
Three drivers were trapped in the same place, going too wide on a long right-hand curve in the forest, where the layer of ice was thin but very effective. Starting on soft tyres, they all ended up in the ditch, more or less deeply. And the spectators intervened to get them out of it, once the green light on their car was on to avoid electrocution.
Ott Tänak, the 2019 world champion, took his 150th WRC start on Thursday (19 wins, 46 podiums, 356 fastest times, half of them with Martin Jarveoja in the right seat). He lost 41.9 seconds to Neuville in the process, and Grégoire Munster, the new M-Sport Ford driver, lost a full minute. The biggest loss was for Takamoto Katsuta, stuck in the ditch for five minutes. “It’s entirely my fault”, admitted the Japanese Toyota driver before setting off again, well harnessed, towards the sunny descent of SS3.
With 5 more stages on the menu this Friday, M-Sport’s Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux has moved up one place in the overall standings. He is 4th before SS4, with a three-second lead over Tänak…