The most successful man in WRC history struck again, on SS4, and set his second best time in a row, this Friday morning between Guillaumes and the ski resort of Valberg, via the village of Péone. Those 13.49 kms were quickly swallowed up by the WRC top drivers, including Loeb of course, back in business after 16 months of absence and very constant at the top of the time sheets since Thursday evening: two best times, two second places.
“We did two great stages this morning. It was really not easy in this one, because there were places where we had grip, and others with no grip at all”, said Loeb, very focused and very happy with his new Ford Puma Hybrid, thanks to the little bit of extra power available, thanks to its electric motor and 100 HP of bonus power, at times…
The Hyundai team, on the back foot since the start of the rally, reassured itself a little by placing its two leading drivers, Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville, in the Top 3 of this SS4, less than a second behind Loeb. And for once, the Toyota drivers had to settle for runners-up, respectively 4th (Evans) and 5th (Ogier), 1.4 and 2.7 seconds behind Loeb. Ahead of the two other Ford Pumas of Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith, also entered by Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport team.
“I’m a bit defensive and trying to play it safe in these conditions,” Ogier acknowledged. The Frenchman is still leading the general classification but his lead has melted a bit on Friday morning: he now holds a tiny 2.8-second gap over Loeb, before a third stage in a row (SS5, Val de Chalvagne-Entrevaux). Then, after another 17 km portion full of icy traps of all sorts, it will be time to relax and regroup in Puget-Théniers, to change tyres and prepare for a long afternoon.