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SS5: Loeb jumps in the lead, Ogier loses ground
19 April 2024

SS5: Loeb jumps in the lead, Ogier loses ground

Sébastien Loeb (Ford) set his third best stage time in a row, on Friday morning, to take the lead of the 90th Rallye Monte-Carlo from the hands of arch-rival Sébastien Ogier (Toyota), who proved too cautious with a choice of tyres that was different from the one decided early this morning by the 9-time world champion, on very tricky roads that were often slippery.

“I pushed all morning, as much as possible, my gravel crew (Yoann Bonato) did a great job and I feel very good in this car, it’s fantastic. Congratulations to the whole team at M-Sport,” Loeb said at the end of SS5, while images of the M-Sport factory in England, and the staff, appeared in a corner of the screen.

The most successful driver in WRC history made no mistake on Friday morning, and as Ogier played it safe and drove much slower than his rivals on SS5, between Val de Chalvagne-Entrevaux, Loeb took advantage. Especially in these 17 km that he finished with a bang, rushing downhill in the sun towards the medieval village of Entrevaux. Ogier lost 15.8 seconds on Loeb, and 13.5 seconds on teammate Elfyn Evans. More worryingly, Ogier lost 11.1 seconds to Thierry Neuville, who is starting to find some rhythm in his Hyundai. And this without any specific reason, except for tough conditions, and several patches of ice and frost.

For almost half an hour, we had to wait to find out if Loeb, number 11 on the starting list, was doing as well, or better than Evans, the reigning vice-world champion, who started three minutes after Ogier in each stage this morning. The answer came just before noon, at the perfect time to take a break at Puget-Théniers, to think about the choice of tyres for the afternoon. We shall see if Loeb’s daring bet, five soft tyres, instead of 4 super-soft and 2 soft for Ogier this morning, has some sort of a boomerang effect this afternoon.

A new loop of three stages is scheduled to start at 2:16 p.m., with Loeb leading the general classification, as he often did in the past, from 2004 to 2012. He holds a 10.6-second lead over Evans and 13 over Ogier. Behind the leading trio, the gaps are already significant: 40.2 seconds for Thierry Neuville in 4th position, 46 for Craig Breen (Ford Puma) in 5th, and 48.3 for Ott Tänak, the 2019 world champion, in the other leading Hyundai. After five stages out of the 17 scheduled until Sunday.

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