Sébastien Loeb (Ford Puma), in management mode, ended Friday in the lead of the 90th Monte-Carlo Rally, after leaving his mark on a very long day: 4 best times out of 6 and always in the fight for the lead. The 9-time world champion, 79 times winner in WRC, will start the second half of the rally, early Saturday morning, with a 9.9-second gap over Sébastien Ogier (Toyota Yaris), the reigning world champion.
“With the hybrid, it’s good!” Loeb smiled in the cockpit of his Ford Puma, after crossing the finish line of SS8, between Val-de-Chalvagne and Entrevaux. “It’s better!”, was the immediate answer by Isabelle Galmiche, his new co-driver, delighted with her race day, and the very efficient successor, this winter, to the indestructible Daniel Elena.
Having suffered a breakdown of his hybrid system in the previous stage (SS7), Loeb had to leave the honor of a first best time in WRC to his teammate at M-Sport, Gus Greensmith (25). The young man had suffered the same type of breakdown earlier in the day, losing instantly a hundred horsepower, 100% electric.
In this last stage of the day, on a road where humidity had fallen at the same time as the sun had settle down, Ogier had the advantage of passing half an hour before Loeb and he took advantage of it. This was his third best time of the rally, after the two on Thursday evening (SS1, SS2). It enabled him to reduce his gap on Loeb to less than 10 seconds, which leaves the suspense intact for the weekend.
On the provisional podium of this 90th edition, while there are still… 9 stages to run until Sunday, Loeb is 9.9 seconds ahead of Ogier, and 22 seconds ahead of Elfyn Evans, the reigning vice-world champion, in 3rd. Further back, Thierry Neuville (4th) is 47.8 seconds back and Ott Tänak (5th) relegated at almost a minut (56.7 seconds). The two Hyundai drivers being closely followed by two other Ford Pumas, with Craig Breen ahead of Gus Greensmith.
In the WRC2 classification, the suspense is also intact, as Eric Camilli (Citroën C3), leader this morning, crashed in SS5, and because the big favorite, Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia) is now 2nd, sandwiched by two Frenchmen in Citroën C3s: provisional leader Stéphane Lefebvre and rising star Yoann Rossel, last year’s champion in WRC3. The three drivers are grouped in 20 seconds, between 11th and 13th place overall.