Ogier grabs Monte Carlo lead as Toyotas dominate
Gap (France) (AFP)
Reigning champion Sebastien Ogier grabbed the lead in the Monte Carlo Rally on Saturday as one of his main rivals Ott Tanak dropped out after running out of spare tyres.
The Frenchman, who won four of the five stages raced on Friday, added Saturday's dawn opener to overtake overnight leader and Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans in the first event of the World Rally Championship.
In the second stage, run at 1,000m altitude, the fresh snow favoured the early starters who turned the surface to slush for those behind.
Belgian Thierry Neuville took the stage in his Hyundai. His French team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, who went first, finished second.
Loubet had not finished Friday after an accident, but was able to resume after repairs on a sleepless night during a heavy storm at the service park in Gap.
Ogier was sixth and Evans, who stalled during the stage, eighth.
"There was no grip," said Ogier.
The Toyota pair rebounded in the day's third and final stage, which the Welshman won with Ogier second.
"I needed that really!" said Evans. "It's been a frustrating day, just not really being on the money. I tried to stay in the ruts and out of trouble. We'll try and keep the pressure on."
Ogier goes into Sunday's four stages exactly 13 seconds ahead of Evans.
"Very clean," said seven-time champion Ogier after the last stage. "The conditions have changed a lot since the gravel crew passed."
Another Toyota driver, young Finn Kalle Rovanpera, is third, 56.8 seconds off the lead.
Ogier suffered brake problems on Thursday and a puncture and a spin on Friday, but dominated on Saturday.
Neuville is the best from the rival teams, 1min 3.8sec behind in fourth.
"Another tricky day, but we are constantly improving in the car," said Neuville, who is breaking in a new co-driver, Martijn Wydaeghe.
Tanak, the 2019 world champion, withdrew after two punctures on two stages.
"Unfortunately we have to retire the rally as we had two punctures and only one spare wheel," tweeted the Estonian who drives a Hyundai.
He added that he would be unable to chase bonus points in Sunday's race-ending power stage.
"No restart possible on Sunday due to event rules," he said.
The sector along the Durance river east of Gap was unlucky for Tanak for a second straight year. Last January, he went off the road at more than 180 km/h (around 120mph) and flew over some trees before his wrecked car came to rest on its wheels on a road below.
Tanak started Saturday 25.3 seconds down on Evans and in contention for a first Monte-Carlo victory.
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