2021 Monte Carlo Rally: Ogier snatches lead back from Evans as Toyota pair head for final day showdown

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Sébastien Ogier continues his fightback to reclaim the Monte Carlo Rally lead from Elfyn Evans, as Ott Tänak has to retire with two punctures in two stages

GAP, FRANCE - JANUARY 22: Sebastien Ogier of France and Julien Ingrassia of France compete with their Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC during the FIA World Rally Championship Monte Carlo Day Two on January 22, 2021 in Gap, France. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

Sébastien Ogier fought back to head the field once at the end of Day 3

Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images

SS9 – La Bréole – Selonett

Sébastien Ogier snatched back the Monte Carlo Rally lead from Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans by putting on a superlative early display on Day 3, but the Welshman shaded him in the final stage to remain in touch.

SS8 had been cancelled due to the French Covid curfew, so proceedings moved straight onto SS9. Drivers found themselves in the first relative winter wonderland of WRC 2021, with snow and ice featuring frequently throughout.

There was no deliberation on tyre choice – studs were the order of the day. Toyota drivers opted for six studs whilst Hyundai and M-Sport contingents opted for five snow tyres and one slick.

A puncture had cost Ogier the lead on SS6, and the Frenchman has been on the warpath ever since. After taking 16sec out of Evans on SS7, he then took 17.8sec on SS9 to emphatically turn his deficit into a 10.4sec lead.

Evans admitted he was overly cautious in his approach.

“I didn’t think it had gone that great, I was too careful” Elfyn Evans

“I didn’t think it had gone that great at the end, I was too careful,” he said.

It was disaster for Ott Tänak, who suffered a left-front puncture. He lost 1min20.2sec, leaving him 5th overall.

The Estonian was in pain right from the start of the stage: “I immediately had a spin and next corner there was a loose stone on the inside and of course I hit it.”

He was as dry as ever in his assessment of the day so far: “It’s a beautiful morning…”

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Mercurial Monte starlet Rovanperä moved up the order once more, finding himself in 3rd after Tänak’s misfortune. Despite being 1min 08.3sec adrift of Ogier, he now helped to form a Toyota 1-2-3.

His job was made easier by an off for Thierry Neuville. The Hyundai i20 overshot at a corner as the Belgian lost 20sec to Rovanperä.

“It was a difficult stage,” he said. “We had to find a rhythm and it didn’t work for very long.”

Sordo also went off, metres from the end, but showed fortitude to square off a corner, ploughing through a field and still making the stage finish in one piece. He still managed to take 3rd on SS9 and maintain his 6th position.

Gus Greensmith recovered a confidence which he seemed to have left in the service park on Thursday and Friday, impressively setting 5th fastest, but remained 10th overall.

His main rival Takamoto Katsuda lost 39.sec to Greensmith but stayed in 8th.


SS10 Saint-Clement – Freissinières

GAP, FRANCE - JANUARY 22: Gus Greensmith of Great Britain and Elliott Edmondson of Great Britain compete with their M-SPORT FORD WRT Ford Fiesta WRC during the FIA World Rally Championship Monte Carlo on January 22, 2021 in Gap, France. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

Greensmith showed improved pace on Day 3

Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images

‘Polishing’ was the theme of SS10. Pierre-Louis Loubet was the star of the stage early on, but it was his team-mate Neuville who truly seized the initiative. Grip levels significantly reduced for competitors throughout the stage’s running, as cars “polished” the ice and reduced available traction for the cars following them.

Running first, Hyundai junior Loubet set a time of 16:40.3sec, and it was only Neuville who managed to come close and indeed surpass it.

Neuville was clearly compensating for his off on SS9 by pushing extra hard, swinging his i20 through the hairpins as he looked to reduce some of his deficit. The Belgian was rewarded, taking top spot by 12sec from Loubet. He moved up to 4th, just 1.4sec off Rovanperä.

The Finn, one of front-runners to first experience worsening grip, lost 24.2sec but it would ultimately prove to be a decent job of damage limitation.

“I hope I don’t lose 42sec to Elfyn, that’s the most important!” Sébastien Ogier

It was downhill from there for the rest of the competitors on the stage as the grip levels plummeted, each car making the iced-over road less grippy for the next.

Dani Sordo secured a Hyundai 1-2-3, struggling for grip but driving with a commitment that paid dividends. He was 14sec down on SS10 on Neuville but is now a comfortable 5th overall.

It was calamity upon disaster meanwhile for the 4th Hyundai of Ott Tänak, on the very same stage he spectacularly crashed out of last year. Yet another puncture left him limping through most of the test on a rear-left rim. Having suffered one on the previous run and therefore having no spare, the Estonian lost almost 9 minutes, dropping him down to 14th.

Event rules prevent competitors from driving to the service park with only three wheels. As a result Tänak was forced to retire, the regulations not allowing a car retired on the Saturday to run on the Sunday.

There was no greater example of the disappearing grip levels than that of the two Toyotas battling for the lead, Ogier and Evans.

Ogier shipped 46.1sec as he slithered through the stage. His driving was assured, but the pace was simply not there, rueing his tyre choice and saying he was overruled by his team.

However, the Frenchman knew all that really mattered was where his team-mate was: “I hope I don’t lose 42sec to Elfyn, that’s the most important!”

Evans was ahead of his team-mate early on in the stage – and then stalled at a hairpin. A 2sec advantage on the first split ended up being a 4sec deficit.

He once again berated himself for not throwing caution a little more to the wind.

“It felt maybe a bit too careful everywhere but it’s difficult to find the right balance in these conditions,” he said.

The two Toyota’s finished 6th and 8th on SS10 and remained 1st and 2nd overall respectively.

Their Japanese team-mate Katsuda proved a surprise package, taking 5th on the stage. He now finds himself 6th overall.

Gus Greensmith faltered once more, 44.5sec down on Loubet, but the struggles for others meant he set 7th fastest time with 17min 12.8sec.

“To be honest it felt like I was driving pretty good, but the time’s shocking!” he said. “Good car – s*** driving! Sums up this weekend.”

Greensmith is now 8th overall, as a puncture for Adrian Fourmaux combined with Tänak’s woes promoted the Englishman. He is a minute behind Andreas Mikkelsen, the leading WRC2 driver, now 7th in his Skoda Fabia Evo.


S11 – La Bréole – Selonnet

GAP, FRANCE - JANUARY 22: Elfyn Evans of Great Britain and Scott Martin of Great Britain compete with their Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC during the FIA World Rally Championsip Monte Carlo Day Two on January 22, 2021 in Gap, France. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

Evans kept up the chase of Ogier – he is 2nd and 13sec behind

Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images

Ice and snow thawed slightly for lunchtime’s return run back to Selonnet, but conditions still merited all studs. A stage that had been taken in the dark on Saturday morning was found to be one and a half minutes faster in the daytime.

Desperately trying to stay with leader Ogier, it was Evans who set the pace with a 11min 59.0sec, 1.3 sec ahead of his French team-mate. Evans is 13.0sec behind Ogier going into the final day.

Local hero Ogier had put in another fine performance, driving on the roads he knows so well. The Frenchman was as succinct as his driving style: “A clean drive for me”.

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With Thieryy Neuville breathing down his neck, Kalle Rovanperä decided it was time to put his foot down (a bit more).

The Finn pulled out 5.6sec on the Belgian to give himself a 7.0sec gap in 3rd – managed despite some co-driver communication issues.

“I had a problem with my earplugs, my co-driver had to scream my notes!” he said.

Sordo’s belated show of pace came to an end, the Spaniard erring very much on the side of caution. His time put him 11th on SS11, almost 40sec down on Evans. He remains 5th though.

“I was just very slow,” he said. “We needed to bring two cars home, this is the only way. I didn’t want to take risks for nothing.”

Katsuda’s improvement continued for Toyota, another fine 5th on the stage kept him 6th overall.

Greensmith again lacked confidence, tip-toeing his way round the stage. As the M-Sport driver put it, “We got through the day.”

The current overall running order is Ogier, Evans, Rovanperä, Neuville, Sordo, Katsuda, Mikkelsen and Greensmith heading into the final day.

Via four stages, the cars will wind their way down to Monaco tomorrow for the finish.