Citroen's Sebastien Loeb stretched his advantage at the top of the Rallye Monte Carlo leaderboard this morning, after correctly opting to run with studs on all four tyres for the 24.13 km Cimetiere de Vassieux-Col de Gaudissart test.
Conditions through the second and final stage this morning were made tricky due to snow and ice, and Seb exploited that gaining more than 30 seconds to go into the 30 minute mid-day service in Valence with his cushion stretched to 2 minutes 9 seconds.
“It was the right choice of tyre [to go with full studs] but even with that it was very difficult to keep the car on the road,” Loeb told the official WRC site. “The conditions changed a lot since my [safety] crew passed but I knew I had the best choice so I just went through. I'm happy to be at the end.”
Meanwhile the battle for second between MINI's Dani Sordo and Ford's Petter Solberg took a seemingly decisive turn. Solberg had moved up to second with the best time in SS11, however, he lost ground in SS12 having opted to run on slicks. As such Sordo, who ran with winter tyres, gained over a minute and is now 57.6 seconds in front.
“It was really tricky, very difficult,” said Sordo. “At the beginning it was fine. But we lost a lot in the final part where there was snow.”
“I almost went off,” Solberg added. “It was unbelievable. There was so much water and black ice. I had slicks on the rear and no studs on the front. I just backed off...”
Mikko Hirvonen remains fourth, however he gained considerable time in Cimetiere de Vassieux-Col de Gaudissart after setting the pace, 3.7 seconds up on Loeb. Like his Citroen Total team-mate, he opted for full studs and that rewarded him with his first stage win with the DS3 WRC. Hirvonen now lies 39.3 seconds off the final podium place – the gap to third had been over 2 minutes after SS11.
“I am really happy to set my first fastest stage time with Citroen,” Hirvonen said. “The team made the right choice by analysing information from the early starters and the weather forecast from Meteo France. Everything worked out well and I felt confident in the car with the four studded tyres fitted. It was very slippery, but the handling of the car was consistent. We have closed the gap to third position. I'm not going to take too many risks to catch Petter but there are still of lot of kilometres left to race...”
Further back, Evgeny Novikov is fifth. The Russian had got ahead of Hirvonen in the opening test this morning, when he was third fastest in his M-Sport Ford WRT-run Fiesta RS WRC. Like Solberg though, he had the wrong tyres in SS12 and slipped back down to P5.