WRC legend Sebastien Loeb has seen his Rallye Monte Carlo lead cut following Friday morning's opening loop of three stages with Sebastien Ogier now just 3 seconds behind, while ex-F1 driver Robert Kubica was fastest in both SS4 and SS5.
Loeb began the second day of competition with a 13.3 second advantage and after going quickest in SS3, the 15.84 km La Salle-Corps test, 15 seconds up on Ogier, he stretched it to 28.3 seconds.
The nine-time World Rally Champion then had to settle for fourth in SS4, which allowed Ogier – who was second, 3 seconds off Kubica, to take back 4 seconds.
However, it was SS5, the final one of the loop, that proved decisive, and while Loeb was again fourth and Ogier second, 0.8 seconds off Kubica, the difference this time was a massive 21.3 seconds, bringing Loeb's advantage right down as competitors head back to Gap for the 30 minute mid-day halt.
“Not easy,” Loeb told the official WRC site after SS3. “A lot of fog, so you have to trust your notes 100 per cent - and on a new stage that is tricky. Some mud in some places too but no mistakes. I am happy.”
Speaking after the following test he added: “It was okay. I tried to push hard, but it was a bit like yesterday night - I didn't know how fast the others were...”
Meanwhile, Ogier, who is running third on the road behind Rally 2 runners Sebastien Chardonnet and Kubica, admitted he tried to drive a bit more tactically in the final test of the loop.
“We tried to make some cuts and put some snow on the road for the guys behind. We have a disadvantage with this road position, so now we try to turn this to our advantage,” explained the defending champion.
Behind, Jari-Matti Latvala continues to hold third, but he has dropped right off the Loeb-Ogier duel and now lies more than a minute adrift of his Volkswagen team-mate. He was also relegated to fifth after SS3, before re-taking third in SS4.
“It was messy in some places,” Latvala noted after Les Costes-St Julien 1. “The snow is in the road. I had a smooth run, but I could not do much better than that. It is okay though. I have a strategy.”
M-Sport duo Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans hold fourth and fifth, the former 24.3 seconds off Latvala and 13.4 seconds up on his team-mate.
“We've had good tyre choices and the Fiesta [RS WRC] has been perfect so I am really pleased. We've had consistent driving and a good feeling in the car. We've not been pushing too hard but I can definitely feel the speed getting greater as we get more familiar with everything," Tanak said.
“Still in some places it's very tricky as a lot of mud is being pulled onto the road, but this is the perfect car for those difficult conditions. I'm not planning any changes – I just want to continue building my own rhythm and continue enjoying the driving.”
“It's been an okay start to the morning, although it was a tough run through that last one [SS5]," Evans added. "We seemed to lose the momentum we'd built over the previous two [SS3 and SS4] so that was a little bit frustrating. But it's a long rally and it's always a case of give and take on this event.
“I don't think we were far wrong with the tyres again either. Preserving the studs for the whole loop seemed to be a problem for most people so I think our strategy of taking the two winter tyres for the middle stage [SS4] was correct. It's all so far so good at the moment.”
Kris Meeke completes the top six in his Citroen, only 0.4 seconds behind Evans, while VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen is also right in contention for P5 overall, only 2.6 seconds further back in seventh.
Mads Ostberg and Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo round out the top ten with Martin Prokop and Henning Solberg in P11 and P12.
In WRC2, Stephane Lefebvre still leads Martin Koci, but like at the very front, he has come under pressure his lead down from 22.5 seconds last night to just 1.7 seconds after SS5.
Bryan Bouffier was unable to re-join this morning after his off in SS2 on Thursday. Kubica and Chardonnet, however, as mentioned, were able to restart under Rally 2, the former impressing with those two fastest times, but well down on the overall leaderboard after his problems last night.
The leg now continues this afternoon with repeat runs through this morning's three tests. SS6, the 15.84 km La Salle-Corps test, is due to start at 14.38 hours local time [13.38 hours UK time].
2015 Rallye Monte Carlo: Overall standings after Stage 5 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 1hour 11m 41.4s M
2. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +03.0s M
3. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 10.7s M
4. Ott Tanak M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 35.0s M
5. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 48.4s M
6. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +1m 48.8s M
7. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +1m 51.4s M
8. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +2m 01.1s M
9. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +2m 28.5s M
10. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +2m 44.4s M
11. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 12.5s M
12. Henning Solberg M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 49.7s
13. Stephane Lefebvre Citroen DS3 R5 +4m 40.0s WRC2
14. Martin Koci Ford Fiesta R5 +4m 41.7s WRC2
15. Lorenzo Bertelli FWRT SRL Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 51.8s M
WRC2 standings after Stage 5 (Top 3):
1. Stephane Lefebvre Citroen DS3 R5 1hr 16m 21.4s WRC2
2. Martin Koci Ford Fiesta R5 +1.7s WRC2
3. Quentin Giordano Citroen DS3 R5 +1m 00.6s WRC2
SS1/SS2. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 WRC Suspension M*
SS2. Bryan Bouffier M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off
SS2. Robert Kubica RK WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Electrical issues M*
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started under Rally 2
# Unlike in previous years, crews will be authorised to rejoin under Rally 2 rules at Rallye Monte Carlo but only on the first two days. Any crews that retire during Saturday's leg will not be entitled to rejoin the rally on Sunday.
all times unofficial