Sebastien Ogier has taken the lead on Rallye Monte Carlo following Friday afternoon's repeat loop with arch rival Sebastien Loeb losing out after hitting a rock in the final test of the day.
Loeb completed SS8 with heavy left-rear suspension damage [see pictures below] and then retired from the leg on the road section.
“It happened when I hit - a little bit - a rock in an icy place,” Loeb told the official WRC site. “Not too hard, but it broke - I don't know exactly what - but something is wrong.”
“I had to try really hard because I knew with the road conditions it was impossible in this [road] position, so I tried really hard with a different tyre choice and did a mistake,” he added.
Ogier, who had closed to within 3 seconds of Loeb after SS5 this morning, will now take a commanding 1 minute 45.4 second cushion into day three.
“I had no idea that I was in the lead,” Ogier remarked after SS8. “The tyres were not ideal for here, but it is all I had.”
Speaking back in service, Ogier added: “It was a tough day with extremely difficult conditions. I must pay a big compliment to my ice spies, who did a fantastic job. The duel with Sebastien Loeb was not only thrilling for the fans, but was also exciting for Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and me in the cockpit. Whilst he had the advantage on one stage, I was able to make up ground on the next. In the end it proved important that I never lost my cool, even despite the gap early on.
“When we moved into the lead for the first time after the penultimate stage, I was able to take a deep breath. Loeb's crash on the final stage is obviously a shame for many rally fans, as it means our duel for the lead is over. However, despite our lead, the next couple of days will be anything but easy.
“The conditions, with the mixture of ice, snow and asphalt, remain extremely difficult. As such, it demands maximum concentration right through to the finish. Hopefully I will then be able to pay my fans back for the incredible support and passion I enjoy here at my home event.”
Meanwhile, Jari-Matti Latvala is second, with Andreas Mikkelsen third – 49.4s further adrift – potentially giving Volkswagen a clean sweep of the podium positions.
“My goal at the start of the rally was to finish in the top four – and nothing has changed in that regard,” Latvala noted. “I have not had any particularly good results at the 'Monte' in the past, and I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the weather, tyre selection and the route. As such, I am happy with my position and what I learned today.
“Looking ahead to the championship, it is more important to score a lot of points here than to risk everything trying to win. If you compare the World Championship to the Rally Dakar, we only actually reach the finish at the end of the year. I do not intend to lose sight of our main goal.”
“We bet everything on safety today,” Mikkelsen added. “I think our tyre selections in the morning and the afternoon were both good. This allowed us to implement our plan to ensure we made it through the day in one piece.
“That was far from easy, however, as there was thick fog on some of the stages, which meant there were times when you could not see five metres ahead of you. It is also a real challenge to judge the grip in such fluctuating conditions. It is superb to come out of a day like this in third place – even if we did benefit from the misfortune of others.
“However, this is only an intermediate result. There is still a long way to go to the finish in Monaco, and we must continue to drive as intelligently as we have done in order to secure a good result.”
Behind, M-Sport's Ott Tanak holds fourth, 9.6s off third and 18.5s up on Citroen's Mads Ostberg.
“It has been a very tricky day. The first pass was really icy and foggy and I was surprised to see that the conditions weren't much better in the afternoon. It was a little better for the last two stages [SS7 and SS8], but still I think we can say that this is a proper Rally Monte-Carlo!” Tanak stated.
“I think we've had a really good day. We're not the fastest in the stages, but we're keeping a good rhythm and focusing on our own rally which I think is what's important here. As we saw this afternoon anything can still happen. We just need to remain calm and focused on ourselves for the next two days.”
“The conditions were very difficult," Ostberg noted. "It can be little bit frustrating, because sometimes I was braking before a corner where I didn't need to slow down. I could do more, but my strategy is to concentrate on what I need to do. And I'm pretty happy with how I performed today.”
Elfyn Evans completes the top-six with Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Martin Prokop in positions 7 through to 9. Henning Solberg completes the top-ten, with Loeb now in 15th and set to re-start under Rally 2 on Saturday.
Kris Meeke was another major casualty this afternoon and like Loeb he went out in SS8 with suspension damage. Meeke had been running fourth. He will also re-join tomorrow.
Robert Kubica, who re-started under Rally 2 today, winning two stages this morning, was quickest in SS7, but then he had two offs in SS8 and lost over 3 minutes. It was all rather academic, however, after the Pole's dramas on Thursday night.
In WRC2, Stephane Lefebvre fought back and after seeing his lead cut to just 1.7 seconds this morning, is now 6.5s up on Martin Koci. Armin Kremer is third.
Rallye Monte Carlo now continues on Saturday with four stages on the bill, totalling around 128 competitive kilometres. SS9, the 19.93km Prunieres-Embrun 1 test, is scheduled to start at 09.16 hours local time [08.16 hours UK time].
2015 Rallye Monte Carlo: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1hour 52m 07.4s M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 45.4s M
3. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +2m 34.8s M
4. Ott Tanak M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 44.4s M
5. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +3m 02.9s M
6. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 15.2s M
7. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +3m 29.9s M
8. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +4m 03.0s M
9. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 59.6s M
10. Henning Solberg M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 38.9s
11. Lorenzo Bertelli FWRT SRL Ford Fiesta RS WRC +7m 13.8s M
12. Stephane Lefebvre Citroen DS3 R5 +7m 42.7s WRC2
13. Martin Koci Ford Fiesta R5 +7m 49.2s WRC2
14. Armin Kremer Skoda Fabia S2000 +9m 47.6s WRC2
15. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +10m 08.0s M**
WRC2 standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):
1. Stephane Lefebvre Citroen DS3 R5 1hr 59m 50.2s WRC2
2. Martin Koci Ford Fiesta R5 +6.5s WRC2
3. Armin Kremer Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m 04.9s 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*
SS8. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Suspension damage M**
SS8. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC Suspension damage M**
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started under Rally 2 on Friday
**denotes will re-start under Rally 2 on Saturday
# 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