Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier will go into the final day of Rallye Monte Carlo with a 42.8 second advantage over Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ogier went into the afternoon loop with a 1m 4.9s cushion and, just like this morning, opted to take it relatively steady.
Indeed he posted the fifth fastest time in SS11, 7.4 seconds off Sebastien Loeb - the stage winner - and in SS12 he was eighth, 38.4 seconds off Kris Meeke, the Briton giving Citroen another stage victory, despite a spin that cost him 10s.
Ogier now looks well placed to take his third win on the Monte and to start the new season in style.
“Today's special stages are basically very nice and great to drive. However, the conditions today were so varied that it made tyre selection difficult,” Ogier reflected. “Running on a crossover of slicks, winter tyres or spikes meant we were not able to enjoy the stages as much as we would have done otherwise. We spent the entire day on tyres that were the safest choice. That was definitely the right decision.
“Tomorrow's schedule features another three stages, which we will treat with the same respect as today's. I would love to repeat my 2014 'Monte' victory. However, we still have a long way to go before then.”
Meanwhile, Latvala insisted he is not trying to go for the victory, even though he took 20 seconds out of his VW team-mate in the final test of the day.
“I don't understand,” Latvala told the official WRC site. “I have no intention to catch him, but I really enjoyed this stage, I had a great rhythm.”
“Another successful day of rallying for us,” Latvala continued back in service. “The conditions were not easy for us today, and the tyre selection was made tricky again by the switching between dry asphalt and icy sections. However, our big advantage meant we were always able to play it safe. As such, we were able to enjoy the stages a bit today. They were great fun.
“We may have cut Sebastien's lead by a minute, but we will not be taking any unnecessary risks to try to challenge him. We want to complete the great result and secure the points towards the championship.”
Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen is next up, more than a minute back, with Mads Ostberg 53s further adrift in fourth and also reporting engine issues in the final test.
“We have a big engine problem. We drove a few kilometres with three cylinders, and we had to stop completely to reset it. I don't know exactly what it is,” Ostberg revealed after SS12.
Hyundai duo Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville have moved up to fifth and sixth respectively, split by just 4.7s.
“We've had quite an encouraging day and I am pleased to be in the top five overall. It hasn't been a completely straightforward day, but then there is no such thing at Monte-Carlo!” Sordo said.
“The long stage this morning was really nice and apart from a small mistake we could finish in the top five. This afternoon was also challenging with mixed conditions but went ok. In the final stage, we probably should have used studded tyres instead of the snow because it was very slippery. It was not too bad and we can now look forward to the final day and the objective of finishing in the top five, which would be a good result for us in the first rally of the new season.”
“I have actually enjoyed today and I have built up a lot more confidence in these very difficult conditions,” Neuville added. “We have had another day where tyre choice has been very important and I think we have mastered this quite well.
“The first stage this morning was very long and we went perhaps a bit too hard with our tyre choice so we had to exercise caution in the icy conditions. In the afternoon, we improved and the final stage was our best of the rally so far. The car was exactly like I wanted it with a good balance and it was a great result.
“The end is in sight but we have three more stages left and we must keep up this progress right up to the finish of the rally.”
Elfyn Evans has slipped to seventh after damaging the rear suspension on his Fiesta RS WRC in SS11 when he hit a wall. The Welshman had to make temporary repairs to get through SS12 losing over 2 minutes and two positions on the leaderboard.
“We had made the corner, but when we put the power down on the exit it was a lot more slippery than we had expected and the rear kicked out and clipped the wall,” Evans explained. “It broke a suspension arm so in a way we are very lucky to be here and to have made it back. It was a bit touch and go to be honest, but at least we are here. It is not ideal to have dropped two positions by all means, but it's better than not being here at all.”
Behind, Ford privateer Martin Prokop holds eighth with Rally 2 runners Loeb and Meeke now up to ninth and tenth in their DS 3 WRCs after both retired in SS8 on Friday.
“We didn't really have the same motivation this morning. So decided to change strategy,” Loeb noted. “Instead of going with a mix of tyres and spending the thirty-five kilometres of Sisteron understeering to try and not lose time, I preferred to enjoy myself a bit by putting on slick tyres. I tried to be aggressive to dominate the car and to drive quickly. I'm also here to have fun with the DS 3 WRC and it worked out pretty well today!”
“It all came down to tyre choice, in the end,” Meeke added. “Ideally, it would have been better to have hard tyres on SS11 and then studded tyres on SS12 but that wasn't possible. We had to compromise. We managed to get the right mix of tyres to set the fastest time on the final stage. So I suppose that's some consolation after what happened yesterday.”
Henning Solberg had been running in the top-ten until he went off in SS12 and lost 2m 40s. He now sits in P12, one spot behind WRC2 class leader Stephane Lefebvre and one ahead of former F1 driver Robert Kubica. Kubica continued to show good pace today, winning another test – his fourth of the event – and then going second quickest this afternoon in both SS11 and SS12.
Ott Tanak is 20th, after going off the road in SS10 this morning and losing over 18 minutes. He had been running in P4.
“After this morning's disappointment it was important to take our time and rebuild the confidence. It was good to slow it down because it's so difficult when the speed and the grip are changing so often – it's hard to find a good rhythm,” Tanak stated in final service.
“We've had some more time to relax and we've found some places where we can improve which is what we wanted to do. We've not pushed at all; just made some changes to the notes and made it through safely.”
Rallye Monte Carlo now concludes on Sunday with three stages on the bill and a competitive distance of 51.98 km. SS13, the 10.16 km Col St Jean-St Laurent 1, is scheduled to start at 09.30 hours local time [08.30 hours UK time].
2015 Rallye Monte Carlo: Overall standings after Stage 12 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 3h 00m 39.9s M
2. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 42.8s M
3. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +1m 49.8s M
4. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +2m 42.8s M
5. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +3m 16.1s M
6. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +3m 20.8s M
7. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4m 51.7s M
8. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +8m 17.5s M
9. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +09m 02.2s M
10. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +10m 06.0s M
11. Stephane Lefebvre Citroen DS3 R5 +10m 20.8s WRC2
12. Henning Solberg M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +11m 17.1s
13. Robert Kubica RK WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +11m 53.8s M
14. Armin Kremer Skoda Fabia S2000 +13m 19.6s WRC2
15. Martin Koci Ford Fiesta R5 +13m 40.3s WRC2
20. Ott Tanak M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +19m 18.3s M
WRC2 standings after Stage 12 (Top 3):
1. Stephane Lefebvre Citroen DS3 R5 3h 11m 00.7s WRC2
2. Armin Kremer Skoda Fabia S2000 +2m 58.8s WRC2
3. Martin Koci Ford Fiesta R5 +3m 19.5s 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 re-started 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