CLICK HERE for Monte Carlo Rally leaderboard (top 15) after SS13
Sebastien Ogier can afford to adopt a cautious approach on the final day of the Monte Carlo Rally after closest rivals Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala were forced to retire on a dramatic third leg.
Starting the day with a slender 10secs advantage over the Citroen driver, a rapid morning effort saw him swell that lead to 30secs coming into the afternoon, with the margin remaining fairly static on the second run through the monster 51km Larnier et Valenca stage and the following St Leger test.
However, it was on that latter stage that Meeke's stellar run on the Monte would come to an end, the Briton developing gearbox problems towards the end of the stage after reportedly striking something in the road and damaging the sump on his Citroen DS3. Proceeding towards the final stage at Sisteron, Meeke's car would stop outside the tyre change area and wouldn't restart, forcing him to admit defeat and accept a bitter retirement.
A desperately disappointing end for the only driver to take the fight to Ogier in terms of pure pace this weekend, Meeke's exit came just shortly after erstwhile third place driver Jari-Matti Latvala had also been forced to stop on the road section towards SS12 after sustaining damage in an off on SS11.
It means Ogier, with just three stages remaining on a short Sunday itinerary, holds a mammoth 1m 59.6s lead over Andreas Mikkelsen, the Norwegian proving the big beneficiary of the day as he climbed from fourth to second position.
Similarly, Thierry Neuville has risen to third place and remains well in the hunt for second place after giving the new Hyundai i20 its first-ever stage wins thanks to a savvy studded tyre choice on the icy SS12 and SS13. The Belgian is now just 12secs behind the VW.
Unable to keep pace of those in front but comfortably clear of those behind, Mads Ostberg is now on course for a decent result in fourth place for M-Sport Ford, well clear of young Frenchman Stefan Lefebvre, who appears safe in fifth after countryman Bryan Bouffier – who was just four seconds behind after SS12 – struck a wall on SS13 and dropped almost two minutes. Worse still, the damage threatens to end his rally too with no service available until the morning.
His disappointment means Dani Sordo stands to regain following a frustrating, but ultimately positive day. Having complained of a lack of confidence in the i20 on Friday, Sordo mirrored Neuville's turn of pace on day three thanks to a series of set-up changes, but despite setting two top three stages times in SS12 and SS13, an earlier puncture meant he was always battling back from a three minute loss of time. Nonetheless, Sordo is now back up to eighth, with the crocked Bouffier potentially out up ahead and Ott Tanak just two seconds away in seventh.
With his main rivals hitting problems earlier in the afternoon, Elfyn Evans is taking a cautious approach for the remaining stages as he consolidates his large WRC2 lead, the Welshman now more than two minutes clear of Armin Kremer, with Quentin Gilbert rounding out the top three just a further 15secs back.