At least that is what everyone thought for it was only as the cars were lined up at the start of SS10 were they informed that due to the massive amount of spectators on the Comps Castellane stage, the cars would drive through the stage at normal road speeds and their times would not be recorded. As if to add insult to injury, many cars were pelted with snow as they cruised through. Well you are an easier target at 30mph than at 80mph!
The already compacted route was thus compacted even more with just one more stage left to run, a second run through Sisteron where Makinen had been so dominant earlier in the day.
However it was the fired up McRae who rose to the challenge and the Scot, still smarting over his SS9 experience simply flew as he outpaced his team-mate Carlos Sainz by more than six seconds and Makinen by more than eight, allowing him to regain the rally lead heading into the final day. Not that McRae will be too confident at this point for his lead is only three and a half seconds over the Mitsubishi, whose age is disguised by the slow conditions.
Not leading at the end of day two is something of a disappointment for Makinen although he will be greatly pleased with his performance today, as his 2001 season started much differently to how his 2000 season ended with spin after spin in the soaking Welsh forests last November.
“It's been going well,” said the 4 time Champion. “I actually thought our tyres were too soft for the Sisteron (SS8) stage but the time was good anyway. I'm enjoying the fight with Colin but there is still a long way to go.”
Nearly a minute behind the two leaders was Sainz in the second Focus and the Spaniard had a quiet day, staying out of trouble and posting consistently fast times although he has nothing to race for on Sunday barring a serious problem for either himself or those ahead. The Spaniard struggled with tyres on some stages and was especially careful not to get caught out on the numerous patches of ice that still lined the roads.
Next to the battle for the lead, the dice for fourth overall between Delecour and Schwarz was the highlight of the day as the former continued to struggle with problem after problem while going very quickly in between as the latter relentlessly plugged away, often going much fastest than a car the size of the Octavia should in the conditions.
“When there's snow and ice you can't make full use of your torque or power,” explained the German who is battling to secure Skoda's equal best finish in WRC competition. “In those conditions, when we're on the right tyres it is possible to be competitive. But today's roads are dry in a lot of places and we lose out.”
Delecour went ahead on SS8 and the two continued to be separated by little more than a handful of seconds until the final stage of the day when Schwarz outpaced the Frenchman by an impressive eleven seconds to snatch fourth back overnight. Both are more than two minutes adrift of the leader and two minutes ahead of sixth place man Alister McRae, who despite being on his first Monte and being very unfamiliar with the conditions, did a sterling job in the improving Accent WRC despite being comfortably off the ultimate pace.
“You could walk up some of the roads more quickly that we've been driving them and at the time, you can't help but think you're losing loads of time to your rivals,” explained the Scotsman. “But patience is really the only policy. I guess that's what I'm learning about Monte.”