Sébastien Ogier (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) Moves into the Lead
The BFGoodrich Drivers Team's representative on the 2009 Rallye Monte-Carlo has taken control at the top of the provisional leaderboard after a dramatic second leg. Belgium's Freddy Loix (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) follows in second place, 32.4 seconds adrift of the Frenchman, while early leader Juho Hanninen (Skoda/BFGoodrich) has fallen back to third, 54.8s down. The list of retirements includes defending IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot/BFGoodrich).
The snow that had been forecast over the ArdÃ¨che Mountains fell in relative abundance overnight, leaving a crisp wintry coating over two of the three stages contested this morning, namely Labatie d'Andaure and Saint Bonnet Le Froid, two classic 'Monte' tests. The cocktail of fresh snow and lingering ice made tyre choice relatively straightforward at the early morning service halt in Valence where all the BFGoodrich runners opted for studded g-Force Winter snow tyres, plus two non-studded spares for the clearer conditions of SS6.
The first test of the loop proved particularly treacherous and ended up eliminating two Peugeot drivers who had figured on the overnight podium - Nicolas Vouilloz and StÃ©phane Sarrazin - from the chase for outright honours. Vouilloz and Sarrazin dropped one and five minutes respectively after going off, while overnight leader Juho Hanninen notched up the new Skoda Fabia S2000/BFGoodrich's first fastest time in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Sébastien Ogier (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) overcame a broken gearshift lever on SS5 to ease into second place, 1m 24.3s behind Hanninen, with the BFGoodrich Drivers Team Peugeot 207 S2000 as crews checked into the lunchtime regroup in Valence. The provisional top-three at this point was rounded off by Belgium's Freddy Loix (Peugeot/BFGoodrich) after the early promising shown by Great Britain's Kris Meeke was dented by an off on SS6.
In contrast, the repeat run over the same loop of three tests produced a more diversified choice of tyres as higher temperatures caused the covering of snow and ice begin to melt. Ogier, Meeke, Sarrazin and Giandomenico Basso opted for the g-Force Profiler M01 rain tyre (sporting differing degrees of 'cuts'), while the other top BFGoodrich runners (Vouilloz, Loix, Alen, Gardemeister, Hanninen and Kopecky) all went for non-studded g-Force Winter snow tyres.
The stages were effectively much clearer and StÃ©phane Sarrazin posted the fastest time on SS7, but the defending IRC champ Nicolas Vouilloz was eliminated by steering damage following an off.
Running on non-studded BFGoodrich snow tyres, the two Skoda Fabia S2000s succeeded in claiming the top two times on Saint Bonnet le Froid, but Juho Hanninen (Skoda/BFGoodrich) fell from the lead on the following test when a time-consuming off handed top spot this evening to Sébastien Ogier in the BFGoodrich Drivers Team Peugeot.
Leg 3's action kicks off with an initial stage of 30.42km before Friday evening's 'Nuit du Turini' loop. The celebrated night-time finale has proved time and time again that nothing is ever over until the finish line has been crossed, especially on such a demanding and treacherous event as the Rallye Monte-Carlo!
Sébastien Ogier (Peugeot/BFGoodrich): "It's been a difficult day, with icy conditions and a small mechanical problem this morning. The bottom line is very positive, though, because we are in the lead tonight. We will try to keep to the same pace tomorrow and keep a close eye on the times of our main chasers."
StÃ©phane Sarrazin (Peugeot/BFGoodrich): "On today's first stage, my engine stalled during an icy descent and I failed make it round the next corner. My car slipped into a ditch at low speed and it took the help of some 30 spectators to manhandle us back onto the road. We lost around five minutes. This afternoon, we made a good tyre choice by going for 're-cut' g-Force Profiler M01s."
Freddy Loix (Peugeot/BFGoodrich): "I am quite pleased with the current situation in championship terms. Since the start, I have tried to make 'safe' tyre choices, including this afternoon when we took non-studded g-Force Winter snow tyres which gave good grip and performed well under braking."