WRC Monte Carlo: Loeb reclaims lead as Ogier suffers puncture on penultimate stage

Sebastien Loeb has reclaimed the Monte Carlo Rally lead in dramatic fashion after Sebastien Ogier picked up a puncture on the penultimate stage of the World Rally Championship season opener.

WRC Monte Carlo: Loeb reclaims lead as Ogier suffers puncture on penultimate stage

The nine-time champion faced a 24.6s deficit heading into Stage 16 after Ogier extended his overnight 21.1s lead on Stage 15, but the M-Sport driver was handed a lifeline when drama struck his rival.

Ogier picked up a front left puncture running through La Penne/Collongues 2, 19.37km stage that saw the eight-time world champion’s lead evaporate and hopes of a ninth Monte Carlo win severely dented.

In contrast, Loeb won the stage to open up a 9.5s lead heading into the final Power Stage, as the rally-long fight between the WRC legends is poised for a grandstand finish.

M-Sport’s Craig Breen remains in third position and on course for a fourth consecutive WRC podium, and his first for the British squad. The Irishman is 1m28.3s adrift but comfortably 54.9s ahead of fourth-placed Kalle Rovanpera.

Gus Greensmith’s M-Sport Ford Puma sits fifth in front of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville in the sole remaining i20 N after the team elected to retire the Oliver Solberg entry after Sunday morning’s first stage.

The team confirmed Solberg and co-driver Elliott Edmondson were feeling unwell after breathing in exhaust fumes that had been entering the cockpit of their car over Friday and Saturday.

Toyota duo Takamoto Katsuta and Elfyn Evans are the only other Rally1 entries still running, but are both well adrift of the lead group after suffering crashes on Saturday.

The final day began with Loeb’s hopes of victory given a small boost by winning Stage 14 and taking 1.1s out of Ogier’s 21.1s lead he carried into Sunday. Loeb reported he was enjoying a decent rhythm on the mountain roads while Ogier confirmed that he wasn’t pushing to the limit.

Sébastien Ogier, Benjamin Veillas, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Sébastien Ogier, Benjamin Veillas, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

However, on the next stage Ogier restored order by completing the test 4.6s faster than Loeb. The pair were wary of the slippery conditions and the possibility of picking up punctures, but it was Ogier that emerged with a healthy lead.

His fears over punctures came true as his lead would disappear due to exactly that on the next test. Ogier will however fit his spare tyre to ensure he can tackle the final stage.

Ogier was not the only Toyota to hit trouble as Evans suffered a right front puncture on Stage 15 that required him to fit his spare.

Elsewhere, Hyundai enjoyed some joy in what has been a difficult start to the new Rally1 hybrid era, as Neuville claimed the team’s first stage win of the season on Stage 15.

WRC Monte Carlo Rally - Classification after SS16

Cla Driver/Codriver Car Class Total Time Gap
1 France Sébastien Loeb
France Isabelle Galmiche
Ford Puma Rally1 RC1 2:51'50.000  
2 France Sébastien Ogier
France Benjamin Veillas
Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 RC1 2:51'59.500 9.500
3 Ireland Craig Breen
Ireland Paul Nagle
Ford Puma Rally1 RC1 2:53'18.300 1'28.300
4 Finland Kalle Rovanperä
Finland Jonne Halttunen
Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 RC1 2:54'13.200 2'23.200
5 United Kingdom Gus Greensmith
Sweden Jonas Andersson
Ford Puma Rally1 RC1 2:55'19.300 3'29.300
6 Belgium Thierry Neuville
Belgium Martijn Wydaeghe
Hyundai i20 N Rally1 RC1 2:59'27.000 7'37.000
7 Norway Andreas Mikkelsen
Norway Torstein Eriksen
Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo RC2 3:02'53.600 11'03.600
8 Erik Cais
Petr Těšínský
Ford Fiesta Rally2 RC2 3:03'27.400 11'37.400
9 Japan Takamoto Katsuta
Aaron Johnston
Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 RC1 3:04'13.000 12'23.000
10 Russian Federation Nikolay Gryazin
Konstantin Aleksandrov
Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo RC2 3:04'39.900 12'49.900
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