Held on predominantly snow-covered roads, the second leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo saw Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena increase their lead at the top of the overall standings.
Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen had a tough day in the second Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC: the Finns ended the day fifth overall. Meanwhile, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio improved their position to take the final provisional spot on the podium.
After the first leg was dominated by Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, the Rallye Monte-Carlo continued on snow-covered roads in the Ardèche and Haute-Loire. The conditions made tyre choice more straightforward, as all the crews opted to fit studded Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tyres for the day.
First to go on each stage, Loeb and Elena were handicapped by their road position throughout the morning. “It’s more or less of an issue depending on the stage, but we’re constantly having to sweep the layer of freshly-fallen snow on the racing line,” emphasized Seb. “The most difficult stage was Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid. It was snowing and there was no grip at all on the road. We could’ve gone off on every corner, especially as there were no snow banks to run onto…”
Third overall at the start of the day, Mikko Hirvonen struggled to come to terms with the conditions. At the day’s half-way point, the Finns had fallen back to fifth, behind Dani Sordo and Evgeny Novikov: “The most difficult aspect for me is to assess the level of grip in the braking areas. I can see that I’m losing time when I get the split times and that encourages me to push a bit more. But I then have a few big moments that make me more cautious… I don’t really like these sorts of conditions.”
Meanwhile Dani Sordo was adjusting pretty well to the icy roads. Having taken third place from Mikko, the Spaniard then had to hold off Novikov’s attacks. His second fastest time on SS8, 2.8s behind Sébastien Loeb, demonstrated the progress he has made on a surface that he was nonetheless nervous about tackling: “I am never happy, especially when there are two drivers way ahead of me… But we have still had a good day, going quickly without making any mistakes.”
With two stage wins in the afternoon, Sébastien Loeb ended the leg having extended his lead over Sébastien Ogier to 1m 35s. Enough of an advantage to look forward to the rest of the rally in a more relaxed frame of mind: “I said yesterday that there were still three long days to go; well, now there are only two left! We couldn’t have hoped for things to go better on such a tricky course. We could have lost a lot of time if we had made a mistake, but we managed to avoid that.”
Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen admitted “Finishing the day in fifth position is frustrating. I am still short on confidence and that is stopping me from having the same pace as the leading guys. Having said all that, I am still aiming to finish on the podium. I think it’s feasible and that has to be my goal.”
“Overall, it has been a good day for us,” added Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “As far as Seb is concerned, you can’t really say he is controlling the rally, because he has increased his lead again. He maintained a strong pace when it was possible, and was more cautious in the trickiest sections. Dani has also had a very good day. He’s not a big fan of the conditions, but he showed just how much progress he has made on this kind of surface. He didn’t take any risks on the first run, and then upped his pace in the afternoon to hold onto third place.”
Tomorrow’s third leg will start in Valence and conclude in Monaco. The day’s action will be provided by three stages, featuring a total of around 90km of timed sections.