Elfyn Evans maintained his lead in Rallye Monte-Carlo after three ice-patched speed tests on Friday morning, but his team-mate Sébastien Ogier was hot on his heels.
Evans, steering a GR Yaris Rally1 car for Toyota Gazoo Racing, showcased dominance in Thursday’s night-time stages when he secured a 15.1secovernight lead. However, on the slippery mountain roads west of Gap, he couldn’t replicate the same performance.
A cautious run in the opener from Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes to La Bâtie-Neuve reduced Evans’ advantage to 5.3sec. His lead would have diminished further in SS4 if Thierry Neuville hadn’t spun his Hyundai i20 N on a patch of ice, losing 10sec.
But Ogier, a nine-time winner here, delivered a stellar performance in the final stage from La Bréole to Selonnet, going fastest by 11.2sec. That was enough for the Frenchman to overtake Neuville and secure second overall whilst also narrowing Evans’ lead to just 10.7sec before the repeated afternoon loop.
“It’s tricky,” admitted Evans. “[Conditions have] improved a bit, but it’s so bad where it is [icy] and then full grip where it’s not. For sure you can go faster, but it’s not easy.”
An icy section in SS3 caught out several frontrunners, with Ott Tänak, Takamoto Katsuta and Grégoire Munster needing spectator assistance to get out of a ditch.
Tänak lost around 40sec but, with Thursday’s throttle mapping issues resolved, he maintained fourth overall and trailed leader Evans by 1min 1.0sec. M-Sport Ford Puma hotshot Adrien Fourmaux, who posted the third-best time for SS5, was only 3.3sec behind.
Drama at the front allowed Andreas Mikkelsen to climb to sixth, though he lagged over two minutes behind the leader, citing a lack of confidence in his Hyundai.
“My gravel crew is going [through the stages] very early, and the information is not there or different,” explained Mikkelsen. “I stopped trusting the words and I’m just using my eyes.”
Munster ended the morning in seventh while Katsuta, following his ditch incident, plummeted down the leaderboard after losing more than five minutes.
WRC2 hopefuls Pepe López (Škoda Fabian RS), Nikolay Gryazin (Citroën C3) and Yohan Rossel (Citroën C3) completed the top 10.