Then came Day two yesterday. They lost the rally lead on the rods around Gap but continued to impress throughout the second leg finishing the day in second place just 10 seconds behind Sebastien Ogier.
The opening leg was held in the dark, with yesterday's three stages, each contested twice, in daylight. Predominantly dry, the Champsaur roads nonetheless had enough ice on them to make tyre choice tricky at the day’s first service.
An enthralling battle developed between the leading Abu Dhabi Total WRT crew and VW's Sébastien Ogier for the overall lead, with matter of a few tenths separating them. Despite a stage win on SS4, the Ulsterman lost the lead at the end of SS5, by just 1.5s!
Following a half-hour service in Gap and a few set-up adjustments, the fight at the front served up even more thrills in afternoon runs. Kris Meeke set a blistering time on SS7 to retake the overall lead. But on the following test, Sébastien Ogier hit back with a convincing win in his own backyard. He ended today’s second leg with a 9.5s lead over Kris.
Saturday’s leg is set to be the longest of the rally, with five stages covering almost half of the total distance of timed sections. The crews are expected to reach parc ferme in Monaco from 7.48pm.
On Friday night, Kris said: “I’m pleased with today, I feel good in the car and it’s really nice to be challenging for the lead. There were just a few seconds between me and Sébastien, but he made the difference on a few kilometres between Les Costes and Chaillol. As far as I’m concerned, I was happy with my driving; I really don’t know how he made up the time! But in any case, it’s still tight and the fight is by no means over. Tomorrow, we’ll have to deal with the long 51km stage and the one that includes a section on the Ancelle ski slopes. Tyre choice will be all about getting the right compromise, and it could swing the race one way or another. And then there’ll be the legendary Sisteron-Thoard stage to tackle before we reach Monaco. It really will be the biggest day of the rally!”
Elfyn Evans was the leading WRC2 driver in the M-Sport Fiesta holding 11th place at close of play on Friday evening less than a minute (58.5 seconds) behind the outright leader, No bad, eh?
Leaderboard after 8 (of 16) stages:
1, Ogier / Ingrassia (VW Polo-R WRC) 1h29:06.1
2, Meeke / Nagle (DS 3 WRC) +9.5
3, Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo-R WRC) +1:08.1
4, Mikkelsen / Jaeger (VW Polo-R WRC) +1:33.8
5, Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyndai i20 WRC) +1:47.8
6, Ostberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:18.5
7, Sordo / Martin (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:07.8
8, Lefebvre / Moreau (DS 3 WRC) +3:32.0
9, Bouffier / Bellotto (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:18.6
0, Tänak / Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:25.8