Thierry Neuville’s Rallye Monte-Carlo lead has been whittled down to 5.4 seconds over Elfyn Evans – who punched in the fastest SS3 time to leap up from fourth to second.
The 12.4-mile Curbans – Venterol test was the first run in daylight of the entire 2020 season and was relatively dry apart from some icy sections in the middle.
But Neuville, Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak all suffered skirmishes with the scenery through the stage and were upstaged by an inspired Evans.
“[We had] quite a fancy moment,” Tänak revealed. “[We] hit some black ice and with the slicks [we had] no chance. Luckily there was an escape road.”
Tänak would still gain 3.2s on Toyota rival Ogier though, and the Yaris driver was less descriptive about his misdemeanour: “Yeah it’s OK. It’s been tricky,” he said. “We had a moment, we hit a bank, and then it was hard to find confidence.”
Neuville, who had pulled well clear of his rivals on Thursday night’s second stage, had a disastrous stage as his lead was eroded from 19.1s to just 5.4s over Evans. Ogier is 7.5s in arrears with Neuville’s team-mate Tänak lurking 10.3s from him in fourth.
“[We had a moment and we] had to restart,” Neuville admitted. “It was much more slippery than expected so I struggled a bit with the tyres.”
The third Hyundai of Sébastien Loeb remains in somewhat no man’s land in fifth place, 22.8s behind Tänak and 28.3s ahead of Esapekka Lappi. Loeb set the second-fastest time on Curbans – Venterol to send a warning shot to those ahead of him.
To combat the water temperature issues that all three M-Sport Fiestas suffered on SS1, the team fitted a second grille to the car at an angle so that if leaves were still collected, airflow could still get in.
This no doubt benefited Lappi, but what didn’t was the stage conditions: “It’s crazy how dirty it is,” he said. “We had our safety crew through but I’m missing 70% of the dirt [in my notes], the guys are pulling out a lot of dirt.”
Kalle Rovanperä is seventh on his WRC debut for Toyota, 25.2s behind compatriot Lappi as he once again adopted a careful approach.
Gus Greensmith’s rally went from bad to worse, though, as he spun and then slid his Ford Fiesta WRC backwards down a bank while trying to recover. He became stranded and had to retire.
That followed the water temperature issues and then a turbo problem he battled with on Thursday.
Teemu Suninen restarted the rally following his retirement with transmission issues on Thursday night’s final stage.
But the M-Sport driver was bereft of confidence with the icy parts of the stages substantially melting since his safety crews passed through the test this morning.
“I didn’t have confidence to push,” he said, “as if the notes are saying ice I need to trust it.”
WRC3 leader Eric Camilli is up to eighth overall in his Citroën C3 R5 ahead of Takamoto Katsuta’s Toyota Yaris WRC.
The lead of WRC2 changed hands for the third consecutive stage as Ole Christian Veiby assumed top spot and 10th overall. Mads Ostberg had been leading the class after SS2 but lost close to three minutes with a puncture.
Leading positions after SS3
1 Neuville (Hyundai)
2 Evans (Toyota) +5.4s
3 Ogier (Toyota) +7.5s
4 Tänak (Hyundai) +10.3s
5 Loeb (Hyundai) +33.1s
6 Lappi (M-Sport Ford) +1m01.4s
7 Rovanperä (Toyota) +1m26.6s
8 Camilli (Citroën) +2m43.3s
9 Katsuta (Toyota) +2m58.0s
10 Veiby (Hyundai) +2m59.9s