After leading the rally at the end of day one, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle continued to impress throughout todayâ€™s second leg, held on roads around Gap. The Abu Dhabi Total WRT crew now lies second overall, less than ten seconds behind the leader. StÃ©phane Lefebvre and Gabin Moreau continued to learn about rallying at this level as the young Frenchmen ended the day in eighth position in the overall standings.
After yesterday eveningâ€™s opening leg was held after dark, day two of the 84th Rallye Monte-Carlo featured three stages, each contested twice. Predominantly dry, the Champsaur roads nonetheless had enough ice on them to make tyre choice tricky at the dayâ€™s first service.
For the morning loop, Kris Meeke went with five Michelin Pilot Sport SS5 tyres (super soft slicks) again, whilst StÃ©phane Lefebvre gambled on four slicks and two Pilot Alpin PA4 CL tyres (with studs). An enthralling battle developed between Kris Meeke and SÃ©bastien 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 SS5â€¦ by just 1.5s! During these opening three stages, StÃ©phane Lefebvre tried to find the right balance between pushing and driving smoothly. Consistently in the top 10, the younger member of the team remained ninth overall at the dayâ€™s half-way stage.
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, SÃ©bastien Ogier hit back with a convincing win in his own backyard. He ended todayâ€™s second leg with a 9.5s lead over Kris.
StÃ©phane Lefebvre enjoyed something of an incident-packed afternoon. Whilst make changes to the set-up of his rear axle after SS6, he lost time and was handed a 20s penalty for arriving late at the time control. After contesting SS7 with a disconnected anti-roll bar â€“ and nonetheless setting the fifth fastest time â€“ he lost a bit more time after running into a field alongside SS8! Having made it back to Gap, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT driver still managed to end the day in eighth place overall.
After what has been two very difficult days, the final podium of the 84th Rallye Monte-Carlo is still a long way off! Saturdayâ€™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.
Kris Meeke: â€œIâ€™m pleased with today, I feel good in the car and itâ€™s really nice to be challenging for the lead. There were just a few seconds between me and SÃ©bastien, but he made the difference on a few kilometres between Les Costes and Chaillol. As far as Iâ€™m concerned, I was happy with my driving; I really donâ€™t know how he made up the time! But in any case, itâ€™s still tight and the fight is by no means over. Tomorrow, weâ€™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 thereâ€™ll be the legendary Sisteron-Thoard stage to tackle before we reach Monaco. It really will be the biggest day of the rally!â€
StÃ©phane Lefebvre: â€œItâ€™s been a fairly eventful day! I started off cautiously this morning, especially after seeing Kubicaâ€™s car parked against a tree. We changed the set-up during the midday service but it wasnâ€™t perfect and we decided to make a few changes between two stages. Unfortunately, the anti-roll bar became stuck and that was why we arrived late at the time control. We also took a little detour into a field on SS8. I think we skidded on a patch of ice and the car didnâ€™t turn in properly on a fast bend. Fortunately, we got back onto the road quickly and didnâ€™t lose more than five seconds! I realise tonight just how important experience is at Monte-Carlo. I canâ€™t really make much use of what I learned in Germany, Corsica or Spain, because the conditions are so different. There is still a long way to go in the rally so I hope I can keep improving on the last two legs.â€
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Ogier / Ingrassia (VW Polo-R WRC) 1h29:06.1
Meeke / Nagle (DS 3 WRC) +9.5
Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo-R WRC) +1:08.1
Mikkelsen / Jaeger (VW Polo-R WRC) +1:33.8
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyndai i20 WRC) +1:47.8
Ostberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:18.5
Sordo / Martin (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:07.8
Lefebvre / Moreau (DS 3 WRC) +3:32.0
Bouffier / Bellotto (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:18.6
TÃ¤nak / Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:25.8