Day three of the Rallye Monte-Carlo took the competitors from Valence to Monaco. As was the case on the first two legs, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena managed to extend their lead at the top of the overall standings.
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT crew is now 1m 47.4s ahead of their nearest rivals. Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio continue to fight for a place on the podium, whilst Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are now sixth overall.
Friday’s action kicked off with the Saint-Jean-en-Royans stage. With around twenty kilometres of the stage covered in snow, competitors once again opted to fit studded Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tyres. Delighted to be racing on the fast roads of the Vercors Plateau in these conditions, Sébastien Loeb didn’t hold back at all, the result being that he won the stage. “It was undoubtedly the most beautiful stage of the rally,” enthused Seb at the stop control. “The fog had cleared and we able to enjoy the fantastic views of the scenery afforded by the sunlight. When the roads are wide and lined with small snow banks, you can drive with freedom. I didn‘t take any risks, but it was very enjoyable!”
Although they couldn’t fail to see the beauty of the scenery in the Drôme, Dani Sordo and Mikko Hirvonen weren’t so happy, after losing quite a bit of time on the stage. “I span the car after we clipped a snow bank,” explained Dani Sordo. “I didn’t have to stop and we can’t have lost more than ten seconds, but that enabled Novikov to close the gap in the overall standings.”
After a half-hour service period, the competitors headed south. Two stages were left to complete before the cars reached parc fermé in Monaco: Saint-Nazaire-le-Désert (SS12) and then Sisteron / Thoard (ES13), the legendary stage that runs through the icy Fontbelle mountain pass. To cope with the varied conditions, the crews predominantly opted for four studded tyres combined with two supersoft Pilot Sport tyres.
Fifth on SS12 and fastest on SS13, Sébastien Loeb was most of all pleased to have made it through two very tricky stages: “I enjoyed it less than this morning. On the first stage, the snow had melted in places so we didn’t have the same grip on both sides of the car! The Sisteron stage was totally dry and I would have preferred to have been on four slicks to push really hard. But overall, we made the right choice. So, now we’re in Monaco, there’s only one day left to go, but it won’t be any easier than the first three. If it rains or snows on the Col du Turini, then there’ll undoubtedly be some surprises!”
Unseated from third place by Novikov, Dani Sordo pushed on the final stage of the day. He narrowed his rival’s advantage to just two seconds: “I made another mistake on SS12 and that was enough for Evgeny to get past. The gap between us is tiny however so I’m going to fight hard to get past him again tomorrow.”
The day didn’t go any better for Mikko Hirvonen. Despite producing a good time on Saint-Nazaire-le-Désert (3rd, 3.4s off the pace), the Finn dropped back to sixth position after the day’s final stage: “The first two stages didn’t go too badly, but Sisteron was an ordeal. I had no pace and no confidence with the mix of tyres. I must at least try to get past Jari-Matti [Latvala] again tomorrow.”