Loeb Still Holds Slender Monte Lead

Sebastien Ogier has now cut Sebastien Loeb's lead to just three seconds after a tense morning of Monte Carlo Rally stages, while a delayed Robert Kubica was the pacesetter. Third on the road Ogier (behind the Rally2 cars) and Loeb 14th under the new-for-2015 running order system, encountered very different stage conditions.

Loeb first benefited, increasing his lead from 13s to 28s with the fastest time on the morning's opener. But then the road conditions swung back in Ogier's favour with early fog clearing and ice patches melting. The main factor then became the level of mud dragged onto the stages by the early runners.

Loeb lost 4s to Ogier on SS4, then a full 21s on SS5, bringing his lead down to exactly three seconds heading for the lunchtime service. Kubica was fastest of all on both SS4 and SS5, but it counts for little other than confidence as his major electrical problems on Thursday night left his RK Ford outside the overall top 60 at the start of the day, 10 minutes behind the leaders and running under Rally2.

Jari-Matti Latvala struggled to find a rhythm in SS3's ice and fog, allowing M-Sport's flying young drivers Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans to move into third and fourth places. As Latvala's confidence returned, so did his pace, and by the end of SS5 he was firmly established in third again, 24s clear of Tanak. Evans is now fifth, just 0.4s ahead of Kris Meeke and with Andreas Mikkelsen right behind them in the third VW. Mads Ostberg is eighth but only 12.7s away from fifth place in this close pack, while the Hyundais of Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo are falling away in the final points-scoring positions.

Results after SS5:

1 Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT Citroen 1h11m41.4s
2 Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen 3.0s
3 Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen 1m10.7s
4 Ott Tanak M-Sport World Rally Team Ford 1m35.0s
5 Elfyn Evans M-Sport World Rally Team Ford 1m48.4s
6 Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT Citroen 1m48.8s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Volkswagen 1m51.4s
8 Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT Citroen 2m01.1s
9 Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai 2m28.5s
10 Daniel Sordo Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai 2m44.4s

23rd January, 2015