Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia produced another masterful performance to extend their overall lead to 4.3s, heading into what is set to be a very closely contested final leg! Meanwhile, their team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm were forced into an early retirement due to an engine issue.
The action on day three opened with Agnières en Devoluy – Corps (29.82km), the longest stage of the weekend, providing the crews with a particularly challenging start to proceedings. The constant changes in rhythm on the stage and countless icy patches on the road meant the Citroën Total World Rally Team crews, on the sound advice of their safety crews, opted for four Michelin studded tyres and two super soft compound slicks.
In these tricky conditions, the drivers all reported the same feeling at the finish: that it was difficult to have a true idea of your pace with no split times to refer to, crews having been banned from having this information since 2015. However, once again Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia demonstrated their incredible consistency! Their third fastest time, just 2.8s off the stage-winning time, took their lead over their nearest rival from 2.0s to 5.6s. An advantage that the winners of the last five Rallye Monte-Carlo then worked hard to manage on the following speed test, which started less than five kilometres from the village of Forest-Saint-Julien, Sébastien’s birthplace, and also on the afternoon loop. Something they achieved with considerable success, since they ended the day with a 4.3s lead, determined to continue trying to gain a few seconds on tomorrow’s final leg!
After rejoining the race this morning, Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm unfortunately suffered an engine issue on the opening stage of the day, which spelled the end of their rally. Despite starting with the right approach, they have unfortunately not been able to do themselves justice at this opening round. They will head for the next round in Sweden, however, determined to bounce back and with the consolation of having a decent starting position…
With a competitive distance of just 63.98 kilometres (in four stages), tomorrow’s final leg will nevertheless be anything but a Sunday stroll, since the crews will in particular be tackling two runs on the famous Col de Turini. Peaking at some 1,600 metres above sea level, it invariably contains plenty of tricky sections at this time of year…
Pierre Budar, Citroën Racing Team Principal
“The low-grip conditions were again incredibly difficult, but Sébastien and Julien remained impressively calm and collected, controlling from the front and doubling their lead. Obviously, four seconds isn’t very much, but it’s nonetheless a lead. We really are in one almighty scrap, and clearly I hope that it will work out in our favour tomorrow. In any case, Sébastien and Julien certainly have the talent and experience to secure the win. On the other hand, we’re sorry for Esapekka and Janne. We really wanted to see them rack up the miles in the car over these last two days of racing. We are going to analyse the origin of the problem to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Sébastien Ogier, Citroën Total WRT driver
“I’m pleased with my day, because once again today we had to find the right balance between pushing when it was dry and being cautious where it was icy and more slippery. But there’s still a long way to go. I’m expecting the final leg to be really close, but perhaps the conditions won’t be so tricky, although the top of the Col du Turini always throws up a few surprises. The C3 WRC has proven it is a competitive car on these roads, so I have high hopes that it will work well on tomorrow’s stages. Obviously, I’m going to try to win this rally, which means so much to me.”
Esapekka Lappi, Citroën Total WRT driver
“Obviously, it’s a shame that we had this terminal issue with the engine, but it’s just part and parcel of racing. I hope to have a bit more luck in Sweden. In any case, I’m going to try and make the most of my two days of testing, so that I’m fully prepared and ready to fight on the fast stages of this event. It’s a rally that I really like.”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 3
1. Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) 2:38:30.0
2. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +4.3
3. Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:58.7
4. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:01.0
5. Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:16.0
6. Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5:26.8
7. Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta R5) +10:12.0
8. Bonato / Boulloud (Citroën C3 R5) +11:43.4