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Ott Tanak hacked a third out of Sebastien Ogier’s Saturday morning Monte Carlo Rally advantage to get the gap at the top down to 39.5 seconds.
Tanak dropped back from Ogier dramatically at the start of the day with what he claimed was a damper problem, and was more than a minute behind going into the second running of the morning’s pair of stages at the start of the afternoon.
With reigning World Rally champion Ogier in conservation mode, Tanak bested his 2017 team-mate by 15.3s to win SS11 and the Toyota driver was then second-fastest through SS12 as Ogier dropped another 8.6s to his pursuer in sixth.
However, with only five stages remaining, Ogier’s lead is still a healthy one.
A near-perfect Monte Carlo Rally from the trio of Toyota drivers took a small hit when Esapekka Lappi effectively ended his podium chances with a self-induced puncture on SS11.
Jari-Matti Latvala now holds a three-minute advantage in third, with Kris Meeke now fourth.
Lappi ran wide into a snow bank while challenging team-mate Latvala for third, and though he got going swiftly he then had to stop to change a tyre.
That has dropped him to fifth behind Meeke, although the gap is a mere 6.2s after the Citroen driver had to perform a quick U-turn in a field on SS11 and then lost at least 10 seconds on SS12 when he locked up and nudged a snow bank.
Elfyn Evans is on the periphery of the fight for fourth, 23.8s behind Lappi, after two solid stages that the Welshman was not particularly pleased with.
His M-Sport team-mate Bouffier is seventh, but only 12.2s clear of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.
The i20 WRC driver won SS12 to recover from a nightmare SS11 that featured three offs, including backing his car into a bank of snow and shooting into the same field as Meeke.
Instead of performing a U-turn, Neuville gunned it across the field and rejoined the road over a bank – the same strategy employed by Tanak, who also went off at the same corner, minutes later on his way to the stage’s best time.
WRC2 leader Jan Kopecky heads his class by 3m40.6s from young gun Kalle Rovanpera after Ghislain de Mevius hit trouble.
Leading positions after SS12
|1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||3h15m42.1s|
|2||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||39.5s|
|3||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||1m39.6s|
|4||Kris Meeke, P.Nagle||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||4m44.1s|
|5||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||4m50.3s|
|6||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||5m14.1s|
|7||Bryan Bouffier, X.Panseri||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||5m37.4s|
|8||Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||5m49.6s|
|9||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||9m02.8s|
|10||Jan Kopecky, P.Dresler||Skoda Motorsport II||Skoda||12m55.1s|