Frenchman Sébastien Ogier, six-time WRC world champion, took charge of operations at the Monte-Carlo rally after the second day on Friday, benefiting in particular from the accident of one of his main rivals, the champion of the world title, the Estonian Ott Tänak.
On his Toyota, which he discovered during this event in which he was already seven times victorious, Ogier was ahead of his British teammate Elfyn Evans and the first Hyundai, that of the Belgian Thierry Neuville.
The South Korean team, which won the constructors 'world championship last year, started the season off badly with the violent departure of its new Estonian rookie, who won the drivers' title last year with Toyota.
- Barrels for Tänak -
Tänak went out at more than 180 km / h on Friday morning during the 4th special stage. His car bit on the low side before hitting a slope with several rolls. He got out of his car on his own, as did his co-driver Martin Järveola.
The two men were however taken to the hospital where they were to remain under observation until Saturday morning.
"This morning, I did not feel perfectly comfortable in the car," said Sébastien Ogier, who only took the lead after the 8th and last special of the day.
"I also had information from my team urging caution with very gravel roads and my pace was not perfect. But, this afternoon, we made different settings and I felt better, even if It was not optimal. All in all, it's a good day, "said the French champion.
He decided in the offseason to leave Citroën with which he had in principle a two-year contract until the end of 2020, causing the immediate withdrawal of the brand to the rafters of the WRC championship.
However, he still plans to retire from rallies at the end of the year, whether he manages to win a 7th title or not with the Japanese brand.
Toyota can so far be satisfied with its new recruits. Besides Ogier, Elfyn Evans, from MSport-Ford, also managed to get started by leading the standings during several stages on Friday.
The Welshman, who won his national rally in 2017, can still dream of hanging the prestigious Monegasque race on his record, only clocking 1.2 seconds behind his prestigious teammate. He regretted Friday his choice of tires in the last special of the day, "the previous cars having degraded the road more than I expected".
- no snow -
The absence of snow helps to bring out the pebbles and gravel from the aisles, making the road very tricky. In the morning, several drivers, including the Briton Gus Greensmith (MSport-Ford), also paid the price for patches of ice still present after the night frost.
As for Neuville, he considered his day "rather frustrating".
"I could not find the right conditions to push very hard at the start (...) but it was better at the end of the day," said the Ardennes driver who won the 8th and last special and finds himself at 6.4 seconds of the lead man.
As for Sébastien Loeb, who at 45 is a "freelance" for Hyundai after having also won the "Monte" seven times like Ogier, he is in 4th position more than a minute away. "The three pilots in front are going very fast and I can't really compete. There is a gap with those in front and also with those behind so it's not really the situation which encourages taking risks", judged the nine-time WRC world champion.
The rally will end on Sunday in Monaco after four more stages on Saturday and four on Sunday, including the famous ascent of the Col du Turini.
jld / sg
© 2020 AFP