Gap (AFP)

At dawn, the seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier had ideally started the day on Friday, but he punctured the afternoon and left the Welshman Elfyn Evans to take the lead of the Monte-Carlo Rally, first round of the year in the rain. in WRC.

Always very difficult due to the changing conditions both on the road - new or old asphalt, dry, wet or icy - and from the sky, with pouring rain from midday on Friday, the Rallye Monte-Carlo 2021 is no exception to his habits on this point.

Without the thousands of spectators usually massed on the sides of the roads, the Covid-19 pandemic requires, the inaugural round of the world championship in the tight format (257 km) keeps its promises of sprint: Evans has only 7, 4 seconds ahead of his Toyota teammate Sébastien Ogier and 25.3 over Estonian Ott Tänak (Hyundai).

Winner of the 6th special, when Ogier had a puncture, Evans is rewarded for his consistency - he has finished five specials in 2nd place since the start of the "Monte" on Thursday.

The vice-world champion confirms that he will have to be counted on again this year and that Ogier will have to fight to secure his 8th world title.

- "Frustrating" -

After a kick-off at 6:10 am, to respect the curfew at 6:00 pm in France, Ogier took the lead by achieving three scratch times during the first three specials.

With Thursday's brake problems apparently behind him, the Gap native appeared at ease in the dark and on "his" icy roads.

But after a break at the Gap service park, where Ogier said he had "regained the confidence to start attacking", his offensive was hampered by a puncture in SS6 (19.61 km), finishing the descent winding towards La-Bâtie-des-Fonts (Drôme) with a bare rim.

If he achieved a 4th scratch time during SS7 and put pressure on Evans, Ogier was not happy at the end of the day: "It's frustrating given the speed we had today. , we could have been comfortably in the lead and we are not ".

"We have known from the start that these tires are not suitable, they are WRC2 tires, it is a pity that we did not have a package more suited to the WRC because it turns a bit into a lottery", he regretted.

Evans, his nonetheless rival Toyota teammate, was also disappointed despite his first place: "Of course the classification is good, but the way is not completely satisfactory. We are in a strong position but we still have to work, I was probably too careful, I lacked confidence ".

Lack of confidence likely also for Pierre-Louis Loubet, the other Frenchman entered in the WRC for his first full year and his first Monte-Carlo, who did not finish the day after sinking his Hyundai into an embankment.

The 23-year-old Corsican, 10th before the incident, could leave for the other half of the rally (7 specials out of 14 remain to be played) on Saturday with a significant penalty if the car is repaired on time.

Another tricolor hope, Adrien Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford), aboard a WRC2 for this rally, is 9th overall and 2nd in the WRC2 standings, an elite antechamber.

Saturday at dawn, at 6.30 a.m., the time when the mountain could white with the possible arrival of snow, the pilots will leave for three specials of a total of 57.10 km east of Gap, to the south and north of Lake Serre-Ponçon.

The crews are expected directly after in Monaco, base of the last day of racing on Sunday.

© 2021 AFP