Bryan Bouffier spins into Rallye Monte-Carlo lead

Bryan Bouffier will take a lead of 28.7 seconds into the final day of Rallye Monte-Carlo as snow made driving conditions treacherous and threw the battle for victory on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) counter wide open.

Bouffier, driving a Peugeot France 207 Super 2000, started Thursday afternoon’s two stages in the mountains of France’s Drome region 1:37.6 adrift of runaway leader Juho Hänninen. But in a dramatic turn of events, the 32-year-old Bouffier shot from seventh to first on one stage to set up a grandstand finish in the hills above Monte-Carlo later tonight.

Although there were reports of snow falling on the demanding asphalt roads, the setting of Thursday’s closing brace of stages, the bulk of the leading runners opted to use intermediate compound or winter tyres.

French champion Bouffier left service in Valence with four snow tyres and two studded tyres in the boot of his car. While there were only a few flakes of snow falling when he left the start line of stage seven, the snow had intensified dramatically just a few kilometres later.

With the stages becoming increasingly slippery, Bouffier fitted his two studded tyres to the front of his car for the final test. As his rivals struggled to keep control of their cars, Bouffier had just enough grip to get to the stage end with the lead of the rally intact, despite nudging a bank when he suffered the first of two spins.

Hänninen, with a combination of intermediate and snow tyres, somehow managed to slide his Skoda Fabia Super 2000 through the two stages as fading light added to the challenge. But having led by 0:51.5 following Thursday morning’s two stages, the Finn completed the second day of the centenary edition of Rallye Monte-Carlo 2:36.0 off the lead.

“We took the risk with the tyres thinking the snow would not be so bad but it didn’t work out,” said the defending IRC champion.

“This is rally and this is what can happen, especially on the Monte-Carlo. It’s very difficult now but we won’t give up.”

François Delecour, the winner of Rallye Monte-Carlo in 1994, was seemingly out of contention for a podium finish in his privateer 207 at Thursday’s midday service. However, by selecting a set of studded tyres (the snow tyres he had planned to use were too badly worn) the 48-year-old gave himself an opportunity to make up ground on the leaders. He won the day’s final stage to climb from an overnight eighth to second.

Petter Solberg started stage seven in second overall in his 207 after demoting Freddy Loix when the Belgian spun his Fabia six kilometres into stage six. Solberg gambled by choosing intermediate tyres for the afternoon stages and fell back to seventh, while Loix chose a combination of intermediate and snow covers and managed to hold onto third place as he slithered through the falling snow.

Guy Wilks has climbed to fourth in his Peugeot UK 207 following another error-free performance. The British driver thought snow tyres would prove the ‘safer option’ although afterwards he said he regretted not selecting studded rubber. Stéphane Sarrazin, in another 207, has dropped to fifth after admitting to having no confidence as the available grip rapidly diminished.

Ex-Grand Prix driver Alex Caffi is an impressive 12th overnight on his Rallye Monte-Carlo debut, one place behind fellow Italian Giandomenico Basso.

Following a final service halt in Valence on Friday morning, crews begin the 390-kilometre journey to Monaco via the last Drome stage, Montauban sur l’Ouveze-Eygalayes. Upon arrival in Monaco, cars enter parc ferme while the drivers and co-drivers are able to rest before the four night stages in the Alpes Maritimes.

However, only the leading 60 competitors at the completion of the Montauban sur l’Ouveze stage will be permitted to tackle the nighttime tests, including two runs over Col de Turini, in keeping with one of the event’s long-standing traditions. The winner is likely to be known after midnight local time.

Standings – End of Leg 2 Rallye Monte-Carlo

1 Bryan Bouffier / Xavier Panseri Peugeot 207 S2000 2:14:38.8
2 François Delecour / Dominique Savignoni Peugeot 207 S2000 +0:00:28.0
3 Freddy Loix / Frédéric Miclotte Škoda Fabia S2000 +0:01:05.5
4 Guy Wilks / Phil Pugh Peugeot 207 S2000 +0:01:20.5
5 Stéphane Sarrazin / Jacques-Julien Renucci Peugeot 207 S2000 +0:01:41.1
6 Juho Hänninen / Mikko Markkula Škoda Fabia S2000 +0:02:35.7
7 Petter Solberg / Chris Patterson Peugeot 207 S2000 +0:03:49.1
8 Nicolas Vouilloz / Benjamin Veillas Škoda Fabia S2000  +0:05:31.0
9 Jan Kopecký / Petr Starý Škoda Fabia S2000 +0:07:51.7
10 Gardemeister Toni / Tuominen Tomi Peugeot 207 S2000 +0:07:52.7

Check out Bouffier’s spin

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