Ogier tactics keep Loeb at bay in WRC opener

Sebastien Ogier

Sebastien Ogier is on the verge of a record ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo victory after securing an extended advantage heading into the final day of the event.

Ogier and fellow World Rally Championship legend Sebastien Loeb have gone toe-to-toe throughout the season-opener, in a sign that age is slowing neither down.

On a day where Elfyn Evans, Ott Tanak, Oliver Solberg and Takamoto Katsuta all struck trouble, the two Frenchmen reigned supreme.

And critical to the end-of-day scenario was some savvy tactics by Ogier.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing star was set to run with an even mix of soft and snow tyres for the final stage of Saturday’s running, only to make a last-minute change upon seeing Loeb had opted for softs only, despite the icy conditions.

Getting himself on the same strategy as the M-Sport Ford driver, Ogier managed to widen his buffer atop the timesheets from 5s to 21.1s.

“We managed to make a bit of a gap tonight with a slightly crazy tyre choice in the last stage,” he explained.

“It has been such a close battle all weekend with Sébastien [Loeb] and knowing him after all these years, I guessed he would try something.

“I wanted to have a straight fight with the same tyres and see who was faster, even though it was not the best choice for the conditions.

“It was a bit challenging in the snow but it felt really good on the dry roads and I had a really good stage.”

Loeb admitted the deficit is now “a bit far”, with four stages remaining.

“We tried but Ogier saw it and changed at the last minute. It was really tricky with the slicks and very easy to make a mistake but we’re here,” said the 47-year-old, himself a seven-time Rallye Monte-Carlo winner.

Loeb’s team-mate Craig Breen now holds third, albeit 1:26s adrift of the lead, with Gus Greensmith – who celebrated his maiden WRC stage win – making for three Ford Pumas in the top five.

The fourth of the M-Sport fleet in action, driven by Adrien Fourmaux, suffered a spectacular rollover during Friday’s running.

Kalle Rovanpera (Toyota) holds fourth place, while Thierry Neuville is the lead Hyundai in sixth.

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