Monte Carlo WRC: Evans leads on Toyota debut

Toyota debutant Elfyn Evans seized the Monte Carlo Rally lead from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville after dominating Friday morning’s loop of stages, while reigning World Rally champion Ott Tanak crashed out.

Evans topped all three of the morning’s stages in his Yaris, to establish a lead of 8.9 seconds over Neuville.

Evans took the overall lead from the 2019 runner-up on the day’s second stage, having on the opening Curbans - Venterol test slashed Neuville’s overnight lead to just 5.4s, and jumped to second place overall, with a mark 20s quicker than Neuville’s.

Neuville had to restart during the stage at an icy left-hander, and said he struggled with his tyres in the slippery conditions.

Evans then on the 12.8-mile Saint-Clement-sur-Durance - Freissinieres stage set a time 8.8s quicker than Neuville’s to take a lead of 3.4s. And he completed his dominance of the morning’s loop by extending his lead over second-placed Neuville with another fastest time on the Bayons - Breziers SS5.

Six-time WRC Monte Carlo Rally winner Sebastien Ogier, also making his Toyota debut, closed in on the lead over the morning too and sits third overall, 9.7s off teammate Evans and less than a second behind Neuville. Ogier stated he was still learning the car, particularly over bumps.

Neuville’s overnight advantage after the opening pair of Thursday-night stages had been 19.1s over Ogier and 25.4s over Evans.

Tanak crashed out spectacularly on his Hyundai debut, leaving the road at high speed exiting a right-left kink at around the halfway mark of the morning’s second stage. His i20 Coupe WRC then fell down a drop and entered a lengthy barrel roll.

Both Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja looked unharmed as they exited the car unaided. Tanak was placed fourth overall at the time, 10.3s behind then-leader Neuville.

Tanak also had a brief SS3 spin at the same point at which Neuville had his problem, and where M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith was then stranded on the stage after his own spin, ending up with the rear of his Fiesta stuck in a ditch.

Seven-time Monte Carlo Rally winner Sebastien Loeb ended the morning fourth overall, 48.4s off the top, having been 51s down overnight. He complained throughout of dirt pulled onto the road from cars ahead, though he managed on the opening stage to set the second-fastest time, just 2.1s off Evans’ pace.

Greensmith’s off combined with Teemu Suninen’s woes yesterday have left Esapekka Lappi as the only serious M-Sport contender on his debut with the team. He ended the morning fifth some 1m29.9s off the top and bemoaning his lack of pace.

He is 24.6s clear of Toyota’s rookie Kalle Rovanpera in sixth, while Rovanpera’s teammate Takamoto Katsuta climbed to seventh overall across the morning but is over two minutes shy of sixth.

Eric Camilli in his Citroen C3 is eighth and the first of the WRC3 runners. WRC2 leader Ole Christian Veiby in his Hyundai and WRC3’s Nicolas Ciamin in his Citroen compete the top 10.

One-time Formula 1 driver and Le Mans Series champion Stephane Sarrazin in his Hyundai had been challenging Camilli for the WRC3 lead but lost over two minutes after stopping on the morning’s final stage.

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Monte Carlo WRC: Neuville outshines Tanak and Ogier
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