Rally Monte Carlo: Neuville stretches his lead as Ogier hits troubles

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Thierry Neuville has extended his lead to just over half a minute after today’s opening loop of three stages on Rallye Monte-Carlo.

The Belgian started the day with seven seconds in hand to Sébastien Ogier, but two stage wins today see him with an encouraging advantage in the new Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. Ott Tänak now heads the charge for M-Sport, the Estonian moving into second following offs by Ogier and Kris Meeke; he now heads his French team-mate by nearly 30 seconds.

The first full day of competition got underway this morning and takes in two loops of three stages to the north of Gap, forming the lengthiest day of competitive action.

Second in this morning’s opener, Neuville then went on to set fastest times in the following two stages, despite a stall, and headed the field into the midday service. Tanak set the pace in the first stage, winning the 25 kilometre test to move from fifth to third, behind Kris Meeke, following an uncharacteristic off by Ogier in the same stage.

The Frenchman plummeted to eighth but has climbed the leaderboard to third, aided when Meeke also slid off in the following stage and damaged the Citroën’s suspension, forcing him to retire.

Behind the leading trio, Jari-Matti Latvala, fourth, now heads the charge for Toyota in the Japanese manufacturer’s debut back in the Championship. The Yaris WRC in the hands of Juho Hänninen had set the pace but the Finn also went off the road in the final stage of the loop, damage meaning he couldn’t continue.

Latvala has had his own problems however; the car failed to start in Parc Fermé, forcing the crew to push the striken Yaris to first service. While the team got the car started, the Finn was unable to make planned changes to the set-up and then also suffered with a misfire during the morning.

Dani Sordo is fifth, despite problems with the engine stalling, and Craig Breen is now leading Citroën’s challenge in sixth, albeit in a 2016 specification car. Team-mate Stéphane Lefebvre lost time last night when he burned out the clutch trying to get out of a ditch.

Former Volkswagen driver Andreas Mikkelsen holds seventh and heads fellow Škoda R5 driver Pontus Tidemand. Elfyn Evans struggled to get his tyres to work in the morning loop and is ninth, marginally ahead of another R5 driver, Bryan Bouffier.