Thierry Neuville won two of Rallye Monte-Carlo’s three Saturday morning stages to charge into the lead of the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Belgian, who previously won this rally in 2020, clearly woke up on the right side of bed as he outpaced Elfyn Evans and Sébastien to climb from third to first overall in his Hyundai i20 N.
Neuville trailed long-time leader Evans by 16.1sec overnight but turned the tables during the three mountain special stages in the French Alps to reach the mid-leg service in Gap with a 5.1sec advantage over Evans’ Toyota GR Yaris as the Welshman reported a hybrid issue.
Ogier was a further 2.6sec back in another Toyota after a cautious drive on frosty roads in the morning’s opening test from Esparron to Oze yielded almost 20sec to Neuville, allowing the 35-year-old to pounce.
“I was well awake this morning,” Neuville smiled. “But sometimes [in the last stage] I couldn’t really understand the pace notes, and I hesitated so I lost a bit of time.”
Ott Tänak lay 1min 18.6sec off the pace in fourth. The Estonian was hindered by an engine problem on the opening stage but managed to match team-mate Neuville’s time for the final stage before service.
M-Sport Ford Puma duo Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster held fifth and sixth respectively, with Munster passing Andreas Mikkelsen to claim the position after posting the third-best time for SS9. Mikkelsen, who lost time with an overshoot in the same test, lagged 5.0sec behind.
Having dropped five minutes after being stuck in a ditch on Friday, Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta hauled himself up to eighth overall. He headed WRC2 battlers Nikolay Gryazin and Pepe López.