Rallye Monte Carlo provided the backdrop for another strong showing from the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team as the second leg of competition got underway in Valence earlier today. Continuing his recent good form, Evgeny Novikov lies fifth heading into Day 3 with François Delecour sixth and Ott Tänak eighth.
Displaying maturity behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Novikov proved his potential this morning with a string of top-five fastest times.
Intelligently informed tyre choices, teamed with outright pace, saw the young Russian battling over fourth, fifth and sixth places with Citroën’s Mikko Hirvonen and the Škoda Fabia S2000 of Sébastien Ogier. Despite losing time following contact with a kerb that caused some damage to the left-rear wheel of their Fiesta, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet still set the sixth fastest time overall, just 6.5 seconds down on Hirvonen despite the damage.
With his Fiesta fully repaired, the Muscovite was back on the pace in the afternoon’s loop – taking his regular slot as the fifth fastest driver on SS8. The Russian went on to set the fourth quickest time on both SS9 and SS10. With the gap to Hirvonen in fourth now just 11.1 seconds, Novikov is on course for his best ever WRC finish.
Elsewhere, Delecour and co-driver Dominique Savignoni were subject to mixed fortunes on Day 2. Despite setting the sixth fastest time on the opening stage (SS5), the pairing suffered problems when their intercom failed, making it impossible to communicate. The distraction saw the Frenchman make an uncharacteristic error. Late on the brakes and running wide into a corner, the duo lost the front bumper from their Ford Fiesta RS WRC, compromising their charge on SS7.
Eager to regain the time lost in the morning loop, Delecour set some competitive top-ten times throughout the afternoon. The final stage of the day (SS10) saw the Frenchman set the sixth fastest time to leave him sixth overnight. As the rally intensifies with some challenging conditions anticipated tomorrow, Delecour will be looking to his vast experience in a bid to outwit the competition.
Continuing their measured and mature drive, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk set some solid times throughout the morning loop to keep themselves well within the top-ten. Growing in confidence, the Estonian pairing posted top-ten fastest times throughout all three stages in the morning loop to bring them within grasp of Mini’s Pierre Campana – just 4.2 seconds ahead in eighth. Demonstrating his sensible approach, Tänak confirmed that he would not be concentrating on the times of those around him so early in such a difficult event, but rather looking to improve his own times and collate the valuable knowledge and experience needed to be a future Monte winner.
This aside, the Estonian’s pace is constantly improving. SS8 saw the youngster set the seventh fastest time, just 16.1 seconds off the pace of eight-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb over the 19km stage. The following stages saw further improvement with Tänak setting the sixth fastest time on the unfamiliar roads of SS9. The Estonian now lies eighth overall with an 11-second gap to Campana in seventh.
Evgeny Novikov (5th) said:
“We had some good stages this afternoon. We tried nothing special as these stages are very difficult, very narrow and very slippery. It was getting dark in the last stage so I really had to concentrate hard. Everything else is fine but for sure there are some things to improve on.
“I know I could have gone faster if I knew the stages. There were a few places on some of the stages where for sure I could have gone flat-out without risk, no problem, but I don’t know the roads.”
François Delecour (6th) said:
“It was a difficult day for me. For sure I’m enjoying the car and the stages, but these young guys, you know, they are too fast. Too young and too fast – it’s very difficult for me.”
Ott Tänak (8th) said:
“The second stage [SS9] was tricky. The engine stopped on SS10 and we lost some time there – more than 10 seconds. But the car is feeling good and I think we had some good tyre choices in the afternoon. We’re thinking about different set-ups for tomorrow because the stages will be very different from today.
“I am more confident in the car, but with the tricky stages we are taking it steady. For sure I think I could go faster, but we need to finish the rally.”