LIVE COMMENTARY: MONTE CARLO RALLY 2014 - MONTE CARLO RALLY 2014
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As it happened: Monte Carlo Rally 2014
By Matt Beer, David Evans and Scott Mitchell
The live commentary has ended. No further updates will be posted.
Welcome to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live's first event of the 2014 season - the Monte Carlo Rally.
Were you tuning in expecting a Sebastien Ogier walkover? That would've been fair enough after all the events of 2013.
But instead you join us with Ogier back in ninth place, 1m19.4s off the lead after three stages.
The leader is Bryan Bouffier in what is probably a one-off appearance, ahead of Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo in the brand new Hyundai.
Robert Kubica is fourth, having led the first two stages, and has fellow rookie M-Sport team-mate Elfyn Evans right on his tail - followed by WRC3 champion Sebastien Chardonnet in his two-wheel-drive Citroen!
Mikko Hirvonen? 13th. Jari-Matti Latvala? 18th!
Here's this morning's full report so you can catch up with the glorious Monte madness:
Bouffier takes over Monte lead
Weather news: it's two degrees and pouring with rain here in the service park in Gap.
We understand that up in the mountains it's still snowing, so expect similar conditions on the stages to what crews encountered this morning.
It is due to warm up a little this afternoon, but that's not going to clear the snow, just turn it into slush.
So tyre choice is going to be crucial again. Everyone has packed a mixture of winter tyre types for the afternoon, except Sebastien Ogier, who has included some dry weather (they're not quite slicks in asphalt rallying) tyres among the six he has taken (four on the car, two in the boot).
Just been down to Michelin to get definitive tyre info for the afternoon. Here's the list:
Ogier: 2 slicks, 2 winters, 2 winters+studs
Meeke/Ostberg: 4 winters 2 super-softs
Sordo: 4 winters, 2 winters+studs
Latvala/Mikkelsen: 4 winters, 2 winters+studs
All M-Sport cars: 4 winters, 2 winters+studs
That means Ogier takes the biggest gamble on less snow. He left service with the studless winters and super-softs - the studs were in the boot.
We were all very excited to see how Francois Delecour got on this weekend after his star performances on recent Montes, but he retired on the opening stage with a broken throttle pedal.
The Frenchman's day got even worse when he arrived back in service and couldn't stop the car alarm going off on his BMW five series.
Want a full guide to the 2014 WRC season, technical insight into the all-conquering Volkswagen Polo R WRC, a look back at Paddy Hopkirk's 1964 win for Mini and much, much more?
Here's AUTOSPORT's free 28-page
Monte Carlo Rally supplement
to browse in digital form.
Stage four, Orpierre to St Andre de Rosans, is go. Ogier is first in.
Thierry Neuville should be second onto the stage in the new Hyundai, but he crashed it after just seven kilometres this morning.
That's the third year in a row that Neuville has ended his Monte Carlo Rally with a very early crash.
AUTOSPORT almost missed Neuville's explanation of his early bath on the opening stage – but for a good reason... We bumped into superhero Ari Vatanen.
It's impossible not to have maximum fever for the 1981 world champion. His memories of Gap probably aren't the best, however, it was here that he incurred the famous time penalty in 1985.
Then again, that time penalty did kick-start the sport's best ever fightback, which you read about here...
What makes Monte Carlo so special?
Using that shot of Vatanen in the service park this morning meant we couldn't use a pic of his Peugeot 205 T16 on this occasion. Don't worry, we'll make up for that as the weekend goes on.
First split time shows Jari-Matti Latvala a second faster than Ogier.
Latvala's start to the season
have been worse, had he crashed out already.
Being 18th and three minutes off the pace after three stages is pretty bad, though. Yet again his confidence is wavering.
The third early retirement among the World Rally Car runners was Martin Prokop, whose Ford's battery died during the first stage of the day.
But though his weekend is over, it's worth him hanging around. His team has expanded to a second car this year, under the Slovakian World Rally Team banner, for rookie Jaroslav Melicharek.
The newcomer has made a very encouraging start, running seventh after SS1 and holding 10th at lunchtime. That puts him ahead of the vastly more experienced Mikko Hirvonen, Andreas Mikkelsen and Latvala.
Early splits show Ogier slower than Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, with the champion 12s down on his team-mate. Has he taken an incorrect tyre gamble?
If it's anything like this morning, it will take some time for the full leading order to become clear.
That's largely due to the amazing things that WRC3 champion Sebastien Chardonnet is achieving in his humble two-wheel-drive Citroen.
He is currently sixth overall, running 33rd on the road.
Ogier completes the stage. He's got a crossover tyre choice of two slicks and two winter tyres.
"It looks like it's maybe not the best, but we have to wait for the full loop," he says.
Latvala is 21s faster than Ogier as he finishes the stage. He's using winter tyres all round.
"The feeling is better," he says. "We changed the set-up and we changed the tyres, and they are absolutely correct.
"It was very, very muddy, very slippery but the tyres were working really well.
"At least I feel a bit more confident now."
The Finn also compares conditions to the very, very wet and muddy 2009 Rally Ireland.
That time will surely get Latvala a little higher than his current 18th place.
Mikko Hirvonen completes 28s slower than Latvala. The M-Sport driver admits he was too cautious.
Looking back at the splits elsewhere on the stage and while Latvala looks a likely stage winner, there's good pace coming from Sordo and Kubica.
AUTOSPORT's David Evans had an interesting chat with Dani Sordo in service: "after admitting I'm not so keen on the colour of his car, I did add that he looked good behind the wheel – only for Sordo to ask if I'm married!"
The popular Spanish 'hottie' and his Hyundai are second quickest of those in so far, 11s down on Latvala.
The comparison to watch with Sordo is Meeke and Kubica, the former 27s ahead of him overall, the latter just one second behind.
Mads Ostberg slots in between Sordo and Ogier as third quickest on the stage so far, pulling further ahead of Ogier in their battle for what was eighth place before lunch.
Ostberg admits to taking it relatively easy in his first taste of the Citroen on these tyres and in these conditions. He doesn't want to repeat the "stupid spins" he had this morning.
Andreas Mikkelsen is a minute off the pace. He says it's hard to trust his pace notes as there's less snow on the stage than he was prepared for.
Elfyn Evans is the first driver to come through with some studded tyres. He admits that might have been over cautious but wants to be safe on his Monte debut.
Robert Kubica is third fastest, losing a little time to Sordo, his rival for third place.
"I think it's a good run. I need to finish this rally and in these conditions you need to take care. I'm just trying to survive," he says.
Here's a hint of how mobbed Kubica is at every possible stage-end and service media opportunity.
Kubica may have been taking it easy, but the splits suggest that he and Sordo are gaining on leaders Bouffier and Meeke, who are next through.
Bouffier loses 7.8s to Sordo and 6.2s to Kubica. The lack of mileage in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC is telling, Boullier confesses.
Tough stage for Meeke, he's 14s slower than Bouffier and therefore also losing ground to Sordo and Kubica as the top four close up.
"It's treacherous, and I haven't got much experience with this tyre. We didn't do much testing with it and I haven't got much confidence."
Here's how the order stands right now, as we get into midfield underdog territory on the stage:
1 Bouffier; 2 Meeke +27.6s; 3 Sordo +33.7s; 4 Kubica +36.3s.
Elfyn Evans is still fifth, 32.5s down on Kubica and just ahead of Ostberg.
Ogier has fallen to 1m22.6s behind Bouffier, while pacesetter Latvala's gap to the front has come down to 2m45s.
The next stage is seven minutes away, and we'll keep an eye on SS4 too as giantkillers like Sebastien Chardonnet and Olivier Burri will be coming through in the next little while.
M-Sport tech director Christian Loriaux and Sebastien Ogier spent a long time chatting at the entrance to service today.
Loriaux's the man behind the beautiful Bentley GT3 and Ogier's the World Rally champion who likes racing GT cars every now and then.
Wonder what they were talking about...
To give a sense of how good that stage was for Latvala, he began it in 18th place, and he's now classified ahead of Melicharek, who started it in 10th and didn't have a bad run for a rookie.
Subject to what Chardonnet and Burri do, we could see both Latvala and Hirvonen into the top 10 now.
Ogier begins stage five. A lot of work to do for the champion at the moment.
Reports coming in of potential trouble for Sordo. His Hyundai has been seen parked at the roadside between stages with the bonnet up.
Looking back at the stage four timings, nothing coming through for Burri. Not yet clear if it's the car that has stopped or the timing system.
Chardonnet's pace looks good for him to hang on to his top 10 spot a little longer.
Lunch update... Latvala's pace through SS4 was probably down to the Thai curry on offer from Volkswagen - it was fabulous.
Far away from Monte Carlo, a few WRC eyes are watching what's happening in the 2014 Dakar.
Nasser Al-Attiyah was
and former Mitusbishi WRC team boss Sven Quandt's X-raid Mini team is dominating the top 10, but double WRC champion Carlos Sainz crashed out yesterday.
In the overall fight, Stephane Peterhansel is poised to snatch the lead back from Nani Roma with three days to go. Today's stage has just begun.
First splits are coming in from what currently looks like a wet SS5, and Ogier is 1.5s up on team-mate Latvala.
We're hearing that it's a flat battery that has halted Sordo. Not clear yet if he can continue.
Ogier completes the stage and thinks his tyre choice was better for this one, but is still frustrated by how much he lost on SS4.
Latvala is 6.5s slower than Ogier on that stage. Hirvonen is losing time to both VWs.
"A very, very dirty stage, many slippy places, but I think overall quite a good run," says Latvala.
"We only managed to do one good stage time in the morning but now everything is OK, the tyres are right and I have a better feeling."
Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti are taking advice from the Hyundai crew back at service and trying to revive their i20 on the road section.
Back on stage four, Burri did complete it intact and fairly rapidly, and remains in eighth overall, now between Ogier and Hirvonen.
Hirvonen lost 21s to Ogier on that stage and lost a place to Latvala in the overall standings.
On the splits, no one is a match for Ogier.
Ostberg is slowest so far and not happy with his choice of two winter and two slicks tyres.
"There was too much mud on the road," says Citroen's new recruit.
No sign of Sordo on the stage yet.
Sad news for Spanish and Hyundai fans, but we imagine a few Poles will be pleased with Kubica set to move back into third.
Mikkelsen loses 33s to Ogier and is pretty gloomy.
He's a couple of seconds slower than next man through Elfyn Evans, who is holding his own among the frontrunners very well.
Now we've had a few more cars through, it's clear that fastest man so far Ogier has gained two positions on this stage, getting ahead of Evans and Ostberg.
With Sordo likely to be out, Ogier will have progressed from ninth to fourth in two stages.
Kubica is briefly third quickest on the stage, but is then pipped for that by Bouffier, who is 1.8s faster than the Pole.
Still no movement from Sordo, seems he is a retirement.
So that's both Hyundais out after four stages. On the plus side, one of them was third for a while.
Bouffier is holding his lead, here are his thoughts:
"It's working well. The car is fantastic and that's helped me a lot in these conditions. I have to be happy.
"The tyre choice was OK. OK, we can see Ogier has two slicks and he was very quick, but this stage was cleaner than the one before."
Meeke is 11s slower than Kubica, so the ex-F1 man is up to second place overall, 38.1s behind leader Bouffier.
Meeke was seventh quickest on the stage, which puts him 2.8s behind Kubica overall and 26s ahead of Ogier.
"We're struggling this afternoon," Meeke admits. "I've never driven on this winter tyre in these conditions and I'm struggling for confidence.
"If you don't have the confidence here, you lose a lot of time.
"The amount of mud on the road is incredible. Bryan is doing an incredible job."
Confirmation from Hyundai that Sordo cannot get the i20 going again and is out.
All the top cars are now through SS5, so here is how they stand:
SS5 times: 1 Ogier 11m54.1s; 2 Latvala +6.5s; 3 Bouffier +15.5s; 4 Kubica +17.3s; 5 Hirvonen +21.8s; 6 Ostberg +28.0s.
Overall: 1 Bouffier; 2 Kubica +38.1s; 3 Meeke +40.9s; 4 Ogier +1m07.1s; 5 Ostberg +1m23.5s; 6 Evans +1m24.7s.
Got to feel pretty sorry for all the journalists Hyundai Australia have flown out here for the debut of the i20 WRC.
Similar to the position Suzuki was in when it chartered a Boeing 747 to fly 400 hacks and guests from Japan to Greece for the 2002 Acropolis, only for both Ignis S1600s to retire on the first morning.
After that stage, you'd say the story of the rally right now is whether Bouffier can keep the pace up front, if Kubica can speed up enough to catch the Frenchman, and whether Ogier is poised to gobble them all up.
However, this is Monte Carlo, and if it snows at an inconvenient moment, everything could turn inside out again.
That is exactly how Bouffier found himself up front when he won this event as an IRC round in 2011.
Flashback - 2011: Bouffier takes Monte lead amid snow chaos
We've got just over 45 minutes until the next stage starts, so AUTOSPORT's David Evans is heading down to Hyundai to get team boss Michel Nandan's thoughts on a promising but brief debut for the i20.
Hyundai's arrival in the World Rally Championship has certainly been felt in the service park.
The German-based team's home on European rounds of the WRC has to be seen to be believed – it's massively, hugely enormous. The two-storey structure houses the service area for two i20 WRCs, an eating area, hospitality area, offices and drivers' rooms.
One seasoned WRC watcher actually thought the building was a conveniently placed Hyundai dealership...
Talking about his team's effort, Nandan said: "I think we won that championship already..."
Conditions might be more predictable now, but the non-WRC underdogs are still hanging in there. Burri remains ninth at present.
Chardonnet fell out of the top 10 on SS4, though. He can still be proud of the moment he stuck a two-wheel-drive car in fourth place overall on the Monte Carlo Rally.
Another impressive part of Hyundai's gargantuan service area is the terraced spectator area at one end – which includes free tea and coffee for fans.
How cool is that?
Half an hour to go until today's final stage.
It's 19 kilometres and it's where the snow arrived and sent the leaderboard into turmoil this morning...
It's proving to be a massive news day for all forms of motorsport.
After this morning's announcement that
Bernie Ecclestone will face trial
in Germany following the bribery allegations that emerged last year, he has now
from the Formula 1 board - though he will continue to run the sport.
Hyundai team confirms there was no warning about Dani Sordo's retirement.
The Spaniard switched his i20 WRC off ahead of SS5, having arrived at the start of the stage early. When he tried to fire it up to go into the test, it was dead and refused to start.
Sordo and co-driver Marc Marti worked on the car after discussing possible solutions with the engineers, but couldn't get it going.
The service park in Gap is beginning to resemble a late 1990s round of the British Rally Championship with Gwyndaf Evans and Mark Higgins walking around in team kit.
Higgins is ice-noting for Kris Meeke, while Evans is working for his son Elfyn (which is a bit of a role reversal from the hierarchy in Ford's most fever Dolgellau dealership).
Both former British champions were loving the chance to work on the world's most famous rally – right up until the point where they had to set their alarm for 2am to get up and drive the stages before the competing crews.
Carlos Sainz might not have competed on this event since 2004 (when he dropped a Citroen Xsara WRC), but his presence was still felt on the opening round of the WRC via M-Sport's use of one of the Spaniard's seats in an ice-noting car.
We're two minutes away from the final stage of day one beginning.
Ogier is on the startline and all eyes are going to be on his split times. He's still 1m07s off the lead but has two more days to close that gap.
Over on the Dakar, Al-Attiyah is setting a storming pace again on stage 11, while Peterhansel is within 42s of getting the overall lead back from Roma, a week after he dropped nearly 40 minutes adrift.
And back in Monte Carlo, SS6 is go and the running order is: Ogier, Latvala, Hirvonen, Ostberg, Mikkelsen, Evans, Kubica, Bouffier, Meeke
Good start to this stage for Latvala, who's 1.9s up on Ogier at the first split.
By split three, Latvala is 2.7s faster than Ogier.
Hirvonen is dropping more time to the VWs, he's 5s slower than Latvala so far.
Ogier completes and his time is four minutes quicker than this morning.
That's the difference a lack of snow makes.
Latvala had the early edge there but he dropped time to Ogier at the end and completes the stage 4s slower.
Hirvonen's time loss to Ogier over the stage is 19s. Muted return to M-Sport for the Finn so far.
That leaves Hirvonen 26s behind Latvala overall.
Provided no one hits huge trouble ahead, they are set to end in the day in seventh and eighth in the outright standings as they continue to make up for their faltering starts to the event.
On the opening splits, Kubica is third behind the two VWs, but Bouffier and Meeke are behind him on the road so the shape of the lead battle isn't clear yet.
Ostberg is third quickest on the stage now, 17s slower than Ogier, who he was trying to stay in touch with. Ostberg's mission will probably now have to be pulling away from Evans, who is just behind him in sixth overall.
Mikkelsen completes half a minute off the pace of team-mates Ogier and Latvala. Not a great start to 2014 for the Norwegian, but he's kept it safe and sensible.
Kubica quicker than both Meeke and Boullier after first split but looks like he drops a little time in the middle relative to cars that have already completed.
Still waiting for a final time from Evans, but judging by the splits he'll drop away from Ostberg in their battle for fifth, while remaining comfortably clear of Latvala and Hirvonen.
Who would've predicted a top six spot for Evans at the end of his first day in Monte Carlo?
Drama on the Dakar meanwhile, with a six-minute delay for Peterhansel just as he was about to reclaim the outright lead from Roma.
Kubica 1.4s faster than Bouffier at the stage's midway point, 7s down on Ogier.
Kubica completes the stage fifth fastest, 22s slower than Ogier, and behind the two VWs, Ostberg and Hirvonen.
Kubica lost a little time to Bouffier at the end of that stage.
The Frenchman's overnight lead is going to be 39s - and Kubica now has Ogier just 7s behind him.
Let's see where Meeke slots in. He started the stage third.
Meeke is quicker than Kubica and retakes second place. They'll start Friday 0.7s apart, with Ogier just behind.
That's all the frontrunners through for day one, so here are the standings from SS6:
Stage times: 1 Ogier 11m11.9s; 2 Latvala +4.0s; 3 Ostberg +17.0s; 4 Meeke +17.7s; 5 Hirvonen +18.5s; 6 Bouffier +19.8s.
Overall standings: 1 Bouffier; 2 Meeke +38.8s; 3 Kubica +39.5s; 4 Ogier +47.3s; 5 Ostberg +1m20.7s; 6 Evans +1m38.6s.
Bouffier finds himself holding a big Monte Carlo Rally lead for the second time in four years.
He admits his position is due in part to typical unpredictable Monte Carlo conditions, but is understandably jubilant.
Meeke describes Thursday as one of his most difficult days in a rally car so far, and reckons he wouldn't have expected to be in the top six at the end of the day before the event.
We've been keeping an underdog eye on Olivier Burri's WRC2-spec Ford all day and he's still hanging in there in 10th place behind Mikkelsen. Good effort.
Right now, the storylines going into day two look like Meeke versus Kubica for second/third while Ogier prepares to sweep past them and hunt down Bouffier, with Latvala poised to chase after Ostberg and Evans to get back into the top five.
But... that's if the weather stays as it is, and looking at the clouds around the mountains, that's not going to happen.
This event has got a lot of twists ahead yet over the next two days.
: "Feel gutted for @HyundaiWRC Everyone had put in so much effort and hard work to get to here! But awesome to see the potential of the car..."
Some reading material for you this evening:
Monte Carlo Rally day one report
AUTOSPORT's full Monte Carlo Rally supplement
Apologies for the lack of a Michel Nandan update on Hyundai's situation, but AUTOSPORT was sidetracked by the brilliantly eloquent 1985 Monte Carlo Rally winner.
Ari Vatanen was on superb form describing his legendary victory – including detail even AV himself had almost forgotten – in the Peugeot 205 T16. Look out for the full story next week.
Now, back out into the rain to find the good Mr Nandan. Stay tuned...
And on a non-WRC note, this week's
features our choice of the 25 best drivers who never won the F1 title - and one of them is lost Brazilian talent Carlos Pace. Here's an
in-depth look at his truncated career
The Monte Carlo Rally resumes in pretty ferocious style tomorrow morning.
Drivers' wake-up call is a 49-kilometre monster of a stage just as daylight breaks over the mountains.
AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live will be online from 7.45am UK time on Friday morning for SS7 and everything that follows. See you then to find out if Bouffier can hang on, Kubica can get back on top, and whether Ogier can be stopped.
Welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live for day two of what is already proving to be an epic Monte Carlo Rally.
It's a slightly later start than yesterday but by no means a gentle one: the Vitrolles-Faye stage is a massive 49 kilometres.
More of a straight fight expected this morning: the overnight weather has been heavy rain so snow and ice problems are currently unlikely, but the stages will be very wet and muddy.
All of the drivers have taken the softest asphalt tyres available with a couple of winters in the boot. Mistakes made yesterday morning won't be repeated today.
Momentarily, the sky looks to have run out of rain above the Alps. AUTOSPORT's hotel close to Sisteron was almost washed away last night.
Without much snow and ice around in the first stage this morning, the big question is going to be about the state of the road for the leaders running further down the field.
Leader Bryan Bouffier will suffer the worst effects of the corner-cutting from those ahead of him.
All the leading crews are onto the stage now.
On-the-road order this morning is: Jaroslav Melicharek, Andreas Mikkelsen, Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Elfyn Evans, Mads Ostberg, Sebastien Ogier, Robert Kubica, Kris Meeke and Bryan Bouffier - so the top 10 World Rally Cars in reverse order.
If you're just joining us and need to catch up on Thursday's event, here's the full story:
Monte Carlo Rally day one report
Mikkelsen's Volkswagen has overtaken Slovakian rookie Melicharek's Ford on the stage.
As expected, Ogier is on a huge charge this morning.
On the early-stage splits, he's taken 6s out of Kubica, his first target of the day, 4.5s out of Meeke and 3s out of Bouffier.
The rain has returned. And the sky doesn't look like running dry any time soon. This could have serious implications for AUTOSPORT's plans to go and watch at the bridge close to the end of Sisteron.
Actually, it won't. We'll be there.
Cars are starting off with two minute gaps between them today, and Mikkelsen didn't enjoy having to catch and pass Melicharek in the rain.
"Tricky conditions - so much shiny Tarmac," said Mikkelsen. "We caught the car in front and were a little bit behind him for a while.
"It was so hard to see. I really hope we get three minutes gap for the rest of the day because it's so hard when you can't see anything."
Melicharek's extreme lack of pace was down to running winter tyres, a bit too conservative on a stage that was mostly just wet.
At the fifth split, Ogier is on target to jump from fourth to second on this stage, vaulting both Kubica and Meeke.
Latvala is second quickest behind Mikkelsen so far and increases his gap over Hirvonen, but describes the stage as "absolutely horrible". He reckons with more and more rain falling, it will get worse and worse for the later cars.
Hirvonen was pleased to be faster than Latvala at some parts of the stage, but reckoned the VW man had more confidence in the fast sections.
Ogier blasts through with a time half a minute quicker than his team-mates and fastest of all by miles.
That will almost certainly bring him up to second. How far behind Bouffier will he be?
Bouffier is keeping up the pace better than Meeke and Kubica, though. The 2011 winner is 10s down on Ogier on the splits at present.
Kubica completes 24s down on Ogier, so he's lost third place to the champion.
Meeke also drops behind Ogier, but adds four seconds to his cushion over Kubica in the battle for what is now third.
"Four seconds over 50kms is not a lot to be honest. It's very slippery. It only takes one metre of shiny Tarmac and it will put you off the road."
Bouffier is second fastest, 11s slower than Ogier. That keeps him 35s ahead of the world champion after the rally's longest stage.
That's not bad at all, especially considering Bouffier has had very little time in the Fiesta (particularly in comparison to Ogier's affinity with his VW).
He doesn't plan to give up either.
"It will be very difficult to stop Ogier, but I will try to fight. If I can keep the other guys behind, that will be nice."
Here are the standings following SS7:
Stage times: 1 Ogier 29m00.1s; 2 Bouffier +11.7s; 3 Meeke +20.5s; 4 Kubica +24.8s; 5 Mikkelsen +30.7s; 6 Latvala +34.2s.
Overall: 1 Bouffier; 2 Ogier +35.6s; 3 Meeke +47.6s; 4 Kubica +52.6s; 5 Ostberg +1m59.2s; 6 Latvala +2m43.3s.
Elfyn Evans has fallen to seventh overall behind Latvala with a cautious run on that stage. But there's no shame in that on his debut.
Evans was being very sensible indeed about the task in hand when AUTOSPORT spoke to him yesterday evening:
"This is the dream and a bit more. Taking into account our objectives, this has been exactly what we wanted.
"We've been on the safe side in terms of driving and tyre choices all day and I'm pleased we've been able to maintain what we started this morning.
"But, I'm under no illusions here. I'm not ahead of Mikko on pure speed, but there haven't been any massive, massive gaps [to the leader] on the stages.
"This is the deep end and we have been forced to learn the hard way.
"There's a very, very long way to go and Friday especially is a long day.
"We came here with the objective of finishing and this is more than what we wanted, so I am fairly happy."
We've had a change in
on that stage.
Yuriy Protasov led at the end of Thursday, but a puncture this morning means he's now back in third behind Armin Kremer and Lorenzo Bertelli.
There's one more stage in this morning's loop, starting in 50 minutes' time.
Our big storyline now has to be the brewing lead battle: can Bouffier stay ahead of Ogier with 35s between them right now?
The forecast for the rest of the day is a lot more rain, but the snow might return for Saturday, when the rally finishes after dark at around 10pm local time.
Elsewhere in rallying, the 2014 Dakar was building to an incredible conclusion as Stephane Peterhansel hunted down leader Nani Roma following his delays in the first week.
But yesterday - to Peterhansel's clear disappointment - their X-raid Mini team called off the battle and asked its drivers to hold station.
Here's the full story:
X-raid Mini calls off Dakar lead battle
No such worries in Monte Carlo, where the top four is an M-Sport customer, a VW, a Citroen and a satellite M-Sport car.
Thursday was certainly an amazing day for motorsport.
While the Monte Carlo Rally provided competition thrills, in Formula 1 we had Bernie Ecclestone learning that he would
in Germany and then
from the sport's board, Red Bull confirming it would
make it to the first 2014 test
NASCAR team boss
launching a bid to get on the 2015 F1 grid and
returning to a leading role at McLaren.
Plenty more of you joining us on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live in the last few minutes as the European morning begins, so here's a quick recap of what's happened in Monte Carlo so far today on the rally's longest stage:
* Ogier was quickest and jumped past Kubica and Meeke to go from fourth to second, 35s behind leader Bouffier.
* Meeke pulled 5s clear of Kubica in their battle for what is now third.
* Latvala's recovery drive brought him ahead of Evans and up to sixth. His next target is Ostberg, 44s up the road, while Evans must watch for M-Sport team-mate Hirvonen, who is 25s behind.
Stage eight is just over half an hour away.
Francois Delecour's latest WRC return was one of the tantalising pre-rally stories, but his car failed on the opening stage yesterday morning.
It was rapidly stripped of its livery once back in service yesterday.
Wonder which colours that car will arrive on round two in?
Possibly the colours of Henning Solberg, who has been tipped for a return to the WRC in Sweden next month.
Just under 20 minutes until the second and final stage of this morning's loop.
The 22.68km of Selonnet-Breziers, which we expect to be very wet indeed, is only run once.
After the cars go to service, they repeat this morning's 49km Vitrolles-Faye monster in the afternoon then go to the classic 36.85km Sisteron-Thoard.
A quick pause, but no service, and then leg two ends after dark with the 20.77km Clumanc-Lambruisse stage at 6pm local time.
Veteran all-rounder Marc Duez is tackling the event in a Porsche 997.
He made it through the opening day and is currently battling his way through SS7.
Unfortunately a rear-wheel drive 997 wasn't really the ideal machine for yesterday's snowy/icy/muddy stages!
Duez does have the advantage of having Delecour as a neighbour - the pair of them are great mates, so solid advice on getting through the Monte is never far away for the Belgian star.
First onto stage eight will be Slovakian newcomer Jaroslav Melicharek again.
Andreas Mikkelsen wasn't pleased to have to overtake him on stage seven.
The rookie's over-cautious choice of winter tyres is making him very slow, and with cars starting the stages two minutes apart, Mikkelsen is concerned he have to dodge around Melicharek again, although it might not be an issue on this shorter stage.
The other big development on the opening stage was that
leader Yuriy Protasov had a puncture and fell behind Armin Kremer and Lorenzo Bertelli.
Speaking of Protasov...
Evgeny Novikov is back in M-Sport this season, but not wearing a race suit. Instead, the Russian rocket is ice noting for the Ukranian WRC2 racer.
Novikov admitted just before Christmas that he
hadn't got a full-time seat for 2014
after losing his M-Sport drive.
was in the headlines as it proved a good springboard for Robert Kubica and Elfyn Evans to get into World Rally Cars.
It's fair to say that this weekend's Protasov/Kremer/Bertelli/Robert Barrable fight isn't getting the same profile, but keep an eye on WRC2 as the season progresses as some big names are heading for it.
Citroen's latest rapid French Sebastien (Chardonnet) will be competing in WRC2 as part of his prize drive for winning last year's WRC3 title. Remember yesterday Chardonnet briefly put his WRC3-spec Citroen fourth overall!
WRC2 is also where sometime M-Sport protege Ott Tanak is
making his WRC comeback
, as team-mate to the very rapid Jari Ketomaa in the DMACK-backed Autotek operation.
Back to Monte Carlo, SS8 is go and Melicharek is getting onto the stage.
As a reminder, it's Bouffier leading Ogier by 35s overall, Meeke 12s back and 5s ahead of Kubica, then Ostberg, Latvala, Evans and Hirvonen.
Possible problem for eighth-placed Hirvonen on this stage with a slow first split time.
Latvala is quickest of all by a long way on the first split.
Ogier is now onto the stage, but he's not as quick as the very rapid pace his team-mate Latvala is setting.
This stage is going to be very revealing for Bouffier's chances of keeping Ogier at arm's length.
A better run for Mikkelsen that time, with Melicharek upping his pace there was no traffic jam on the stage.
Hirvonen finishes the stage and is 24s slower than Mikkelsen.
Hirvonen says his problem is that his Fiesta's windscreen wouldn't demist until the final few kilometres so he had to do most of the stage unable to see properly.
Latvala in next. He's very fast, but very unhappy.
"The time is very good, but it's not enjoyable at all," he grimaces.
"Really difficult conditions with a lot of rain, a lot of standing water.
"Luckily we still had a snow tyre cross, without that it would've been a disaster."
Interesting splits coming in: Ogier was a bit slower than Latvala on the first part of the stage and at that point was being outpaced by both Meeke and Bouffier.
But Ogier seems to be raising his game in the middle of the stage, where suddenly he's a lot quicker than Latvala was.
Let's wait and see how Meeke, Bouffier and Kubica compare.
Ostberg came through second quickest then went off the road following the flying finish.
He gets back on course without problems.
"The stop at the time control is far too close to the finish. I came flat over the finish and then it was totally shiny Tarmac and aquaplaning.
"I chose to go off rather than run into everybody in front of me."
Ogier has exactly the same problem as Ostberg!
He shoots off the road after the finish and goes through a field to avoid running into the timing crew and media after the finish.
Ogier is understandably frustrated.
The problem is that the finish of the stage is flat-out in sixth gear, but then straight onto a very slippery patch of asphalt before the 'in' control and the media area.
Kubica manages to catch his slide and come to a safe halt without any of the drama that Ostberg and Ogier had.
Sounds like a wild stage for Kubica.
"We had one very lucky moment, completely sideways in fifth gear. There are some very dangerous places under braking."
Back to the splits and Bouffier is set to extend his lead over Ogier at the moment, he's 5s quicker on the stage so far.
Ogier is quickest of those that have finished so far, 7.6s up on Kubica and 13s faster than Latvala.
Meeke was faster than Ogier for a while on the stage, but as the VW man raised his pace, Meeke ended up 11s slower.
Bouffier couldn't add as much to his lead as the early splits hinted, but he is quickest on the stage by 0.2s.
That keeps his lead at 35s. It really is game on for the lead battle. The world champion is going to have to work hard to catch the wildcard out front.
The Kubica/Meeke battle closed up again on that stage, with the Pole closing back in and getting the gap down to 0.8s.
Here's how they stand:
SS8 times: 1 Bouffier 14hm10.0s; 2 Ogier +0.2s; 3 Kubica +7.8s; 4 Meeke +12.0s; 5 Latvala +13.8s; 6 Ostberg +17.9s.
Overall positions: 1 Bouffier; 2 Ogier +35.8s; 3 Meeke +59.6s; 4 Kubica +1m00.4s; 5 Ostberg +2m17.1s; 6 Latvala +2m57.1s.
is not impressed with the time loss on that stage: "Driving to the service park now. Really disappointed... But will not give up."
That misty window delay for Hirvonen has dropped him 55s away from seventh-placed M-Sport team-mate Evans and leaves him only 15s ahead of Mikkelsen's VW.
battle turns around again.
One stage after Protasov lost the lead because he had a puncture, Kremer loses the lead... because he has a puncture.
Protasov outpaces Bertelli on the stage too and that means he's straight back from third to first place.
A quick summary of the morning so far:
* Ogier jumps from fourth to second, but Bouffier responds and stabilises his lead at 35s.
* Meeke and Kubica neck-and-neck for third, 0.8s apart and 24s behind Ogier.
* Ogier and fifth-placed Ostberg fly off the road after the SS8 finish as the short run between the flying finish and the stop line proves slippery. Both are unscathed.
* Latvala takes sixth from Evans, but the Welshman holds seventh as Hirvonen loses a lot of time to a misted windscreen.
Full Friday am report
Race Centre Live will wind down for a while now as the cars head to service.
We'll keep you updated during the rest of the morning with any developments, but coverage will resume in earnest when the cars take to SS9 just after midday UK time.
If you want to get a taste of what the WRC crews are coping with this weekend, here's something well worth a watch.
official WRC YouTube channel
has put up this video of SS3 - the stage where the snow turned up and caused chaos yesterday - in-car with Citroen's Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle:
If you're not a rally regular, you might be wondering exactly who our shock rally leader Bryan Bouffier is.
A lot of people were asking that question when he
won the Monte
in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge three years ago.
He had made a few IRC appearances in late 2010 and been very quick but luckless, and having done most of his rallying in Poland (where he was a national champion) and France up to that point, he was little known on the international scene.
picked the right tyres amid a snowstorm
on the 2011 Monte, vaulted from seventh to first, and stayed there despite the best efforts of the likes of Meeke, Petter Solberg, Freddy Loix, Francois Delecour, Stephane Sarrazin and Juho Hanninen.
Bouffier faded through the rest of that IRC season and fell out of the brilliant five-way title hunt when Peugeot put its faith in Thierry Neuville instead.
Since then, Bouffier's career has been a mixed bag of IRC/ERC part-seasons (he was second in the European standings last year and
won in Corsica
), a bit of WRC3, and testing duties for Peugeot and Hyundai, plus fifth on last year's Monte in a one-off in a Citroen.
Now in his first rally in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC, he's going toe to toe with last year's runaway WRC champions Ogier and VW for victory...
We're just a few minutes away from SS9 starting and the rally battle resuming.
Surely it will stop raining soon. It has to. There simply can't be much more rain to fall.
An ocean's worth of water is currently falling on Gap. It would be depressing if the entire town wasn't looking to the partially visible mountains and wondering what's going on high above Sisteron...
Hugely contrasting views of the afternoon and what to expect on the road.
We've heard everything from no snow and just a sniff of ice on the top of the col in Sisteron to heavy snow falling as the temperature drops through the afternoon.
Sebastien Ogier's view: "I don't know, but I hope my ice-note crew do."
AUTOSPORT offered some expert advice, pointing to the snow on the mountains just outside of town and estimating a snowline of 1092 metres.
Fortunately, nobody paid any attention.
Those updates were brought to you live from McDonald's in Gap, where AUTOSPORT's roving team has been refuelling with four quarter-pounders prior to heading for the Sisteron classic.
Jaroslav Melicharek is heading onto the repeat of the 49-kilometre Vitrolles-Faye stage.
Then there will be a three-minute gap before Andreas Mikkelsen, as requested by the Norwegian after he caught the Slovakian rookien mid-stage this morning.
After SS9, it's straight to Sisteron for a 36km SS10, then a regroup, then one more stage to round the day off at 6pm local time.
Weather update: the sun has emerged in Gap and AUTOSPORT actually needs sunglasses here.
But looking at the clouds around on the route to Sisteron, it looks absolutely horrendous for rain
AUTOSPORT also came close to rear-ending Robert Barrable on this road section while grappling with our McDonald's haul.
Thankfully we missed him and he can continue in fourth in WRC2.
Tyre choices for the potentially very wet afternoon ahead:
Hirvonen, Evans and Latvala have four winter tyres with no studs, plus two super-softs in the boot.
Everyone else has the opposite choice - super-softs on the car, and two studless winter tyres in the boot.
Studless winters could be a good option in the mud that is likely on the next stage.
Problems for Latvala, he's stopped on the stage. He had been running sixth and preparing to charge after Ostberg for fifth.
Latvala running again, but he's lost two minutes having gone off the road and picked up a puncture.
AUTOSPORT's umbrella strategy went badly wrong at the in-control.
In an effort to keep Andreas Mikkelsen dry, our scribe sacrificed his ability to make notes (for some reason he can't hold a brolly, his notepad and his pen...), but then soaked the Volkswagen star when he moved and the collected water ran straight down onto the Norwegian's head.
As well as Latvala's delay, the other notable point on the early splits is that Mikkelsen is outpacing Hirvonen.
Hirvonen's problems this morning brought him to within 15s of Mikkelsen's range. They're both set to gain a place from Latvala's issue as well.
Latvala is back up to speed after his incident so doesn't seem to be any lingering damage on his VW. But it's cost him about two minutes.
None of the drivers had perfect vision this morning, but Mikko Hirvonen's view of the rain was further compromised by a broken blower.
The Finn wasn't subscribing to the suggestion that not being able to see the danger might mean an increase in pace.
First splits in for Bouffier and Ogier, and the leader has lost 4s to his illustrious pursuer.
Bouffier is definitely not giving up on a second Monte win.
The Frenchman was in determined mood when he arrived back in service a few hours ago.
"I will push," he said. "And I won't stop pushing."
In the Meeke/Kubica battle for third, the Citroen man is 1.5s up on the M-Sport driver so far, having started the stage 0.8s in front in the overall standings.
But at the next split, it's Kubica quicker by several seconds. Is he on course to reclaim third place?
Mikkelsen has a shot at gaining two places on this stage.
He is 12s up on Hirvonen so far with 15s between them earlier on, and a potential two-minute loss for Latvala will drop the Finn back too.
Now the delayed Latvala has caught up with Evans on the stage.
Ogier is on course to take about 10s out of Bouffier's lead so far - and Kubica is right on Ogier's pace!
Kubica might have bounced his car off a mountain on the last stage, but he still had the ability to smile about it when AUTOSPORT spoke to him at service: "They build them strong at M-Sport."
Unfortunately, while M-Sport makes brilliant rally cars, the Polish star's not such a big fan of its sandwiches. This morning's offering was returned due to the presence of butter.
Bouffier now 35s slower than Ogier at split four, he's in danger of losing the lead.
Mikkelsen and Hirvonen have both completed the stage, and the VW has passed the M-Sport Ford for what will either be eighth or seventh depending on how much time Latvala has lost.
Most of Bouffier's time loss is from one section in the middle of the stage. Did he make a mistake?
Kubica has stopped on the stage!
He had been right on Ogier's pace, only 1.8s down two thirds of the way through.
Latvala confirms he had to change a puncture and admits it was his own mistake.
"At the beginning of the stage I just came around a right-hander and I don't know why I didn't pay attention," said Latvala.
"On the corner exit there was a kind of access road and at the end of the corner I touched a sharp edge and damaged a wheel and got a puncture. We lost maybe two minutes.
"Evans went ahead of us, we caught him and it was quite a long time before we managed to overtake him because there was a lot of mud so it was very tricky to see."
Evans slowed to let Latvala past on the M-Sport team's instructions, but was frustrated by the process.
"It definitely upset my rhythm," says the Welshman. "I slowed a couple of times and he wasn't there."
Ogier completes the stage and gets out to check his VW as he's concerned about an impact he had while cutting a ditch.
Looks like all is OK, and he is set to take the rally lead.
Kubica is confirmed as having stopped on the stage.
No information on why yet, but it seems his rally was over, just as he was poised to take third place back from Meeke.
Confirmation from the M-Sport team that Kubica has crashed out.
Both crew are unhurt but their rally is over.
Until that incident, Kubica was the only man on Ogier's pace on the stage, and was 11s faster than Meeke, his rival for third.
Kubica obviously went far enough off the road to disappear from following crews' sight, as Meeke's first question at the stage end is "where's Robert?"
"I saw a car off but it was down just before a bridge, I didn't know who it was," said Meeke.
"When I saw the car off, I knew it was one of the frontrunners because the steam was still rising, so I said 'OK, back off'. We're still here."
Bouffier completes the stage and explains that he spun off the road and needed some help from spectators to get going.
That drops him to second, 11.2s behind new leader Ogier.
Deep breath, let's catch up on the rally order after that wild stage.
SS9 times: 1 Ogier 29m14.1s; 2 Ostberg +22.8s; 3 Mikkelsen +31.3s; 4 Meeke +40.9s; 5 Bouffier +47.0s; 6 Hirvonen +58.0s.
Overall: 1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier +11.2s; 3 Meeke +1m04.7s; 4 Ostberg +2m04.1s; 5 Evans +4m36.0s; 6 Mikkelsen +5m01.7s; 7 Hirvonen +5m13.0s; 8 Latvala +5m24.5s.
And the headlines from that stage:
* Kubica crashes out when poised to take third back from Meeke.
* Bouffier spins and Ogier sets the fastest time, putting Ogier into the rally lead by 11.2s over Bouffier.
* Latvala gets a puncture and drops behind Evans, Mikkelsen and Hirvonen, and his problem, Kubica's exit plus a great time for Mikkelsen (pictured) means the Norwegian jumps from ninth to sixth in the space of one stage.
"2nd fastest! Much better performance this run, I've learned a lot from this morning!"
Meeke said Kubica went off on a bad bit of 'black top'.
That's a phrase we're hearing a lot this morning, so at service AUTOSPORT asked Meeke to explain it for readers of Race Centre Live:
"It's pure... bitumen," he said. "It's really, really shiny asphalt that's black and offers absolutely no grip.
"It's worse than anything I've driven on at home or anywhere else."
The general view is that it offers zero grip, but the big problem is that, every now and then, there is a little bit of grip and that lulls the drivers into a false sense of security.
Next up is Sisteron, one of the most famous and feared Monte stages. It starts in 20 minutes.
The drama of the last stage has taken the sting out of some battles but also created some new ones.
Now that Ogier is in the rally lead, does Bouffier want to make certain of his second place or have a crack at getting first position back?
Fans around the world surely vote he goes for it... 11.2s is not
big a gap.
Citroen boys Meeke and Ostberg are unlikely to be pushing in third and fourth places - they have big gaps either side of them now and are a minute apart.
But behind them, fifth to eighth place is looking pretty tasty:
Evans is 25.7s ahead of Mikkelsen, with Hirvonen and Latvala within the next 22s.
All three of those Scandinavians are under pressure after poor Thursdays, and they've made heavy weather of recovering so far.
Salvaging a potential top five from the weekend is a pretty important goal for Mikkelsen, Latvala or Hirvonen.
Evans is under strict instructions to finish and there was no expectation beyond that for this rally. But a top five or top six finish in a Monte Carlo debut... that would be pretty special... and must be a bit tempting...
Kris Meeke was talking to AUTOSPORT about the conditions on Sisteron during the recce earlier.
Asked if it was the least amount of ice he'd ever seen on the col, he said: "Well, given that it's the first time I've recced that stage I'd have to say yes.
"But, at the same time, it was also the most ice I've ever seen!"
Little bit of retro fever snapped by AUTOSPORT while waiting the final few minutes for Sisteron to start...
Rewind 28 years and Michele Mouton and Malcolm Wilson were seeded 10 and 11 respectively in their Peugeot 205 T16 and MG Metro 6R4.
Wonder if they were talking about the fact that they both retired on the third day in 1986? Probably not.
More likely they were wondering when it might stop raining. Exclusively, AUTOSPORT can answer that question: April.
Sisteron is go. Melicharek is onto the stage.
A quick word about Melicharek - we'll be seeing him a few times this year as he's become team-mate to regular WRC midfielder Martin Prokop.
Melicharek has had a few World Rally Car outings in domestic events, but has spent most of his career driving Group N cars in Slovakia.
Inadvertently getting in Mikkelsen's way this morning is probably the most he will hassle the WRC frontrunners in his career, but a top-seven stage time in the ice yesterday and the potential for a couple of points on his top-level debut is a thoroughly decent effort if he gets through the remaining six stages intact.
Mikkelsen was absolutely flying through the stage, much quicker than both Hirvonen and Latvala, but he's now stopped...
Elsewhere in that battle, the Finns are both gaining on Evans, and Latvala is quicker than Hirvonen.
Ogier is fastest of all so far at split one, yet to see how that compares to Bouffier.
Mikkelsen is up and running again, but that delay seems to have been a couple of minutes - just when he had fifth place overall in his sights.
Hirvonen overtook Mikkelsen's parked car on that stage and will be next through.
On the present pace, Hirvonen is going to lose a place to Latvala here.
Hirvonen's performance this weekend has taken a bit of a hammering on Twitter, with ex-WRC drivers Guy Wilks and Kristian Sohlberg (well, we say 'ex' but he'll be back later this year in WRC2) taking to social media to query the form of the man ostensibly leading M-Sport in 2014.
Latvala and Mikkelsen reach the stage end together.
Latvala says he had to drive the stage with three slicks and one snow tyre after his SS8 puncture, and also had to dodge around Mikkelsen's limping car.
Mikkelsen admits he made a mistake, forcing him to stop with a puncture after hitting a surprisingly slippery patch.
"I was going really slowly," he insists "I thought the grip would be five or 10 per cent, but it was zero."
Mikkelsen also reckons he lost time because after letting Latvala through he realised he was actually faster as his team-mate was struggling on his compromised tyres.
On the splits, Bouffier is hanging in there and losing only a couple of seconds to Ogier so far.
Evans insists he's doing as he's told, taking it easy and not looking at the gaps around him.
We'll do that for him, though: Latvala has closed to within 12.5s and Hirvonen is another 15s back.
But he doesn't have to worry about Mikkelsen for a while as that mistake cost VW's number three four and a half minutes.
Mads Ostberg is absolutely bubbling. He's settled into the Citroen in these conditions and admitted he had to hold himself back from pushing too hard as there's little to gain in his lonely fourth place.
He was fastest on the stage (half a minute up on Latvala) before Ogier came through just now and beat him by 15s.
Our rally leader is in chilled mode now, Ogier is not pushing harder than he needs to.
"It's been a good day up to now, but there's still a difficult stage to go," he says.
Meeke comes through safely.
He knows what his mission is now: he's in a comfortable third at the start of his first full year with Citroen, he's never had an outright WRC podium in his career before and he's got a reputation for shunting that he's out to disprove...
Bouffier completes the stage and is slower than Ogier, who extends his lead to 22s.
Bouffier thinks a set-up change he made at midday service wasn't a good idea and contributed to his messy and costly SS8.
He's changed it back and is happier with his Fiesta again. He doesn't sound like he's given up on the rally win yet.
Time for an update on the standings:
1 Ogier 22m03.3s; 2 Bouffier +11.4s; 3 Ostberg +15.1s; 4 Meeke +25.5s; 5 Latvala +43.8s; 6 Hirvonen +1m10.3s.
1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier +22.6s; 3 Meeke +1m30.2s; 4 Ostberg +2m19.2s; 5 Evans +5m55.8s; 6 Latvala +6m08.3s; 7 Hirvonen +6m23.3s; 8 Mikkelsen +9m46.9s.
Over in the desert, seems like there might be a sting in the tail on the Dakar after all...
Just when Nani Roma's win seemed assured because of X-raid's controversial decision to impose team orders and call off Stephane Peterhansel's charge, news from the penultimate stage is that Roma is losing a lot of time.
A round-up of SS10 in Monte Carlo:
* Ogier extends his lead over Bouffier to 22s.
* Mikkelsen goes off when poised to take fifth from Evans, losing four minutes and dropping to eighth.
* Latvala jumps Hirvonen for what becomes sixth as both close in on Evans.
* Meeke and Ostberg taking it steady in comfortable third and fourth for Citroen.
We've got another break now, with the WRC crews heading for a regroup and then off to the early evening Clumanc-Lambruisse stage, which starts at 6pm local time so will run in dusk and darkness.
AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live will slow the pace of updates again until SS11 at 5pm UK time.
To tide you over in the meantime, here's a reminder that our free
Monte Carlo Rally magazine supplement
can be browsed
in digital form here
And we're already missing the electrifying presence of Robert Kubica in this rally following
his SS10 crash
So to make up for that, here's some onboard video of his amazing final stage on the European Rally Championship-opening Janner Rally in Austria two weeks ago, where he overturned Vaclav Pech's seemingly comfortable last-stage cushion to take his
biggest win so far.
It's our 'Hot on the web' pick in this week's
After his Monte form, AUTOSPORT would put money on Kubica celebrating a WRC win too in the medium-term future...
Earlier we mentioned double British Rally champion and sometime Junior WRC and IRC frontrunner
' Twitter bemusement at Hirvonen's Monte form.
Now here's a wish from Wilks that we all agree with...
"Ok... I want to see Bryan Bouffier fight @SebOgier all the way now. #star #opportunity"
Wilks was part of Peugeot's IRC stable alongside Bouffier and Neuville in 2011.
Following a largely one-side conversation with a marshal near the end of Sisteron, it turns out that AUTOSPORT didn't really want to go to the finish...
Here are the cars abandoned miles out of the village of Thoard, where the end of the stage is located.
The regroup in Digne is a much better idea. Apparently.
And, in fairness, Digne is a good idea.
The WRC is very welcome in the capital of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
The remote media centre is in the middle of the town, overlooking the regroup and the staff couldn't be more accommodating, even supplying a brochure about the place and a small bottle of lavender perfume.
Stopping at a petrol station on the way to the regroup AUTOSPORT is greeted by the deeply knowledgeable, and not to mention ever-cheerful, Davy Patterson.
Patterson runs DMACK’s operation on the ground – he’s also a man who rode the Sisteron stage on a push-bike last weekend and is able to detail the ice content (as it was last Saturday) for us.
If only Patterson had been around yesterday, when AUTOSPORT went for a nice sausage baguette and chips for lunch – because we didn’t spot the Andouillette sign quickly enough.
The Andouillette sausage is a bit of a speciality down south – and it consists of pig intestines. And it tastes exactly as you would expect a pig’s intestine to taste.
For anyone just joining us, the WRC crews are currently on the way to SS11, which gets underway at 6pm local time, 5pm UK time.
Ogier now leads by 22s from Bouffier, Meeke is set for third after Kubica crashed out, and the big battle is for fifth behind Ostberg as Latvala and Hirvonen chase after Evans.
Mountains or motorway for our next leg of the journey? That's the question.
The mountains are shorter and undoubtedly more fever, but the motorway might be quicker and offer more opportunity for Mars bars or peanut Lion Bars (the snack of choice this weekend).
A chance meeting with Ari Vatanen's son Kim sorts the job. Mountains, it's got to be – you'd expect that answer from AV's boy. The AUTOSPORT Hyundai Santa-Fe will be winding its way through the Alps shortly.
The Hyundai has been something of a revelation. Super-comfortable and perfect for the autoroute, we'll let you know what she's like through the hairpins later.
Rally leader Ogier's mood was 100 per cent different at this afternoon's regroup to how it was earlier when he still had a 35s deficit to Bouffier.
Much more relaxed, he was keen to extend his English vocabulary - asking about the correct word for melting snow, which he'd been calling 'smash' rather than slush...
We think 'smash' sounds better.
In terms of serious driver news (sorry Seb) – Meeke was first on the scene of the shunt that
ended Kubica's rally
earlier this afternoon. He talked AUTOSPORT through what he encountered:
“Thirty-two kilometres in, it was a third gear right-hander. The corner was unsighted and our ice note crew told us to brake 100 metres earlier than we would've off our own recce.
“It looks as though he half made the corner then went off and disappeared down a bank.
“I couldn't see the car, just the steam and smoke coming over the ditch and lots of people running around, but obviously they're both OK.
“It was a really nasty place, that whole section was very, very difficult.”
AUTOSPORT understands that Kubica's Fiesta picked up damage to its front end in the crash, so even if he had been able to get back on the road, the car wouldn't have been fit to continue - nor would it have done if this was an event that allowed Rally 2.
Plenty of praise spreading around the web for young Elfyn Evans – running a very impressive fifth, and keeping calm while more experienced drivers drop off the radar.
The latest compliment comes from top WRC snapper Colin McMaster.
: "He's a bit special,
. Excellent performance on #WRC Monte in the fog & rain. Just like home
Right, we're back running again, the first few cars are heading onto an increasingly dark SS11.
Third place is very much in Meeke's hands now, and he is very keen not to throw it away.
"I'm now more conservative than ever," said the Citroen man, who is still hunting for his first outright WRC podium.
"I'm really, really conscious that I want to get to the finish. I'm taking big confidence lifts.
"It's a strange feeling because we are past the halfway point but when you've still got Turini waiting for you you can't ever say that it's finished."
On the early splits, Latvala is blitzing those onto the stage so far.
With a good run through here, he's got a shot at jumping Evans for fifth.
At 20.77km, this stage is the day's shortest, but darkness has completely fallen and the temperature as dropped, so the chance of ice is growing and the likelihood of seeing it is falling...
Melicharek will be first car through, followed by Mikkelsen.
The latter's error on the previous stage means he is now 3m23s behind nearest rival Hirvonen, and there's not going to be a lot he can do about that from driving alone.
Latvala looks a good bet to end the day with a stage win and a climb into the top five.
He has a 12s deficit to Evans to erase and is comfortably quickest on the splits so far.
Mikkelsen took it very easy through there after his earlier slip-up when he was on the cusp of getting into the top six.
"We were having a good run and it was my mistake, but you learn from these conditions and it's my first time here," said Mikkelsen.
"Now we're being really, really careful - it's easy to get caught out win there."
It's not the first time Mikkelsen has done the Monte, but his only previous attempt in 2011 was very shortlived as he
shunted his Skoda early on
Hirvonen completes the stage 9s faster than Mikkelsen but is set to lag far behind Latvala's time.
"These two days have been really tough," Hirvonen admits.
"One more day to go so hopefully tomorrow we can have better pace and I can really start to enjoy driving again."
At AUTOSPORT International last week, Hirvonen's M-Sport team boss Malcolm Wilson talked about the chances of "reigniting" his Finnish star again this year. It hasn't happened just yet...
Latvala is our pacesetter so far, beating Evans by 22.6s and passing the Welshman for fifth overall in the process.
A slow but safe run through for Ostberg, and now Ogier is in as well. He's slightly slower than Latvala.
"Not too many risks to finish the day, it's getting very dirty on that stage and I preferred to keep it easy," says the rally leader.
"Today was much better than yesterday, but tomorrow looks like it's going to be a difficult one again with snow on the Turini."
Ogier also shows off his expanded snow-related English vocabulary and says "hopefully there won't be too much slush."
Meeke has a safe run through and stays third, but don't dare tell him he's set for the podium...
"You're not on the podium until the finish line. That was a little sting in the tail tonight - it was so much colder and more slippery.
"We've got another tough one tomorrow night with the Turini. Something always happens there. We need to make sure it doesn't happen to us."
Over in the South American desert, and the leaders have completed today's Dakar stage... and despite the team orders declaration, Stephane Peterhansel is back in the lead over Nani Roma, by just 26s with one stage to go.
Bit of a dramatic finish for erstwhile leader Bouffier - he somehow missed part of the route on the recce so had to borrow pace notes from Francois Delecour!
Unsurprisingly that cost Bouffier a lot of time. He drops half a minute to Ogier and ends day two 51s behind.
lead has grown again, main rival Armin Kremer is off the road on this stage.
Here are the results at the end of day two:
SS11 times: 1 Latvala 13m55.8s; 2 Ogier +3.9s; 3 Meeke +12.3s; 4 Evans +22.6s; 5 Hirvonen +24.3s; 6 Bouffier +32.4s.
Overall positions: 1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier +51.1s; 3 Meeke +1m38.6s; 4 Ostberg +2m48.9s; 5 Latvala +6m04.4s; 6 Evans +6m14.5s.
The service park at Gap has now been packed up and we'll be resuming from Monaco tomorrow.
It's a late start, with the first stage not until 2.48pm local time.
The itinerary is two runs through La Bolene Vesubie and Sospel, including the infamous Col de Turini, and the second loop takes place after dark.
So while the time gaps between cars have grown, staying on the road - particularly with more snow and ice likely - is going to be a mission.
The big remaining fight is for the final top six spot. Hirvonen is 29.2s behind his enormously less experienced M-Sport team-mate Evans, and for the sake of morale, the Finn really has to end this rally on a more encouraging note.
AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live will be back in action from 1.30pm UK time tomorrow to follow the run to the finish in both this weekend's classics - the Dakar and Monte Carlo. See you then.
Dakar Rally Friday report
Monte Carlo Rally Friday pm report
Welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live for the final day of the Monte Carlo Rally (and a few Dakar Rally showdown updates).
It's very, very wet in Monaco again, but we understand there's snow up on the Col - and that's where the WRC crews are heading for four more stages to decide the 2014 season opener.
Today's late start has also given AUTOSPORT a chance to hammer round the Monaco Grand Prix circuit in a Hyundai road car. We took a few pictures along the way and might slip those in during quiet moments...
No messing around from the drivers on tyre choice - everyone has four studded winter tyres.
Most have gone for two studless winter tyres as spares except Elfyn Evans, who has two super-soft asphalt tyres.
Right now we don't have many head to head fights in the lead group - Ogier leads by 51s over Bouffier, then Meeke, Ostberg and Latvala are all pretty spaced out. The only remaining battle is Evans versus Hirvonen for sixth.
But the snow changes everything - it's all about survival this afternoon and evening. And if you think this first run will be tricky with more and more snow falling, just wait until tonight when they have to do it in the dark...
Still covered in day two dirt in parc ferme this morning. Will Ogier's Polo be covered in champagne by the end of the event.
If you're just joining us, here's a quick recap of how we got here:
Robert Kubica led the first two stages
, slipped back to fourth and was battling for the podium when he
on Friday afternoon.
* Wildcard one-off entrant
Bryan Bouffier hit the front
when the snow appeared and stayed there,
holding Sebastien Ogier at bay
, until a Friday afternoon spin.
* Ogier had struggled in the changeable conditions of Thursday morning and was 1m20s down in ninth before
mounting a charge
that took him to the front.
Kris Meeke and Mads Ostberg
established themselves in third and fourth.
showed great pace but retired early: Thierry Neuville crashed on SS1 and Dani Sordo's battery died when he was running third later on day one.
has held his own in the top six despite his inexperience, but it's been a rough start to 2014 for
Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen
. Latvala has at least now recovered from his initial 19th place to fifth.
Meanwhile, AUTOSPORT's lap of the Monaco GP circuit...
The lovely Hyundai Santa-Fe might have been some way off the pace (we struggled in traffic...), but the speed difference probably wasn't that much slower on a spirited effort around Loews hairpin.
The final day is go - Jaroslav Melicherak is on the stage, as are Mikkelsen and Hirvonen.
Slovakian rookie Melicherak is having a sensible run in ninth place on his top-level debut with a Ford Fiesta RS WRC. He has been here before in Group N machinery.
Our opening La Bollene Vesubie - Moulinet stage is 23.4km and includes the famous Col de Turini.
The lower reaches of the stage are very wet indeed, but there's plenty of snow awaiting crews at the top of their climb.
Here's what rookie star Elfyn Evans had for lunch.
It contained less calories than AUTOSPORT's meal.
Quirky fact: all the stage wins this weekend have been shared between M-Sport (Kubica and Bouffier) and VW (Ogier and Latvala).
None yet for Citroen, and that might not change as Meeke and Ostberg are treading carefully to preserve third and fourth places.
Early splits have Hirvonen slightly faster than Mikkelsen, and both quite a long way up on Evans.
Evans started the day with a 29.2s cushion over M-Sport team-mate Hirvonen.
Incidentally, we could very easily have had more snow craziness yesterday too.
The afternoon stages brought only heavy rain, but this shot from AUTOSPORT's Gap-Sisteron-Monaco via McDonalds journey shows just how close the Gap rain came to turning to snow.
Mikkelsen has lost time in the middle of the stage compared to Hirvonen, around 15s.
Further back, Latvala is comfortably fastest at the moment.
He's 3m15s behind fourth-placed Ostberg so there's nothing to fight for except pride for Latvala, who is not a huge fan of this event.
Melicharek is first man through, his verdict on the weather:
"Very funny conditions!"
He doesn't speak a lot of English, but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy that. Probably more than the WRC frontrunners will.
No dramas for Mikkelsen, who says he's just "cruising".
"Even when there's no snow, it's raining so much there are rivers coming down the road.
"With winter tyres on wet Tarmac, it's like driving on gravel.
"We're going very slowly to be safe. Luckily we don't have to push for anything."
Hirvonen is fastest so far.
"There's so much snow in places that even the studded tyre doesn't work.
"We're clearing it though - it won't be so bad for the cars behind."
Doesn't look like Hirvonen will take sixth from Evans on this stage, but he'll take a big chunk out of the gap.
Could be any one of Latvala, Meeke, Ogier and Bouffier for the stage win on this one based on current pace.
Latvala is quickest so far, he's half a minute faster than Hirvonen's previous benchmark.
Evans loses 17s of his 29s lead over Hirvonen, and he's not at all happy with himself.
"It's really bad. I was too cautious, to be honest. Not a good run for us.
"I haven't got the confidence to push in these conditions. We took it too easy in there, I think."
Ostberg picks up a puncture around four km from the end. The time loss isn't too bad and he makes it to the finish 31s behind Latvala.
Meeke comes through second fastest, 7s slower than Latvala. Good run.
He says the slushy sections before and after the snow were the worst bit, whereas the snow itself was just fun.
"The snow was beautiful over the top with all the spectators - I really enjoyed that section!
"This is what it's all about. This is just awesome.
"As a young boy, you grow up dreaming about days like this.
"But we're still keeping our mind on the job."
Very, very close for the stage win in the end - Ogier beats Latvala by 0.3s and Bouffier by 0.8s!
Here are the results from today's first stage:
SS12 times: 1 Ogier 19m28.9s; 2 Latvala +0.3; 3 Bouffier +0.8s; 4 Meeke +7.5s; 5 Hirvonen +29.3s; 6 Ostberg +31.9s.
Overall positions: 1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier +51.9s; 3 Meeke +1m46.1s; 4 Ostberg +3m20.8s; 5 Latvala +6m04.7s; 6 Evans +7m01.1s.
We've got the
cars coming through now, and after Friday's dramas it should be an easy run for leader Yuriy Protasov, who starts the day seven minutes clear of second-placed Robert Barrable.
Speaking of Barrable, if he was wondering where his car's rear bumper got to, our photographers have found it - and the kids who pinched it...
Stick with us on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live, the next stage starts in just a few minutes.
At 16kms, Sospel - Breil sur Roya is the shortest of the weekend.
More good news for Barrable is that his second place in WRC2 is now very secure as the chasing Lorenzo Bertelli only has front-wheel-drive due to a transmission problem.
Quick summary of our last stage...
returns for the higher sections, but no dramas for the lead cars.
by just 0.5s over Latvala and 0.8s over Bouffier.
* Hirvonen closes to within 11.9s of Evans in
battle for sixth
While we wait for the cars to start SS12, another shot from AUTOSPORT's lap of the Monaco GP route in a Hyundai Santa-Fe...
On the line and ready to go. Stopping for this picture did cause something of a stir – you'd have thought Monaco would have been used to it.
Less snow on this stage, but plenty of rain. Because they prepared for the Turini snow, none of the cars have a full set of stud-less tyres, so they will have to do a crossover - two stud-less, two studded.
The man in the best situation is actually Evans. He has two super-soft asphalt tyres as his spares.
Aquaplaning is going to be a real issue for drivers on this stage. The rain has been relentless for a long time.
update: A third of the way into the deciding stage, Nani Roma has gone quick enough so far to reclaim the rally lead from Stephane Peterhansel by 6s.
If you haven't been following the late
drama - Peterhansel fought back from 40 minutes behind to close on rally-leading X-raid Mini team-mate Roma by the end of Wednesday.
But the team felt Peterhansel (and third-placed team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah, also on a recovery charge) was taking far too many risks and issued 'hold position' orders.
Peterhansel duly dropped back from Roma on Thursday... but ended up taking the lead from him on Friday.
Roma had been slowed by a puncture and rejoined behind Peterhansel on the road. Peterhansel slowed to let him past, Roma declined. They both insisted there was no controversy.
Let's see what happens over the final 100kms.
Back in Monte Carlo, Melicharek and Mikkelsen have made it through the sodden SS13 intact.
Mikkelsen's just enjoying himself now - "sliding around and having fun".
Unless anything dramatic happens, Mikkelsen is firmly set in eighth place for the night now.
Looking at the splits, Hirvonen is down on Mikkelsen's time but looking good to get right on Evans' tail for sixth.
Hirvonen says his mission was just to stay on the road.
"There's so much water running over the road and when you're coming at it so fast, you can aquaplane even with studded tyres."
Evans stuck with his studded tyres as he thought the super-soft asphalt tyres would struggle in the standing water. He loses sixth place overall to M-Sport team-mate Hirvonen.
"I'm really struggling to find confidence with the tyres. There was very, very little grip in there."
Mikkelsen is fastest on this stage so far, 9s up on Hirvonen.
This stage becomes our powerstage at the end of the night later on, with bonus points available for the top three.
Latvala takes fastest stage time away from Mikkelsen by 4s.
Latvala had a moment in standing water, got sideways and clipped a wall with the rear of his VW. Just cosmetic damage, though.
Peterhansel seems to making sure Roma gets the win. At the second split on the final stage, he is a minute and a half slower than his team-mate.
Back in Monte Carlo, Meeke is fastest on the stage so far, while team-mate Ostberg took it very easy.
That might stand as Citroen's first stage win of 2014.
Meeke is up on Bouffier on the early splits, but we're waiting to see what Ogier's doing.
Bit of a scare for Bouffier on that stage:
"I went a bit wide, I was surprised by some water on the road.
"OK, we hit something, but the car is still straight."
He remains second.
No stage win for Citroen yet, Ogier beats Meeke's time by three seconds.
Ogier doesn't just want 25 points when he could have 28...
"A good run, a lot of water on the road. We've checked the notes just in case we try to get a few more points on the power stage."
Another twist in
- Barrable struggles badly with a fogged windscreen on this stage and Bertelli retakes second from him.
Here's a results update after that stage:
1 Ogier 10m12.5s; 2 Meeke +3.5s; 3 Latvala +3.8s; 4 Mikkelsen +8.4s; 5 Bouffier +9.3s; 6 Ostberg +12.2s.
1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier +1m01.2s; 3 Meeke +1m49.6s; 4 Ostberg +3m33.0s; 5 Latvala +6m08.5s; 6 Hirvonen +7m30.7s.
Back to the AUTOSPORT Hyundai Santa-Fe's attack on the Monaco GP layout... here we are at Portier.
Behind all the World Rally Cars, 10th place and the final point currently belong to Matteo Gamba in a Super 2000 Peugeot.
The Italian is outpacing all the registered WRC2 cars at the moment, and so we thought it was worth finding out more about him.
Thanks to AUTOSPORT contributor Richard Rodgers (who knows everything about every rally driver ever) for the following info...
Gamba was on course to win the Italian championship privateers' crown in 2012, but his car was tampered with at overnight parc ferme on the final round and he lost the title.
The federation tried to make him and Alessandro Perico joint champions but neither liked that idea. He was invited to the prize giving but didn't turn up and only had one outing in 2013, driving a Citroen Xsara WRC in a minor national event.
He started rallying in 2004 and won the ACI CSAI young driver of the year award in 2005 then the Evo Cup in Italy in 2006. His prize was a season in the Italian championship with Mitsubishi as team-mate to Paolo Andreucci. He drove a Clio in the CIR in 2008 and did some European events in 2010 but has mainly competed in Italy since.
Gamba is driving for a team called Balbosca (it's a merger of two teams) on Hankook tyres. This is his first WRC start but he did the Monte when it was part of the IRC in 2010.
He describes himself as an entrepreneur and has a girlfriend who speaks fluent English.
One Italian journalist here said he's one of the best young drivers in Italy. As he was born in 1979, we're dubious about the 'young' part.
In more underdog appreciation news,
is 12th overall in a WRC3 spec Citroen, behind WRC2 leader Protasov.
This has been a very good weekend for Chardonnet, who put his humble two-wheel-drive car fourth overall after the opening stage.
We'll see him out in WRC2 later in the year as part of his prize for winning last year's WRC3 title.
There's only one registered
runner here: Quentin Gilbert.
Under WRC feeder series rules, drivers pick whichever six rounds they fancy to contest, which does raise the possibility of just one WRC2/3 bloke turning up, or none at all.
Gilbert just has to trundle round Monte Carlo for two more stages to pick up 25 very easy points.
latest: Nearing the finish line, Roma is 2m23s quicker than Peterhansel and poised for victory.
With all the top crews through Sospel now, it's time for a break.
The second run at La Bolene starts at 8.12pm local time, so AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live will slow the pace of updates until around 7pm UK time.
In the meantime, we'll continue to bring you newsflashes from the Dakar finish and information from service in Monte Carlo, and full-on RCL service will resume in just over three hours.
The Monte Carlo Rally order remains: 1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier; 3 Meeke; 4 Ostberg; 5 Latvala; 6 Hirvonen.
Nani Roma has won the 2014 Dakar Rally.
Stephane Peterhansel made very sure of obeying team instructions by stopping on course 24 kilometres from the finish and waiting for X-raid team-mates Roma and Nasser Al-Attiyah so that they could stage a formation finish.
Welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live for two dark, wet and slushy deciding stages of the 2014 Monte Carlo Rally.
Monte Carlo press officer just delivered sandwiches and news of a five-minute delay to the start of SS15, the rally's final stage.
Might have problems on this first stage immediately, with one of the course car reported to be stopped in heavy snow at the top of the Col.
A recap of where we stand: Sebastien Ogier leads Bryan Bouffier by a minute, with big gaps back to Kris Meeke, Mads Ostberg and Jari-Matti Latvala.
Then it's M-Sport pair Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans two seconds apart in sixth and seventh.
We lost Robert Kubica to a crash yesterday, both Hyundais retired on the first morning (Thierry Neuville crashed, Dani Sordo's battery failed) but showed great pace, and Francois Delecour hit technical problems on the very first stage.
So there are no ultra-tense battles left, this evening is all about firstly surviving the mixture of pitch black, heavy snow and torrential rain, and secondly about fighting for the potentially quite important power stage points on the final stage.
The stage is currently delayed, we presume due to the issues with the #00 car in the snow. No information yet on when we'll get moving.
When we do get going, start order tonight is Slovakian rookie Melicharek, then Mikkelsen, Hirvonen, Evans, Latvala, Ostberg, Meeke, Bouffier and Ogier.
We're underway, Melicharek onto the stage now.
Lots of speculation about the course car incident in the press office. Nobody's willing to accept that it could have gone off - this is probably something to do with the fact that one is driven by Jean Ragnotti and the other by Gilles Panizzi. Both legends in these parts.
Both legends in all parts come to think of it.
Hirvonen up on Mikkelsen at the first splits as the quicker cars begin to come through.
The expectation is that crews will encounter a lot of snow, ice and slush as they get to the highest part of this stage.
Gilles Panizzi was the guilty party. He got his Megane stuck in the snow. He says he's sorry.
This will be the view for the winner at the post-event press conference, except hopefully with a few more seats filled.
It's currently a safe bet that it'll be Ogier in the winner's chair.
Tracking system shows both Melicharek and Mikkelsen stopped on the stage in the same place...
Now Hirvonen has come to a halt at the same point on the tracking system.
Tracking now shows the stranded cars moving. Seems they stopped in the same place Panizzi's course car got stuck - could it be the sheer amount of snow?
Bouffier and Ogier are being kept at the startline while whatever the mid-stage problem is gets sorted.
Evans, Latvala, Ostberg and Meeke also went onto the stage before the stoppage.
All the stopped cars are moving again so the drivers will be able to tell us exactly what happened.
Logically this stage may be called off given the delay.
Melicharek went off and the other cars were stuck behind him, according to race control.
Sorry, rally control. In fairness, it does say race control on the door.
Melicharek, Mikkelsen, Hirvonen and Evans look set to arrive at the stage end in convoy now.
Stage appears to be back to normal, Bouffier now going in.
Expect those who got stuck behind Melicharek to get given notional times but the stage to run as planned for everyone else - at a guess.
Stage now neutralised, which means drivers won't go through at full speed and will be given nominal times.
And this is what Monte Carlo race control looks like. NO talking.
It's not quite an anti-climax yet, though.
We've still got one proper stage left, and it's the power stage, and it's going to take place in torrential rain.
The Sospel stage is due to start in 15 minutes, but expect a delay there.
And this picture is on the wall of the Automobile Club de Monaco just outside race control.
It seems there's nothing new about cars getting stuck on the Monte...
Mikkelsen reaches the stage end still laughing over what just happened.
He reckons Melicharek simply ran out of traction in the deep snow.
"Just before the Col, he was stuck, he couldn't get up the hill. We were standing in a queue and waiting for him.
Lots of spectators came and pushed him up to the top, and finally in the end we got going.
There was so much snow, I couldn't believe it. Like a winter wonderland."
Latvala makes it to the end too. He's glad the stage was abandoned as his four-wheel-drive World Rally Car was struggling to get up the snow-covered hill so he doubts the two-wheel-drive cars down the order would've stood a chance.
Here's Elfyn Evans' verdict:
"It was really bad in there. There were cars stopped as soon as we got to the worst of it and we knew the stage couldn't continue like it.
"The snowfall was at the point where it was dangerous so I think it was right to stop it."
Bad news for Hirvonen: he reports an alternator failure and that his M-Sport Fiesta is running out of power.
That's going to be a nerve-wracking run through the final stage and to the finish.
Hirvonen sounds very miserable actually. Again.
By contrast, Meeke is shaking his head and laughing.
"I'll never forget this rally and I'll never forget this stage.
"My radiator was blocked with snow, my engine temperature was up and I had to start switching everything off. It was incredible.
"Then we got the yellow flag and we could slow down."
Waiting for Bouffier and Ogier to make their way through now. Bit of a gap as they were kept at the startline once it was clear the stage was a mess.
If you're just joining us, the news is that the penultimate stage had to be abandoned because
Melicharek got stuck
in a huge amount of snow and the following cars were trapped behind him.
The cars are now heading for our grand finale on a sodden SS15.
New start time for SS15 is 9.14pm local time, in just over five minutes. That's nine minutes down on the original schedule.
Power stage points are on offer for Sospel.
How much do those extra three points matter when you get 25 for a win? Well, they
make a difference.
In 2012, without what he'd scored on power stages, Latvala wouldn't have beaten Ostberg to third in the championship, while in 2011 Loeb's title-winning margin over Hirvonen would've just been one point (not eight) if you discount what they each took in bonus scores.
Last year the only real effect of power stages was that Ogier added a maximum bonus score in five of his winning rallies, which made his wins even more depressing for everyone he was beating by miles in the championship.
That geeky maths stats interlude has neatly filled the gap before the start of tonight's final stage. Melicharek is due onto Sospel now.
It's even wetter than it was this afternoon. And this afternoon was almost flooded in places, and in others there were rivers running across the course, so standing water and aquaplaning is potentially an issue.
Oh it's also reported to be foggy.
Looks like the struggling Hirvonen might be late onto the stage. Tracking shows him some distance from the start and he's due next after Mikkelsen.
Another bit of trivia to squeeze in before the leaders get going:
The co-drivers all wear Fastime's Co-pilot watch and when they become a world champion they have a unique watch made.
Sebastien Loeb's sidekick Daniel Elena had nine gold watches (that's not meant as rhyming slang...) Ogier's partner while Julien Ingrassia has gone for a different design.
Hirvonen is going to be running out of order. Evans has started the stage ahead of him.
These problems for Mikko mean there is an increasingly good chance that Evans is going to take a top-six finish on his Monte Carlo debut, and a second top six in as many top-class WRC starts.
Eighteen years ago, AUTOSPORT was a bit disappointed that British championship star Gwyndaf Evans' WRC chance with Ford fizzled out.
So seeing his son make such a superb start is very pleasing.
Mikkelsen is driving almost blind by the look of things.
: "The rain on SS15 is so heavy that Mikkelsen switched off the big lights. Visibility better this way. Well,
Still no sign of Hirvonen onto the stage. Latvala has now started and is quickest so far.
Added headache for Mikkelsen is that he's set to catch Melicharek on the stage.
Not ideal when you already can't see where you're going in the rain and fog.
Latvala is setting an incredible pace through this stage.
Mikkelsen makes it to the finish.
Mikkelsen and Melicharek secure eighth and ninth positions.
Here's the VW man's verdict on his weekend:
"It's been a really tricky event, for sure. A lot of conditions that I've never run in before. A huge learning experience. I'm so happy I got to the finish.
"This stage was really tricky, no rhythm at all. It was so foggy."
Evans finishes the stage. That should be sixth place on his Monte debut, an achievement he's pretty calm about.
"We came here to finish the rally and we have done. It's been a difficult one but at least we're here at the end."
Latvala is fastest on the stage so far by some distance.
Fifth place and a potential power stage bonus would be a good 'save' for a man who was only 19th after SS3.
Far from a trouble-free run for Latvala too:
"I tried to push a bit harder but there was a lot of standing water and I had a problem with my lights at the start - not all of them would come on.
"There was some nasty water on the road, but overall that was a good run."
Hirvonen has made it onto the stage but is a long way off the pace. Sixth looks to belong to Evans.
Ostberg comes home fourth, and is thrilled with that on his Citroen debut.
"It's been unreal. I said that last year, so I can't say that again... But it's been really, really tough. So many big challenges.
"I'm really happy with what we've done. Fourth place in Monte Carlo on my first rally with the team is like a victory for me."
fired up to try to win in Sweden next month, having always starred on that event.
If Ostberg is happy with fourth, then Meeke can be absolutely ecstatic with third as he makes it home safely.
It's his first ever outright WRC podium, at the start of his career lifeline full season with Citroen.
No crashes this time, no mistakes, only 4.9s slower than Latvala so there might be some bonus points too.
And that's Britain's first WRC podium since Richard Burns in Australia in 2003, we reckon.
Meeke thanks Citroen team boss Yves Matton for giving him this chance.
After Meeke's shunts on his two audition outings last year, Matton had to think very long and very hard about giving him another chance.
He'll be glad he did now.
Hirvonen is stopped on the stage. We thought his start to the season couldn't get any worse. It seems to have done.
So just two men to come through. They're both French, and they've both won this event in the IRC - and back then both results were a bit of a surprise.
If Bouffier had beaten Ogier to victory this weekend it would have been one of the biggest shocks in WRC history.
Unless Ogier makes a huge error in the next few minutes, Bouffier is going to be second this time - and that is still an astounding result for a man with barely any WRC experience.
Spurt of pace from Bouffier on the final part of this stage... he could snatch the power stage points from Latvala...
No he doesn't, he drops time at the finish. But that's still an extraordinary second overall.
Bouffier's end-of-rally interview with the media scrummed round his car mostly consists of the word "fantastic" repeated multiple times.
What next for Bouffier?
Well we'll see him on the ERC in a fortnight as he's just signed up to do round two in Latvia in a Citroen RRC. He'll be up against Craig Breen, Esapekka Lappi, Sepp Wiegand and Kajetan Kajetanowicz there in what should be a decent battle up front.
Bouffier was the only member of Hyundai's 2013 testing roster who didn't get called up for a rally seat this year. He hopes this result will change that...
Ogier comes through and wins the 2014 Monte Carlo Rally!
Latvala gets the three power stage points.
That was very, very close - Latvala wins the power stage by just 0.2s over Ogier.
Meeke gets one bonus point, he was 5s behind Latvala in third on the stage.
Yuriy Protasov is about to get his first
win, and Hirvonen's retirement will mean he scores an outright point in 10th overall too.
The final WRC2 cars are coming now, then it will be S2000 underdog Matteo Gamba completing our lead pack by securing a shock ninth overall.
There was a late change on the
podium, as a badly-misted windscreen earlier today delayed Robert Barrable enough for Lorenzo Bertelli to snatch second, despite having to struggle with front-wheel-drive-only for a spell this afternoon.
If you want to recap everything that's happened this weekend...
Monte Carlo Rally report
While we wait for Gamba to come through...
AUTOSPORT is seriously tempted to do the double this year...
The Monte Carlo Historique starts next week. The concentration runs go from Glasgow, Oslo and Monaco to Valence for the start on Wednesday and the event finishes a week on Tuesday.
And we'll bet it'll still be raining...
Thanks for your company on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live this weekend - there have been
of you, and you've had a classic rally to enjoy.
OK, it's another Ogier win by a huge margin, but let's not forget he was 1m20s down and only ninth after three stages, we had Kubica leading SS1-2, Bouffier leading SS3-8, Bouffier and Meeke on the podium... heavy snow, torrential rain, surprise ice...
Our final set of results from Monte Carlo:
1 Latvala 10m41.5s; 2 Ogier +0.2s; 3 Meeke +4.9s; 4 Bouffier +17.9s; 5 Mikkelsen +19.7s; 6 Ostberg +21.1s
Final overall top six:
1 Ogier; 2 Bouffier +1m18.9s; 3 Meeke +1m54.3s; 4 Ostberg +3m53.9s; 5 Latvala +6m08.3s; 6 Evans +8m37.4s.
Next up on AUTOSPORT Live will be our as-it-happens coverage of the
first 2014 Formula 1 test
from Jerez, starting on Tuesday January 28.
Then AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live returns on Thursday February 6, when we're back in World Rally Championship action for
- and more snow.
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