Monte Part 3: Loeb imperious, Novikov flies

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Whatever the Volkswagen squad is giving Sébastien Ogier for breakfast clearly works, as for the second day running he came out of the traps at a furious pace. For the second day running, however, he was also overhauled for pace after this early burst of speed, allowing overnight leader Sébastien Loeb to maintain a healthy 1m 17s advantage for Citroën by the end of the opening loop.

Loeb didn’t invoke the same brand of devastating pace as he showed yesterday, however – taking a cautious approach on what are very icy stages. In fact the fastest man in the field proved to be young Russian driver Evgeny Novikov, who seldom shows any understanding of the word ‘caution’. The M-Sport man hustled his Fiesta to a pair of stage wins on SS6 and SS7, thereby climbing from sixth to fourth through the morning, and has closed the gap to third placed Citroën of Dani Sordo from almost 50s at the start of the day to just 7.6s at the lunch break.

It’s not been a stellar day so far for Citroën’s team leader Mikko Hirvonen or his fellow countryman, Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala. Both men said that they were struggling for confidence on the combination of ice, snow and dry asphalt encountered. Mads Østberg, who shoulders most of M-Sport’s hopes, is also having a quiet event to this point – but is quite content.

In WRC2 Sepp Wiegand leads as he continues his strong run in the Škoda Fabia S2000. In WRC3 the Sebastien Chardonnet has taken the lead in his Citroën DS3 R3T after overnight leader Renaud Poutot crashed his similar car.

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