Although Juho Hanninen and the Skoda team maintained their comfortable pace at the head of the field throughout most of the second day, it is the reigning Junior World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier who returns to parc ferme in Valence in the lead of the 77th Monte Carlo Rally.
Hanninen enjoyed a hard-earned advantage of a minute and a half until the final stage, when he picked up a front left puncture after about five kilometres. The crew took the decision to continue for the remaining 15 or so kilometres with the flat tyre, but more than two minutes were lost over the course of the stage.
As a result, Peugeot 207 S2000 driver Sebastien Ogier, who was selected for the BFGoodrich Drivers‘ Team seat, leads the Monte Carlo Rally by 32.4 seconds with one day and five more stages remaining. The reigning Junior World Rally Champion, making his Super 2000 debut, had no major problems throughout the day but he is locked in a close battle with Peugeot Belgium driver Freddy Loix, who currently occupies second place. Hanninen is now third after his unfortunate puncture, just five seconds behind Loix. Like most people, Ogier found it hard to judge just how much grip was available on the icy stages and it proved impossible for everyone to predict how the weather conditions would evolve.
However, Hanninen was not the only person to encounter problems. Irishman Kris Meeke dropped some time as the result of an off-road excursion in the morning but is still firmly in contention for a podium place. The situation was considerably worse for reigning IRC champion Nicolas Vouilloz. The Frenchman’s title defence has got off to an unfortunate start after he hit a rock on SS7 and damaged the steering of his Peugeot Belgium 207 S2000 – forcing him into instant retirement.
One of the first upsets of the day was an off for Le Mans star Stephane Sarrazin, who put his factory Peugeot off the road on the opening stage of the day and lost five minutes. Once more, tyre choice was the main issue of the day, with the route containing a wide mixture of conditions including ice, grease, damp and snow. The factory Abarth team of Giandomenico Basso and Anton Alen both felt that they had not always made the correct tyre choices throughout the day, with Alen’s rally being further complicated by a fire that broke out in the footwell of his Grande Punto during the final stage. He also lost time after being stuck behind another competitor who encountered problems.
For those who made the correct choices or took some lucky gambles, there were several important gains to be had. Toni Gardemeister (Abarth) and Jan Kopecky (Skoda) both set impressive times throughout the day after choosing the right tyres for the conditions. The eighth stage, the epic St Bonnet le Froid test, was particularly momentous for Skoda, as the Czech team set first and second fastest times thanks to Hanninen and Kopecky.
It was another good day for the young Franz Wittman Junior in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 run by Stohl Racing. The Austrian ends the second day of his first Monte Carlo Rally in 10th overall, having found the right compromise between speed and safety in the treacherous conditions.
The IRC 2WD Cup continues to be led comfortably by Italian driver Manuel Villa, in a Fiat Punto S1600. Local man Guy Mottard, in a Peugeot 206 RC , is second while Englishman Nick West is third in a Volkswagen Polo.
1Ogier/Ingrassia    Peugeot 207 S2000    2h35m09.8s
2 Loix/Smets    Peugeot 207 S2000    +32.4s
3 Hanninen/Markkula    Skoda Fabia S2000    +54.8s
4 Meeke/Nagle    Peugeot 207 S2000    +59.2s
5 Gardemeister/Tuominen    Abarth Grande Punto S2000    +1m40.7s
6 Sarrazin/Renucci    Peugeot 207 S2000    +3m42.6s
7 Kopecky/Stary    Skoda Fabia S2000    +4m10.6s
8 Basso/Dotta    Abarth Grande Punto S2000    +4m17.8s
9 Alen/Alanne    Abarth Grande Punto S2000    +8m12.8s
10 Wittmann/Ettel    Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9    +10m01.8s
Two-wheel drive leader: Manuel Villa (Fiat Punto S1600)
"It’s been another good day but the biggest difficulty we consistently had was predicting how much grip was available. Everything is constantly changing and it’s impossible to have the information to cover every single possibility. We have already seen that this rally is completely unpredictable, and while I am obviously happy to be in the lead, there is no guarantee that this situation will last. I’m very aware of my own inexperience, both with the car and this event."
-Sebastien Ogier, BFGoodrich Drivers Team
"I’ve got some experience of the Monte Carlo Rally from the past but actually it doesn’t help me so much as every Monte Carlo is really different. This one is no exception. It’s not been such a bad day for us but the conditions have been very tricky indeed and it’s been hard to make the correct tyre choices. Tomorrow we have the Turini stages at night, which are sure to be a very big challenge, so the surprises are by no means over yet. We’ve got a good chance so we will push if the conditions suit us."
-Freddy Loix, Peugeot Belgium driver
"It was a good day for us but a very disappointing way to end it. We picked up a front puncture not long after the start of the stage but we decided not to stop and change it. That was actually the right decision, as we lost less time by continuing but of course it made the handling really unpredictable. We just drove carefully through the stage and back to service but although two minutes were lost everything is not over yet and we still have a chance so we will be pushing hard tomorrow. We have shown that our car has a competitive speed even in these really difficult conditions"
-Juho Hanninen, Skoda driver
Tomorrow’s action sees the rally build up to a spectacular climax with two dramatic runs through the famous Col de Turini stages near Monte Carlo, which take place at night. Before then, the crews will tackle a 30-kilometre stage close to Valence in the morning as they make their way back to Monaco. In total there will be five stages on Friday, making up 134.80 competitive kilometres. The long day starts at 06:30, when the cars enter the service park in Valence for the final time. They arrive in Monaco at 14:08 and are later serviced again at the harbourside before the first run through the Turini loop at 19:40.
The competitors return to service in Monaco harbour at 22:00, before entering the final loop of Turini stages at 23:15. At the end of the loop the first car returns to service in Monaco at 01:20 before entering parc ferme at 01:30.
The ceremonial finish and prize-giving will take place on Saturday morning.
Eurosport will broadcast the Monte Carlo Rally regularly, with uninterrupted live coverage from the Turini stages, and it is also possible to watch the rally live on www.rally-irc.com, and the Yahoo Eurosport platform thanks to Eurosport’s live streaming system. To watch, simply log onto the website and click on the ‚watch live streaming‘ message in the flash news banner. Alternatively, click on the flag of your preferred language in the Yahoo Eurosport box. All times listed below are Central European Times. At the end of each leg, there will be on-demand video highlights posted in the ‚video highlights‘ section.
Thursday 22 January
00:00-00:15     Leg two highlights    Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific    
Friday 23 January
19:30-21:15       LIVE SS11/SS12     Eurosport 2 & Eurosport Asia Pacific & Internet
23:00-01:00       LIVE SS13/SS14     Eurosport & Eurosport Asia Pacific & Internet

Sebastien Ogier, driving a BFGoodrich-backed Peugeot, is the surprise leader at the end of day two



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