Evans successfully navigated through three tricky asphalt stages that featured icy patches to lead nine-time Monte Carlo winner Ogier by 10.7s.
Ogier won two of the three tests to haul himself from third to second overall ahead of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who is 24.5s back from Evans. His team-mate Tanak headed to the midday service in fourth more than a minute adrift of the pace after a spin on sheet ice.
M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux (+1m04.3s), new Hyundai signing Andreas Mikkelsen, who was getting up to speed with his Rally1 car (+2m08.6s), and the second M-Sport Ford of Gregoire Munster (+2m33.3s) filled the top seven. Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta dropped from fifth overnight to outside of the points after losing more than five minutes.
The opening stage (Saint-Leger-les-Melezes/La Batie-Neuve 16.68km) of the morning provided a headache for crews, as the majority of the test was dry but as the road reached the top of the mountain there were sections of treacherous sheet ice.
These icy patches caught out several drives. Neuville was lucky to escape a brush with a snow bank at a tricky right-hander as he went on to win the stage with a 5.3s margin over a careful rally leader Evans. Ogier enjoyed a trouble-free run to set the third-fastest time.
“It was really tricky. Once you are on the ice there is zero grip. I tried to take as many cuts as I could. We have to work a bit on the car to give me more confidence,” said Neuville.
Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1
However, Tanak was not as lucky on the ice as he lost the rear of his i20 N at the same corner where Neuville had a moment. Tanak eventually ended up beached in a ditch and required spectators to push him back on the road and he lost 41.9s. Tanak did report that the throttle issues he suffered last night had eased.
Katsuta and Munster also slide into the ditch at the same corner. Katsuta’s error was the most severe, as the Japanese dropped 5m24.2s and plummeted down the order.
“It was just my mistake, so stupid. It is really bad actually. I will try to finish the stages and see what I can do,” said Katsuta.
The drama helped Fourmaux climb ahead of Tanak into fourth overall while Mikkelsen and Munster slotted into sixth and seventh.
Stage four (Champcella/Saint-Clement 1 17.87km) was completely devoid of icy patches, meaning crews could push to the limit on the dry asphalt.
Ogier emerged as the pacesetter netting his first stage win of the event by 1.0s from rally leader Evans.
Evans ended the test with his lead extending to 18.8s over Neuville after the Belgian made an error. Neuville was two seconds faster than Evans on the splits before a wild high-speed spin cost him time.
“I have no idea. There must have been some gravel or something that I didn’t have in my notes but it was a big surprise,” said Neuville.
Photo by: M-Sport
Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Tanak bounced back from his stage three spin to reclaim fourth overall from Fourmaux after posting the third-fastest time. However, Fourmaux made set-up tweaks to his Puma after stage three and was feeling much more confident behind the wheel.
The final stage of the loop (Stage 5 La Breole/Selonmet – 18.31km) belonged to Ogier, who delivered a blistering time on a road that featured patches of black ice.
An emotional Frenchman was 11.2s faster than Evans to propel himself into the victory fight.
“I was struggling so far. I am having a tough week, but I am trying my best,” said Ogier, who was close to tears.
Fourmaux produced a strong effort to claim the third-best time ahead of Tanak and Neuville.
Skoda driver Pepe Lopez topped the WRC2 standings from Nikolay Gryazin by a margin of 0.4s.
The field will complete a second pass of the morning stages this afternoon.