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Estonian has lucky escape as French legend excels in Toyota debut.
Rallye Monte-Carlo master Sébastien Ogier moved into position for a seventh consecutive victory after snatching a slender lead in the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship’s season-opener on Friday night.
The Frenchman, making his Toyota Yaris debut, ended the first full day’s competition with a 1.2sec advantage over Elfyn Evans after demoting his team-mate in the final kilometres. Thierry Neuville was hot on their heels, a further 5.2sec behind.
The main talking point was a massive crash for world champion Ott Tänak on his first drive in a Hyundai i20.
The Estonian’s car flew off the road after a compression in this morning’s Saint-Clément – Freissinières speed test. The car rolled multiple times before coming to rest on a road more than 100 metres down the hillside.
Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja climbed out of the badly-damaged car on their own before being taken to hospital, where they will remain overnight for observation.
"Our priority in such situations is always the condition of the crew first and foremost," said Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo. "It is customary after such incidents for hospital check-ups, the results of which were clear."
The Toyota duo dominated the day. Evans, also making his Yaris debut, won all three morning tests, where icy patches were a constant hazard, to relegate overnight leader Neuville and open a 3.3sec margin over Ogier.
Ogier turned the tables this afternoon. On drier roads, he won two stages to edge ahead.
"This morning I was a little bit cautious and was also having cautious information from my gravel crew," he said. "This afternoon we made some changes to the set-up and had a talk with our gravel crew and we were feeling more comfortable."
Evans admitted to a wary approach this afternoon as mud was dragged onto the road by the cars ahead.
Neuville won the final stage, but was frustrated to drop down the order. He was forced to call-up non competing team-mate Dani Sordo to drive his safety note car after regular pilot Bruno Thiry fell ill.
Sébastien Loeb was a lonely fourth in another i20. The nine-time world champion was 47.5sec adrift of Neuville and 48.3sec clear of Esapekka Lappi, who struggled with his Fiesta on his M-Sport Ford debut. The Finn also lost time after sliding into a field.
Saturday brings two loops of two well-known tests near Gap, totalling 75.20km. Teams then have their final chance to work on their cars before competitors make the long journey south to Monaco for the final overnight halt.
Leading positions after Friday
1. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris 1hr 43min 31.5sec
2. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +1.2sec
3. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +6.4sec
4. S Loeb / D Elena FRA Hyundai i20 +1min 06.9sec
5. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Ford Fiesta +1min 57.2sec
6. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota Yaris +2min 19.2sec