Bryan Bouffier extended his Monte Carlo Rally lead despite only being eighth quickest on the first stage of the final day.
After yesterday's sudden snow, dry conditions greeted the field for SS9, where Bouffier was slightly hampered by a loose spare wheel moving around and poor visibility through the low sun. However, despite being 23.2 seconds slower than stage winner Stephane Sarrazin, Bouffier increased his outright lead over Francois Delecour to 39.7ssec – although he is taking nothing for granted.
"There's a long way to go, and very tricky stages," said Bouffier.
Returnee Delecour was only 10th quickest, and fears that the drivers with more recent mileage will be hard to hold off today.
"They are going much faster – it will be difficult tonight," he said. "I am not dreaming."
Delecour now has just a 12.1sec gap back to third-placed Freddy Loix, although the Skoda driver was another man slightly off the pace on SS9, where he was only fifth.
"I'm pushing, but it was going quite well until the middle of the stage, but at the end we lost a bit of grip from the front tire," said Loix. "I tried to keep some speed but was over-driving the car."
Despite a loss of volume on his intercom, Peugeot UK's Guy Wilks managed to close to within 8.1sec of Loix, and maintained an 18sec cushion over the chasing Sarrazin. Erstwhile leader Juho Hanninen remains sixth. He was second quickest on the stage but did not feel he had been at his best.
"I'm not sure what I should do, it's not so easy to get to full attack now," said Hanninen. "But they are nice stages so I'd like to enjoy it."
Petter Solberg, Nicolas Vouilloz, Jan Kopecky and Toni Gardemeister complete the rest of the current top 10. Farther back, ex-Formula 1 driver Alex Caffi is still an impressive 12th, while GP3 racer Adrien Tambay holds 18th overall and fourth in the 2WD class.
After this single morning stage, the rally now pauses until this evening as the crews embark on a long road section back to Monaco. The event resumes for four stages under darkness.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Bryan Bouffier Peugeot 2h32m47.3s
2. Francois Delecour Peugeot + 39.7s
3. Freddy Loix Skoda + 51.8s
4. Guy Wilks Peugeot + 59.9s
5. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 1m17.9s
6. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 2m14.9s
7. Petter Solberg Peugeot + 3m30.2s
8. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 5m29.5s
9. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 7m40.1s
10. Toni Gardemeister Peugeot + 8m07.5s