Bryan Bouffier leads Francois Delecour by 28 seconds with the rest of the field at least a minute adrift at the end of a dramatic second day of the Monte Carlo Rally.
Former leader Juho Hanninen has fallen back to sixth ahead of Petter Solberg, as both chose the wrong tires for what turned out to be snow-covered stages this afternoon.
With today's final Cimetiere de Vassieux to Col de Gaudissart run featuring even heavier snow than the preceding stage, Delecour benefited from being the only person on fully studded snow tires, and took the first stage victory of his return after an eight-year absence. That vaulted him from sixth to second place.
"I was very, very careful on the stage because, even with studs, it's so easy to make a mistake," said Delecour. "I went fast because I knew I had a good choice, but I was very careful."
Bouffier used a combination of studded and stud-free winter tires, and was second fastest despite two spins as he maintained his lead.
"This stage was amazing," he said. "I spun two times but I'm a bit lucky. I think I drove well apart from the spins."
All the other frontrunners had to struggle on stud-free winter tires or even intermediates. Freddy Loix, Guy Wilks and Stephane Sarrazin used the former option and finished the day in third to fifth places – despite Loix struggling through the final 12 kilometers of SS8 with a puncture.
Hanninen had two winter tires to fit along with his intermediates, but even this combination left him two minutes off the pace and dropped him to sixth – 2m35.7sec behind Bouffier overall. However, the Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion remained upbeat despite having been dominant prior to the snow.
"This is the Monte Carlo Rally and sometimes you need to take risks," said Hanninen. "We took the same tire as Petter. There is no point worrying about it anymore, it is part of this rally."
Solberg is 1m14sec behind Hanninen in seventh place, and nearly four minutes adrift of Bouffier.
After their Wednesday punctures, Nicolas Vouilloz and Toni Gardemeister fared well in the snow and moved up to eighth and 10th, split by Jan Kopecky, who lost a full seven minutes on intermediates on SS8. Former Formula 1 driver Alex Caffi has risen to 12th.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Bryan Bouffier Peugeot 2h14m38.8s
2. Francois Delecour Peugeot + 28.0s
3. Freddy Loix Skoda + 1m05.5s
4. Guy Wilks Peugeot + 1m20.5s
5. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 1m41.1s
6. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 2m35.7s
7. Petter Solberg Peugeot + 3m49.1s
8. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 5m31.0s
9. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 7m51.7s
10. Toni Gardemeister Peugeot + 7m52.7s