Bryan Bouffier surged from seventh place to lead the Monte Carlo Rally in a single stage as heavy snowfall turned the leaderboard inside out on SS7.
Erstwhile leader Juho Hanninen is down to fourth, 16.9sec behind Bouffier, and with Stephane Sarrazin and Freddy Loix between them. Petter Solberg has fallen from second to seventh place.
Bouffier chose to take snow tires for the stage, with Francois Delecour going further still and opting for fully studded rubber – which looked the wrong choice during the utterly dry early miles.
But with the later part of the stage covered in snow, the two French Peugeot drivers flew to the first- and second-fastest times, and moved up to first and sixth overall in the process. Both Hanninen and Solberg chose intermediate tires and found themselves totally without grip.
"We had intermediate tires so it was very difficult to even get here," said Hanninen. "Not good, but this is rallying and part of Monte Carlo. We just need to focus to get to the end of this stage. It's more than difficult."
Solberg said: "With a slick intermediate it's not good, and I also had a puncture because I went off the road a little bit. That's how it is. We tried and [the snow] came much more than I expected."
Bouffier holds a 3.8sec lead over Sarrazin, who admitted he was too cautious on the stage, with Loix just 1.2sec further back in third. Guy Wilks ran winter tires without studs, too, and is 8.4sec behind Hanninen in fifth.
Skoda's Jan Kopecky also struggled on intermediate tires, and could not understand how the team had misjudged the conditions so badly after falling to eighth behind Delecour and Solberg.
"If you see this weather and see our tires, something is wrong. This should not happen," he said.
Today's final stage is now under way and is covered in snow throughout. Many of the drivers on the wrong tires for SS7 have stored two studded or winter tires in their cars' trunks as alternatives.
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Bryan Bouffier Peugeot 1h52m54.3s
2. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 3.8s
3. Freddy Loix Skoda + 5.0s
4. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 16.9s
5. Guy Wilks Peugeot + 25.3s
6. Francois Delecour Peugeot + 55.8s
7. Petter Solberg Peugeot + 1m03.6s
8. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 1m14.7s
9. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 4m22.7s
10. Julien Maurin Ford + 4m45.1s