Day 3: 5 Stages, 114.33 km
Bryan Bouffier has clinched victory on the centenary running of the Monte Carlo Rally. The French Peugeot driver, who had vaulted himself into the lead of the rally during changing weather conditions on the afternoon of Day 2, successfully navigated the final day's stages without drama to record a win on the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge season.
SS9: Montauban Sur l'Ouveze-Eygalayes (29.89 km)
The final day began with a single stage in the morning before the journey to the evening stages above Monte Carlo. Although Bouffier was only eighth fastest on the stage, he extended his lead at the top of the overall standings to 39.7 seconds over Francois Delecour.
It was Stephane Sarrazin who was quickest, by 2.4 seconds over Juho Hanninen. Sarrazin was unable to make much inroads in Guy Wilks's fourth place overall though, as the Briton finished third quickest, despite saying that he lost time with intercom problems.
SS10: Moulinet-La Bollene Vesubie 1 (23.41 km)
The final four stages would be run in the dark of the evening, with two different stages, both repeated. The first of these featured the legendary Col de Turini, where the fans had gathered, throwing snow onto the road to try and trick the crews into an error.
Nicolas Vouilloz, the former IRC champion who lives locally, set the pace on the first run through, winning the stage by one second from Freddy Loix. Loix's time allowed him to jump ahead of Delacour into second in the overall standings – the French former winner setting only the tenth fastest time.
Wilks struggled with his tyres, finishing 22.9 seconds down on Vouilloz and losing fourth on the leaderboard to Sarrazin.
SS11: Lantosque-Luceram (18.81 km)
Former IRC champion Giandomenico Basso was looking impressive during the evening stages. After going fourth on SS10, the Italian won SS11, beginning to close in on Toni Gardemeister's tenth overall position.
Sarrazin was looking good for the stage win through the splits, but his gearbox got stuck in fourth gear towards the end of the stage, resulting in him losing 28.3 seconds. This allowed Wilks to retake the fourth position that he had lost on the stage before, the Briton closing to within five seconds of Delecour in the process.
As the team's headed to a short service break, Bouffier held a 47.7 second lead over second placed Loix.
SS12: Moulinet-La Bollene Vesubie 2 (23.41 km)
After having his broken gearbox replaced at service, Sarrazin set the fastest time on the repeat stage through the Col de Turini. This not only got him back past Wilks, but also past Delacour and into third overall.
Wilks had attempted to try and change the setup on his car at service, but said after SS12 that he could still not get it right. He finished the stage 26.1 seconds down on Sarrazin, but trimmed the gap to Delacour to 2.7 seconds.
Both Bouffier and Loix appeared to take it easy on the stage, the pair finishing over twenty seconds down on Sarrazin – the overall gap between the pair 44.9 seconds going into the final stage.
Basso was fourth quickest on the stage – enough to take him past Gardemeister and into tenth place overall.
SS13: Lantosque-Luceram (18.81 km)
Bouffier eased his car through the final stage to record the victory – the final gap to Loix standing at 32.5 seconds. At the end of the stage a delighted Bouffier said: “It’s fantastic, really fantastic! I’m so happy, for Peugeot, for the team. Lots of emotions. It’s really amazing. It was a really tricky rally, but Peugeot gave me perfect car, I’m happy for them.”
Sarrazin took another stage win, cementing his place on the podium. Guy Wilks was sixth quickest on the stage, which allowed him to take fourth from Delecour. This later became third when Sarrazin checked into the final control three minutes late to hand Peugeot teammate Wilks third overall. With Wilks doing a full campaign compared to Sarrazin's one-off for the Monte, Peugeot asked the Frenchman to hand over his third place. This gave Wilks a podium finish on his debut for the French manufacturer.
Despite losing three places during the final day's running, Delecour was happy with his fifth place finish on his return to rallying. He finished ahead of Juho Hanninen, who had looked so comfortably in the lead before the heavy snow on Thursday afternoon.
Petter Solberg had been the nearest guy to Hanninen before also getting into trouble in the changing conditions. He had looked set to finish seventh though in his guest outing for Peugeot France. However, his car developed alternator problems towards the end of the final stage. Although he made it to the end of the stage without losing much time, he could not make it back to final service. His car stopped on the road section, forcing him to retire.
This gave seventh to Vouilloz, who recovered from an early puncture on Day 1. Eighth went to Jan Kopecky, who took it easy towards the end with nothing left to play for after losing so much time on the wrong tyres in Thursday afternoon's snow. Basso was elevated to ninth, with Gardemeister scoring the final point after all despite losing tenth earlier on to Basso. The privateer Peugeot pair both lost time to punctures on the opening day.
Former Grand Prix driver Alex Caffi finished an impressive 11th overall, despite an attempt at some showboating for the fans on the first run through the Col de Turini not quite going to plan.
Florian Gonon took Production Cup honours in his Subaru in 13th overall, just ahead of 2WD category winner Pierre Campana, who denied Michael Burri late on. Single-seater racer Adrien Tambay finished fifth in the 2WD category, 18th overall.
Daniel Elena, usually co-driver to Sebastien Loeb, made it to the finish in 52nd of 54 finishers behind the wheel of a Citroen DS3.
It will be nearly three months until the next IRC action, with the Rally Islas Canarias on April 14-16.
Final overall standings:
1. Bryan Bouffier (Peugeot) 3h32m55.7s
2. Freddy Loix (Skoda) + 32.5s
3. Guy Wilks (Peugeot) + 1m19.7s
4. Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot) + 1m21.9s
5. Francois Delecour (Peugeot) + 1m22.4s
6. Juho Hanninen (Skoda) + 1m29.3s
7. Nicolas Vouilloz (Skoda) + 4m47.8s
8. Jan Kopecky (Skoda) + 7m45.9s
9. Giandomenico Basso (Peugeot) + 8m46.0s
10. Toni Gardemeister (Peugeot) + 9m09.0s