(Reuters) – Six-times world champion Sebastien Ogier led the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally at the halfway stage on Friday after overnight leader Ott Tanak suffered a puncture and dropped down the standings.
The Frenchman, who has switched from M-Sport Ford to Citroen, led Hyundai’s 2018 overall runner-up Thierry Neuville by two seconds after the day’s six stages in the French Alps north of the principality.
Ogier, who won four of his titles with Volkswagen and the others with M-Sport, is chasing his sixth successive Monte Carlo win.
Hyundai’s Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen was in third place while Tanak fell to seventh, the Estonian now two and a half minutes off the pace after stopping to change a wheel on his Toyota.
France’s nine-times world champion Sebastien Loeb, now racing for Hyundai, won two of Friday’s stages to move up to fifth.
The opening Valdrome-Sigottier stage was canceled due to concerns about spectator safety.
Neuville moved into the lead after stage four and was 3.4 seconds up at lunchtime but then lost some 19 seconds after going down an escape route on the sixth stage when he approached a corner too quickly.
“That mistake cost us the chance to hold the lead,” said the Belgian.
Eight more stages remain to be completed over Saturday and Sunday.
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge