Sebastien Loeb has a 1min 20.3sec overnight advantage after a crushing victory in the final stage of the opening leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The nine-time world champion, competing in the first of just four scheduled outings this year in a Citroen DS3, was quickest by 34.4sec from Citroen Total Abu Dhabi team-mate Mikko Hirvonen. But even the 38-year-old French master found conditions on SS4 difficult, despite a full set of studded tyres.
“There was less snow than this morning. But near the end, while the road looked dry, it’s freezing again and I lost and grip and some confidence. I had a few small moments….I’m happy to be at the end of the day,” said Loeb.
Hirvonen was frustrated with pretty much everything, but his speed was still sufficient to propel him from sixth midway through the leg into third tonight. “I was too cautious, but when I try to push harder I go wide. I really hate these conditions. I really, really hate to drive like this but at least I’m here,” said the 32-year-old Finn.
Sebastien Ogier is the meat in the Citroen sandwich in second overall. The Volkswagen Polo R driver was fourth fastest, 53.7sec slower than Loeb, but offered no clues as to where the time went. “We did our best but it wasn’t easy in there. There was a lot of mud,” he said.
Dani Sordo lies fourth, the Spaniard reporting no major issues in Burzet en route to sixth fastest time in a Citroen DS3. Fifth on the stage and fifth overall is Jari-Matti Latvala. The Finn picked up a front right puncture on his Volkswagen Polo R about 5km from the stage finish, and lost 30sec. He is 31sec behind Dani Sordo.
Mads Ostberg was unhappy with the day, but the Norwegian could be pleased after setting third fastest time in his Fiesta RS. “It was very tricky. In some places there was ice where we didn’t have it marked in our notes. In others we had ice marked and there was none. We’re doing the best we can, but I’m disappointed,” admitted the Qatar M-Sport driver.
Worse was to come when his car stopped on the liaison section after the final stage with an electrical sensor problem. Team engineers provided advice on the telephone as Ostberg worked to solve the problem but he eventually checked in 11 minutes late, and is likely to receive a 1m50s time penalty.
In trouble on the final stage were Qatar World Rally Team duo Thierry Neuville and Juho Hanninen. Neuville retired after ripping the front left wheel from his Fiesta RS and with Rally 2 in operation here, the Belgian’s rally is over. In an unfortunate coincidence, the spot he stopped at was just 1.5kms away from where he retired last year.
Hanninen spun 4km from the finish and lost more time reversing back and forth to turn round in the particularly narrow roads. He lies eighth.