LOEB AND ELENA JUST 5.16KM FROM GLORY
Disputed in the hills above Monaco, the penultimate day of the Rallye Monte Carlo saw no change at the top of the overall standings. In front since the end of day one, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will start the final day of the rally – featuring just one 5.16km-long stage – with a comfortable lead. Citroën Total World Rally Team looks set to record an excellent overall result with Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen on course to take 4th place.
Day four of the Rallye Monte-Carlo began in glorious sunshine in the port of Monaco. Monaco-born Daniel Elena took a few moments to talk about the origins of his love of rallying: “The Rallye Monte-Carlo was a part of my childhood. When I was a kid, I listened to Bernard Spendler on RMC throughout the night. At 14, I drove up the Col de Turini on a moped. And then in 1997, I took part in my first Monte-Carlo rally. It was my first World Championship rally and back then, I was driving. I don’t think about it all that very often, as I tend to become totally absorbed by the race, but there's no doubt that that rally meant something very special to me.”
After being placed directly in parc fermé last night, the cars then had a long service period before heading for the start of the day’s stages. The Moulinet – La Bollène Vésubie and Lantosque – Lucéram stages formed a loop that the competitors would complete twice. As the roads were totally dry, the Citroën DS3 WRCs set off with Michelin Pilot Sport hard slicks fitted.
The afternoon began well for Mikko Hirvonen, who set his third consecutive fastest stage time on SS14. The Finn closed to within 23s of Petter Solberg, keeping up the pressure of the third-placed man. But then the Norwegian hit back on the next stage to take the gap back above half a minute. “There was more dampness on SS15 and Petter pushed really hard,” confirmed Mikko. “It will be hard now to close the gap in normal conditions, but it doesn’t matter too much. I am pleased to complete a series of stages without making any mistakes. I feel really good driving the DS3 WRC when the grip is consistent. I have enjoyed racing on tarmac again, and that augurs well for the rest of the season.”
Meanwhile, Sébastien Loeb sparingly dropped a few seconds: “You can't say I didn’t take any risks, because that is never the case when you’re taking part in a rally! But I was careful not to cut the corners and to avoid stones in the road. I allowed myself a bit of slack more or less throughout… Daniel took the time to give a little wave to the crowds on the Col de Turini, but as far as I was concerned, I remained fully concentrated on my driving.”
After completing their second runs on hard tyres, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena ended the day with an increased lead over their closest challengers. “With a lead of 2m41s and only 5.16 kilometres left to go, I think we can be fairly relaxed,” acknowledged the eight-time World Champion. “However, we’ll need to adopt a good pace. Every point counts in a World Championship and I fully intend to score some points tomorrow in the Power Stage.”
After spinning shortly after starting SS16, Mikko Hirvonen ended the day at a more cautious pace: “I got caught out by the cold tyres, like a beginner… There was no question of jeopardising the good result that is shaping up for the team, so I decided to drive carefully on SS17.”
“It’s a little frustrating not to be able to celebrate the win given that there are so few to kilometres left on the final day,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “This final stage is, however, a bit different to the others. And given the performances of our driver pairings since the start of the rally, I hope they will both make it onto podium of the Power Stage!”