Schilke, WRC correspondent
Solberg adds two more stage wins to Saturday’s tally
Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena are on their way to nail down the World Rally Championship opening event in the Principality of Monaco. They have the Power Stage remaining in the Monte Carlo Rally tomorrow morning. At the conclusion of the final two of the four stages today, they hold a 2:40+ minute edge over the second-placed MINI of Dani Sordo, they cannot celebrate early.
Still the odds are very good that they will race their Citroen DS3 to earn their sixth victory in the classic event. For Elena this is his home race and during the break in action today he said, “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.”
I fully intend to score some points tomorrow in the Power Stage
The Power Stage can be tricky and a mistake could cost a potential podium. Those who want to secure their positions may not attack for the additional points. Those who are as secured as the defending champions may go for the valuable points. It will be the first-ever Power Stage in the Monte Carlo Rally and it will not be an easy one. The road will be narrow with several tight corners.
Loeb and Elena did not score one single stage win today but they did not need to; yet they finished three of the stages second fastest and one in third which increased their lead. The eight-time WRC champions kept their focus, selected the correct tyres and pushed hard in each of the four stages today.
“With a lead of 2m41s and only 5.16 kilometres left to go, I think we can be fairly relaxed,” said Loeb. “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.”
Sordo retained second over Petter Solberg but the gap between is now smaller with the Spaniard now just 19 seconds in front of the 2003 WRC champion. Sordo, earlier in the day was struggling with his MINI and appeared to have the same problems in the final two stages tonight as his best finish today was fourth in two stages – SS15 this morning and SS16 tonight.
“I am quite satisfied because we are still in second place, but to be honest I am not really happy today as I lost a lot of time to Petter Solberg. He was pushing really, really hard in the first two stages and took 25 or 26 seconds off me, which is a lot. Yesterday was more fun as I did better times,” said Sordo. “Tomorrow there is just one stage of five kilometres so it will be difficult for Petter to overtake me. I will try to do my best in this stage, but I want to be on the podium and this is a really tricky and narrow stage.”
Prior to the event, Sordo’s co-driver commented on the final stage, “The Power Stage is very twisty, very demanding for the tyres and very easy to have a puncture.”
The Flying Norwegian, Solberg, was on good form in all four stages. Earlier he took the win on SS15 but tonight he was dominant, setting the fastest times in SS16 and SS17. With the Power Rally tomorrow morning, the Ford driver may end up with the final podium step, even though second is his goal.
“I’m really happy to have set three fastest stage times today,” smiled Solberg. “If someone had offered me that this morning, I’d have gladly accepted it. This has been my best day in a car since 2004. I never dreamed of having a car as good as this, and to be able to attack on the stages like I have today is unbelievable,” exclaimed a beaming Solberg. “After such little time in the car, I’m surprised that I’ve adapted to it so quickly – and I can go a lot faster still! I’ve had a good feeling here right from the start, and with some small changes it seems I can do what I want with this car. That’s an incredible feeling – I’m having lots of fun, and the time seems to be coming naturally.”
New to the Citroen factory team, but definitely not new to being a top competitor in the WRC, Mikko Hirvonen sits fourth and after a stellar run yesterday and this morning to put the pressure on Solberg, the Finn is now over one minute out of stealing a podium finish. Hirvonen spun on the first stage ran this evening and ended up protective his fourth place position. “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,” he explained.
M-Sport Ford’s Evgeny Novikov sits fifth in his Ford Fiesta. The Russian could score his best-ever finish tomorrow. Novikov’s teammates are also holding positions in the top eight. Marking his return to WRC, François Delecour is sixth, 55 seconds off the pace of the Russian. The experience of the Frenchman proved valuable in the morning when he encountered issues with the power steering assistance. The team’s rookie, Ott Tänak, sits eighth.
“We don’t want to take any risks. These stages were very difficult, especially to drive at night. The other guys have done these night stages maybe 10 times or even more so for sure it is difficult for us to fight with them,” said Novikov. “We’re just trying to get the car home and keep fifth place. It will be my best ever finish so right now I just want to get to the end.”
Seventh in the overall, after tonight, is Pierre Campana for the MINI team. “It was a very good day for me and I think I understand more about managing the car. It is very important to drive the car to get this experience. The Col de Turini is a fantastic stage. There were a lot of people at the top of the stage and this was incredible, but the people were crazy!” said the Frenchman.