WRC

Loeb inherits lead at Monte Carlo

Loeb inherits lead at Monte Carlo

On the final stage today, defending Monte Carlo rally winner, Sebastien Loeb pulled out all the stops to take the early lead on day one at the FIA World Rally Championship season opener. Conditions can changed quickly near Monte ...

On the final stage today, defending Monte Carlo rally winner, Sebastien Loeb pulled out all the stops to take the early lead on day one at the FIA World Rally Championship season opener.

Conditions can changed quickly near Monte Carlo.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
Typical of Monte Carlo were the demanding weather conditions. With icy conditions, the 2004 competitors took to the difficult route only to have stage one canceled due to spectators, an ongoing problem for any rally at any place at any given time.

"Considering the conditions at the start of the leg," commented Loeb who won the second stage. "I decided to be very careful. It was very tricky, and I wanted to avoid making any mistakes."

Martin added, "This morning was very, very hard. The downhill sections, especially, were so slippery and every time I went round a corner I was waiting for the conditions to catch me out. It was difficult to find grip when the conditions were changing all the time."

By setting the fastest time on the final stage six, and with the help of others having problems, Citroen's Loeb gave himself an 18.3 second lead over the second-placed man on the leaderboard, Markko Martin.

Loeb talked about his comfort level at the end of stage six, "In the last special stage, I was totally at ease with my Xsara, and I was able to really push."

Early leader Marcus Gronholm ran into trouble on the fourth stage due to a gearbox problem, as his third gear became jammed. The mechanics went to work and Gronholm went on to set fast time on the fifth stage, even though he slid sideways at one point, "It was on a slippery corner, it had been marked slippery in the notes and we went through carefully."

"Apparently not carefully enough, we slipped sideways and hit the left-rear wheel," continued the Peugeot driver and former WRC champion Gronholm after taking his second stage victory. He sits third on the leaderboard, just 18.7 seconds behind the leader Loeb.

Ford's Martin is very much in the overall win hunt with his win on stage three and staying in the top three even with a brake problem on the Ford Focus.

Markko Martin and Michael Park.
Photo by Ford Motor Company.
"Although I drove on the limit, I was always on the safe side of the limit," expressed Martin at the end of the day. "I had brake problems on the final two stages which cost time otherwise I would have been closer to Loeb. The pedal went to the floor and that's not good for my confidence"

Citroen's Carlos Sainz is comfortably in fourth overall being chased by Ford's Francois Duval and the 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg (Subaru).

Solberg did not get off to the start he had hoped for, the defending Subaru driver crashed into a fence post and stalled the engine on the first stage, luckily the stage was canceled and the times tossed out. After that, the current champion consistently ran in the top five.

"It's been difficult today, what with being first on the road and being forced to make some very difficult tyre choices," explained Solberg. "As the temperatures rose, the amount of snow and ice became very unpredictable, but that's how it is. I'm happy with where I am."

Gianluigi Galli and Guido D'Amore.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation.
Subaru's Mikko Hirvonen ended the day in eighth position while Mitsubishi's Gigi Galli slid off the road and had to retire after the fifth stage.

It's been a really good first day," commented Hirvonen on his debut in the Subaru. "I'm really happy. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

A disappointed Galli stated, "We slid and the car ended up half off the road. Then it slipped another couple of meters and it was impossible to get back; there was hardly any damage and mechanically it was fine, which makes it all the more disappointing."

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