If Sebastien Loeb has a "home" event on the World Rally Chanpionship, it surely must be the Monte Carlo Rally rather that the Tour de Corse (Rally de France). The Citroen ace already has three wins and a pair of second places at the prinicipality, and he is poised to take his fourth victory tomorrow.
"Everything has gone well so far," Loeb confirmed. "The C4 WRC has been competitive and reliable and our aim on the superspecial Monaco will be to round off the work we have accomplished over the past three days with a win."
With Loeb's solid lead -- and Sordo's gap over Gronholm, it was the battle for fourth place that generated the most excitement today, and, with the drivers pushing hard, it also produced five of the six stage winners.
Gronholm's junior teammate, Mikko Hirvonen, was throwing his Ford Focus RS WRC around the mountain roads with an abandon unexpected from the gravel specialist, and took three wins on the day, and, more importantly, snatched the fourth place away from Subaru's youngster, Australian Chris Atkinson.
"It was brilliant fun to fight with Chris and tomorrow is going to be so exciting," Hirvonen exclaimed. "It will be the first time that I have driven a super special stage at the end of a rally fighting for position and that's a fantastic way to end the event. It's compulsory to use snow tyres so there will be plenty of sliding on the asphalt. I can't wait!"
Seventeen seconds behind Atkinson at the start of the day, Hirvonen was bested by Atkinson only on the two passes through the classic St. Bonnet stage, unusually not ice-covered this year. He is now mere 0.8 seconds ahead of the Aussie, and it will be a matter of tenths for him to stay ahead through the final run through the streets of Monaco.
"We just lost too much time at the end of the final stage (SS14) today," Atkinson grimaced. "I thought we'd done enough to hold Mikko back but that wasn't the case. It will certainly make the superspecial in Monaco very interesting and will be good for the spectators."
Atkinson's Subaru teammate, 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg, recovered from 7th to 6th on the day, but was not able to make an impression on his young colleague. With a 37-second gap to Atkinson, and 32 seconds to spare on seventh-placed Toni Gardemeister, Solberg will just need to ensure that he stays away from Monaco's plentiful armco to ensure three championship points for himself and the team.
Jan Kopecky holds the final points-paying position for Skoda, 58 seconds behind Gardemeister' privateer Mitsubishi Lancer, and 79 seconds in front of local hero Jean-Marie Cuoq, driving a privateer Peugeot 307 WRC.
In the morning, then, all eyes will be on Hirvonen and Atkinson as the two try to emulate the Monaco driving of their countrymen -- and friends -- Mika Hakkinen and Mark Webber, respectively.