Marcus GrÃ¶nholm (Peugeot), debuting an all-new car, led throughout the day until the final stage when a bad tyre choice cost 30 sec and he slipped to third. He had a narrow escape on the fourth test when his car's gearbox became jammed in third...
Marcus Grönholm (Peugeot), debuting an all-new car, led throughout the day until the final stage when a bad tyre choice cost 30 sec and he slipped to third. He had a narrow escape on the fourth test when his car's gearbox became jammed in third gear. Fortunately it was close to the finish and the Finn lost little time. He was able to drive to service where a new gearbox was fitted along with a new windscreen, which had been smashed in the stage. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen), winner in 2003, took advantage and leads tonight by 18.3sec from Märtin.
Both Loeb and Grönholm claimed two stage wins. World champion Petter Solberg (Subaru) made a bad start after crashing into a fence post and then stalling his engine on the opening stage. He did not match the pace of his rivals for the rest of the day and is sixth tonight, almost two minutes behind Loeb. Freddy Loix (Peugeot) lost confidence this morning after changing his car's set-up. However, he made more changes during the day and was second fastest on the final stage as his feeling improved. He lies ninth. The only major retirement was Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) who slid off the road 1.5km into the fifth stage on his debut for the team.
Citroen's Sébastien Loeb has taken the lead in the 2004 Monte Carlo Rally, with an 18.3 second lead at the end of day one. Tyre choice was absolutely critical, with the debate between the "G51" studded full-snow-tyre, and the wider "D10" just with two rows of studs.
Carlos Sainz, who had kept the "G51" tyres, lost 38 seconds. Carlos: "This is a typical Monte Carlo scenario," Sainz mused at the end of the day saw him back in fourth place. "Was my choice for the first loop the correct one? We will never know because the cancellation of SS1 turned it into the wrong choice!"
Sébastien: "Considering the conditions at the start of the leg, I decided to be very careful. It was very tricky, and I wanted to avoid making any mistakes. After that, the roads changed, and gradually, we 'got back in the game', gaining confidence and increasing the pace. In the last special stage, I was totally at ease with my Xsara, and I was able to really push."
Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park ended the opening day of the famous Monte Carlo Rally in second place after the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship began amid treacherous conditions today. Their Focus RS World Rally Car claimed one speed test victory and was never outside the top three on the leaderboard.
Markko: "This morning was very, very hard," he said. "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 and although I drove on the limit, I was always on the safe side of the limit."
Francios: "The car has been great and I've made no mistakes. I've enjoyed the day even though it has been so difficult. Stéphane has been superb, slowing me down and ensuring I was careful in the really slippery sections. Tomorrow's stages are twisty and slower, which I don't like so much, but I will try to regain fourth place," he added.
The all-new Peugeot 307 WRC has made a flying start to its world rally career by leading the Monte Carlo Rally throughout four stages of leg one, thanks to Marcus Gronholm. The Finn is now third overnight, less than half a second off second place. His team mate Freddy Loix ends the day ninth.
Marcus: "This morning's stage was much more slippery than I thought, but the performance of the 307 is fantastic. We had a very good feeling with the car all day, but the problem on SS4 worried me. We were lucky that it happened close to the end of the stage, but after it was fixed we could keep going. The last stage wasn't so good, but I'm happy with the way that everything has gone today. We're in a good position to fight tomorrow."
Freddy: "It wasn't a perfect start for me as I made a mistake in changing the set-up of the car during the first stage. I didn't feel very comfortable after that, but during the next loop of stages it got better. On the last two stages I had a good tyre choice and I was able to push hard. I've got a nice feeling with the car now, and I hope it can be like that tomorrow as well."
After a measured performance, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds overnight sixth place and is well positioned ahead of Legs two and three. His new Subaru team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, also taking a long-term approach to the event, ended the day in overnight eighth, 0.8 seconds off seventh overall.
Petter: "It's been difficult today, what with being first on the road and being forced to make some very difficult tyre choices. 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, my plan was always to be between fourth and sixth at the end of the first day. Tomorrow, perhaps we'll try more speed, but I have a lot of respect for this rally and can't be stupid like last year. I wanted to come through the first day cleanly and I've done just that."
Mikko: "It's been a really good first day, I'm really happy. It's all going according to our plan and to already be in a potential point winning position feels good. I had a little bit of a shock driving on the snow this morning, but we took things steady and I've made no mistakes all day. I lifted off a bit on the last stage, just to be safe, but I'm very pleased with how it's gone and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
The Mitsubishi Motor Sports Team suffered a mixed day during the opening leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo, the all-French crew of Gilles and Hervé Panizzi finishing in 11th position, while Italians "Gigi" Galli and Guido D'Amore were forced into a disappointing retirement in the fifth stage.
Gigi: "We slid and the car ended up half off the road", said a disappointed "Gigi". "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. We took it steady this morning so I was surprised with our time in stage three, but I felt very confident with the car, even though the conditions were very difficult".
Gilles: "I am very happy to be at the end of the first leg because we have another day and more kilometers on the car", commented Gilles. "It gives us time to work things out and make improvements. I am still getting used to the car; yes we have had some problems but this was to be expected".
The rally also marks the opening round of the junior championship but it was a disappointing day for the three Ford Puma crews. Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, driving for Astra Racing, lost 20 minutes on the first competitive stage when water in the engine management system brought their Puma to a halt. They managed to continue but lie last of the 15 remaining JWRC entrants.
Astra team-mates Abdo Feghali and Joseph Mattar retired on the final stage when they hit a wall and ripped off a wheel while lying 10th. Zimbabwe pairing Conrad Rautenbach and Pete Marsh, competing for the first time outside Africa, retired midway through the third stage after a bizarre incident when Rautenbach understeered into a bridge. Damage was light, but while reversing back onto the road, a following car hit the Puma from behind, pushing it back into the bridge and breaking the front right suspension.
Leg two of the Monte Carlo Rally gets underway at 0640, and covers five special stages. The opening stage is the longest of the rally at 34 kilometres, and the cars return to parc ferme at 1923.
Conditions are expect to be cold, snow fall is expected on the weekend with snow lying aside the rally stages. Ahead of the snow wet and icy conditions with snow turning to slush can be expected.