WRC

Monte Carlo: Leg one summary

World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) built up a 1min 16.4sec lead before crashing into retirement 5km after the start of the final stage. It is not yet known whether he will restart tomorrow under SupeRally regulations. If so, he will be ninth.

World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) built up a 1min 16.4sec lead before crashing into retirement 5km after the start of the final stage. It is not yet known whether he will restart tomorrow under SupeRally regulations. If so, he will be ninth. A second world champion to retire was Petter Solberg (Subaru). The Norwegian lost a minute after selecting slick tyres this morning. He climbed back to seventh before an oil leak in the final stage irreparably damaged his car's engine.

Team-mate Chris Atkinson excelled on his first Rallye Monte Carlo appearance to hold second, ahead of Toni Gardemeister (Peugeot). Gilles Panizzi (Skoda) held second midway through the leg but poor handling dropped him to fourth. Also out was Gig Galli (Mitsubishi) who retired from fourth in stage four with a broken steering arm after hitting a stone.

The second leg is the longest of the rally and is primarily based to the south of the Var river. As today, it comprises two groups of three stages which are split by a return to the Monaco service. It includes a test which has not been used for 14 years and ends with the first of three passes over the famous Col de Turini. Drivers leave Monaco at 06.00 and return for the overnight halt at 18.56.

Kronos Total Citroen

This Friday is known in the church as Saint Sebastian's day. It started off as Seb's party, in every way. He was the hero of the morning, with an inspired choice of 'BFGoodrich Winter' tyres, containing a row of studs on the inside of the tyre. The two-time World Champion exhibited the sort of form that has earned him three consecutive Monte Carlo victories, taking a commanding lead from the beginning. He extended his advantage using 'Dry' tyres for the second run through 'La Couillole' (SS4) which was the opening stage of the afternoon's loop.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Then about five kilometres after the start of 'Pierlas/Ilonse' (SS6), his rally was turned on its head. " I just got caught out, " he admitted with characteristic honesty. " It was even more important to be aware of the amount of grip on each corner during the afternoon than it was in the morning, when the studs gave us a certain amount of safety. On that particular corner, taken in fourth gear, I thought that the black asphalt in the braking area was simply damp. In fact, it was extremely greasy. Having arrived at it too fast, the car started to understeer and so to try and get it back I pulled the handbrake. We went into a spin and the car slid backwards down a steep slope. But we did not hit anything, which makes me hope that there is no real damage to it. We will have to wait to find out if it is possible for us to re-start the rally tomorrow. And if that is the case, we will see what we can hope for over the distance that remains-- "

Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: Friday was also a memorable day for Xavier Pons and Dani Sordo. An extensive traffic jam at St Sauveur sur Tinee, the start of SS1, meant that they were unable to contest any of the three stages that made up the morning's action. They were also handicapped by the notional times they were awarded -- giving them a total time which was a full three minutes off the leader ! "It's frustrating but these things happen, " said Xevi afterwards. " Now we will just have to concentrate on the next loop of stages. " It started with a spin on 'La Couillole' (SS4). "I'm not used to driving on ice with dry weather tyres, " explained Xevi. " The spin was nothing special, but it was a good warning and I decided not to take any risks, especially as it was the first time we were seeing these stages after their cancellation in the morning. My aim is to get to the finish and so I'm going to take everything one step at a time. "

Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: At the end of his first day of driving a World Rally Car, Dani Sordo explained : "Dropping three minutes in the morning without even starting a stage was not too serious in itself. What hurt me most was the lack of competitive time in the car, which I am seriously in need of. Having said that, I am not at all unhappy. The car is perfect, my ice crew did a good job and my tyre choice was correct. More than ever, my goal is to get to the end of this rally -- which I can honestly say is the most difficult of my career so far ! "

OMV-Peugeot Norway

The circumstances at the 74th edition of the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo were no piece of cake. The biggest challenge was to reach the start of the first special stage. Only eleven competitors made it. The rest had to return to the service zone in Monte Carlo. Manfred Stohl unfortunately made a wrong choice of tyres. The Austrian's tyre distributor had recommended slicks -- which proved to be a mistake. Luckily the third special stage was cancelled, therefore the Viennese is only two minutes behind the top. But on the second three special stages the Austrian OMV driver gathered momentum. A fact that was proven by third SS-time on SS 5 and second SS-time on SS 6. This means fifth place in the intermediate standings -- only 15 seconds behind second place.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "I felt rather desperate. It was extremely icy and all I could do was to try and remain on the road." "I only had a spin on SS 4. The rest was smooth sailing. I'm actually rather surprised that we can keep up this well. I'm feeling right at home in the Peugeot and Bozian Racing are doing a perfect job."

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: Henning Solberg wasn't too happy when he reached the serive in Monte Carlo at noon. The Norwegian had completed over 100 kilometres -- but without racing a single special stage. Solberg: "What a disappointment. But that is rallying for you. There are over 50 drivers who had to face the same fate." In the afternoon the former World Champion's brother was finally able to show his forte. At the end of the day he found himself in twelfth overall place. "We're quite content. The rally is long and we still have reserves."

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen made a sensational debut in the new Focus RS World Rally Car to lead the Rallye Monte Carlo after today's opening leg. The Finns lead by 1min 23.7sec on their first appearance with the Ford squad after a demanding day's driving over slushy and icy mountain roads in the French Alps. This opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship is the first full competitive outing for the new Focus RS WRC. Gronholm posted fastest time on two of the day's five speed tests in the mountains north-west of Monaco, and a consistently fast pace through the remaining special stages propelled him to the top of the leaderboard on the three-day rally. Team-mates and fellow countrymen Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen are 10th in a second BP Ultimate and Castrol-branded Focus RS after a more difficult day. A poor tyre choice this morning and a handbrake problem on the hairpin-lined roads this afternoon cost time on a rally in which Hirvonen has limited previous experience.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I spun about 3km after the start of the first stage on a right hand corner," said Gronholm. "It was marked in my pace notes as 'really slippery' but it was really, really, really slippery. The car ended facing the way I had come. I stalled the engine a couple of times trying to manoeuvre it back in the right direction. It was difficult to make our tyre choice and maybe we should have opted for half studs. My tyres would have been good for stage three but unfortunately we didn't find out."The 37-year-old Finn opted for soft compound dry weather rubber this afternoon. He climbed to second on the opening test and powered into the lead on the final stage with his second stage victory - by a massive 15.5sec. "It's fantastic to be leading and the Focus has been perfect all day," he added. "I drove a little too carefully sometimes but conditions were terrible and it was hard to judge the correct speed. I've not enjoyed the day but I am enjoying leading. The big thing for the rest of the weekend will be tyre choice. There is slush, ice, wet asphalt and dry asphalt and it is so hard to decide what is the right option."

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen opted for dry weather rubber this morning and paid the penalty. He was 10th on the opening stage and 11th on the next to return to service in 10th. "The conditions changed totally between my safety note crew driving the stage early this morning and me starting," he admitted. "All the ice had turned to slush and I just did not know what the conditions were like around the next corner. I didn't push because I couldn't trust my notes and I didn't want to make any mistakes." Twenty-five-year-old Hirvonen was fourth fastest on the afternoon's opening stage. However, a handbrake sensor problem on the last test cost more than a minute. "It was a twisty stage and I needed the handbrake at hairpins. But when I pulled on it the car went into launch control mode and activated the clutch. It meant they were controlling the car and not me! The engine stalled and when I restarted it the system released itself. It happened about five times," he explained.

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford

Matthew Wilson and Pieter Tsjoen, driving a brace of Stobart VK-decaled Ford Focus RS WRC 04s, were looking forward to three tests in the French Alps, north of the event's base in Monaco. Unfortunately for the duo, the narrow roads had been blocked by two buses. Despite being only two kilometres from the start of stage one, there was no way through and the organisers were forced to cancel. Matthew and Pieter finally got their chance at a little after 1430 this afternoon, when the re-run of the morning's stages began without any problems. Much of the snow and ice had melted from the roads by the time the world's finest rally drivers arrived for the afternoon competition. The conditions allowed Matthew and Pieter to use slick, racing tyres, offering sensational grip on the dry asphalt but zero resistance on any lingering patches of ice. Matthew posted a highly-respectable 17th fastest time on his first test, while Pieter slid off the road and into one of the many snow banks lining the road. He dropped five minutes digging the car out of the bank and would spend the next two stages racing back through the field, trying to make up for the time loss. After another top-20 time on SS5, Matthew was settling in and feeling more comfortable with the conditions.

Unfortunately, that didn't last. Close to the finish of the day's final test, he clipped a rock on the outside of the corner and bent a steering arm. He made it to the end of the stage, where he tried to fix the problem. Unfortunately the repair didn't last and he retired on the road section back to Monaco. Otherwise both his M-Sport-run and the sister car of Pieter Tsjoen ran without fault.

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "What a day! After all the build-up to this event, I was so keen to get on with the driving this morning. I'd taken a studded tyre, which would have worked really well in the icy conditions, but then we never even got the chance to compete. It made the nerves a little bit worse, just sitting in the traffic waiting to start. We stalled in SS4, my first in the rally, and dropped 20s, but okay, the tyres were working and I was feeling happy with the car. It was the same in SS5: everything was good. There was a section of about six kilometres, towards the end of the stage, which was pure ice. We got through without any problems and I'd learned a lot about what speed you can drive in these conditions -- maybe I backed off too much, but I just wanted to get to the end. Then, on the final stage, things weren't so good. I clipped a rock on the outside of a corner and damaged the front-left steering arm. After the stage, I tried to put a new arm on the car, but the steering rack was damaged. We had to put the old arm back on and continue. Unfortunately this broke about half-way back to Monaco. It's so disappointing this has happened, but the Monte Carlo Rally is full of these kind of stories. The positive thing is that I can continue tomorrow. I need to carry on, I need more experience and that's what I'll be looking for."

Pieter Tsjoen/ Eddy Chevalier: "Both times I've done the Monte Carlo Rally before, I've had problems on the opening day. I really hoped I'd left that behind this year. Unfortunately, I hadn't. I hit a rock in stage four, which spun the car across the road and into a snow bank on the opposite side. With the car buried in the snow, my co-driver and I weren't going to be able to get it out. We managed to get some spectators to come and help us, but still we lost about five minutes. Apart from that problem, I've also had some difficulties with my pace notes. Basically, I'm driving at a higher speed than we thought we would be and the notes are a little bit too slow -- we're trying to work around this. It's been frustrating, but tomorrow's another day -- and this is certainly a fantastic car."

555 Subaru

The opening Leg of Rallye Monte Carlo brought mixed fortunes for the Subaru World Rally Team. Making a remarkable Monte Carlo debut, Chris Atkinson finished the day second overall after a trouble free run through the twisty asphalt stages. The young Australian recorded three top-five stage times. Petter Solberg struggled with a poor tyre choice on the morning's icy roads but turned things around in the afternoon and recorded the second fastest time on the final stage of the day. But soon after disaster struck when Solberg's engine developed an oil leak on the road section back to service. Forty seven kilometres from his destination his car came to a halt and he retired. Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin also struggled on slick tyres in the morning, but fought back to secure the second fastest time in SS5. He will start Leg two in seventh place overall.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "I still can't really believe it. We were cruising home after the stage and it just happened. We stopped and tried to fix it but there was nothing we could do. The oil had leaked out and we had no chance. Up to then the rally had been getting better and better for us. We didn't start well - in fact I don't think our tyre choice could have been any worse - but the afternoon was good, and our pace on the final stage was very encouraging. It's incredible really; it seems I have no luck here in Monte Carlo. It must change soon."

Stephane Sarrazin/Stephane Prevot: "This morning was extremely difficult. There was so much ice and snow on the ground that it was impossible to do much with the slick tyres that we'd chosen. To be honest, I'm still feeling quite lucky to be in the rally, it was so easy to make a big mistake. The second loop this afternoon was much better, I'm feeling good about the car and my driving and I'm very much looking forward to a big fight tomorrow."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Obviously I'm very happy; it's been a good day for Glenn and me. We've stuck exactly to our pre-event plan, haven't taken any risks and have ended up in second place overall. In fact, I think that's the only thing that we weren't really planning for. The stages today have been very interesting and a tough challenge. We haven't been going slowly but we haven't been taking risks either. We've just driven sensibly, on safe tyres and the results have been incidental. We learned a lot on the asphalt rallies last year and we put it to good use. Our plan for tomorrow is to keep it consistent, just carry on doing what we've done today and see where it gets us. I'm looking forward to it."

Red Bull-Skoda Team

Quite a positive first day for the Red Bull Skoda Team. After lying second overall this morning, local hero Gilles Panizzi managed P4 at the end of the day despite a spin in Special Stage 6.

Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: Special Stage 6: "Unfortunately I had a spin at the exit of the very first corner of SS 6. Even before that the car handled rather twitchy, so I lost some time there. In spite of this mishap I am pretty content, especially with this morning's round, and I hope for a similar performance tomorrow."

Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: Because of a traffic jam on the access roads to SS 1, only 11 cars contested the first two stages, so Andreas Aigner saw his first competitive action on Special Stage 4: "I was very comfortable and ran the stages without any unnecessary risk. By choosing intermediates I took a safety-first approach with tyres as well. My first duty has to be finishing my first world championship event in the Skoda Fabia WRC and show a respectable performance. With each and every kilometre I am able to gain further experience, which I hope will come to good use later on."

-rallye newsletter-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Stéphane Sarrazin , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Toni Gardemeister , Jarmo Lehtinen , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Xavier Pons , Matthew Wilson , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson , Andreas Aigner , Timo Gottschalk
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport