WRC

Monte Carlo: Leg one summary

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the most famous rally in the 16-round championship, Rallye Monte Carlo moved its base north-west from the Principality of Monaco to the city of Valence. The region is home to many famous speed tests on which...

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the most famous rally in the 16-round championship, Rallye Monte Carlo moved its base north-west from the Principality of Monaco to the city of Valence. The region is home to many famous speed tests on which the rally built its reputation but which have been unused for 10 years.

The rally, however, got off to a bad start with Shakedown having to be cut short due to an abundance of spectators. Spectators were then warned to follow marshals for the remainder of the event in order to keep the event on track.

Tonight's short, sharp leg took competitors east of Valence into the Vercors mountains for two asphalt special stages covering 46.40km. The area is usually blanketed in snow in mid-January but remarkably mild temperatures, which were up to 6C tonight in the mountains, mean there is no snow or ice to be seen. With the forecast for even warmer temperatures over the weekend, this will be a pure asphalt rally with no call for the studded tyres that so often play a crucial role.

Both stages were held in darkness, the first time that an entire leg of a WRC rally has been held at night for more than 10 years and a new experience for many drivers. They were damp, with standing water in places on the second test, but the lack of winter weather meant they were lightning fast with average speeds topping 122kph on the first stage.

World champion Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo (Citroen) provided the perfect return to the WRC for the French manufacturer by holding the top two places. Loeb, driving his first rally since breaking his arm in a mountain bike accident in September, was fastest on both stages on the debut of the new C4 car to lead his colleague by 23.9sec. Behind the BP-Ford duo, Petter Solberg (Subaru) lies fifth ahead of team-mate Chris Atkinson, although the Norwegian struggled for traction in the slippery conditions. None of the top drivers encountered any major problems.

SS1: 1916hrs St Jean En Royans - Col De Lachau (28.5km) : The opening stage was a real challenge, not least because it took place in the dark. The route climbed past a ski resort (although there was no snow to report) and included both wide, smooth roads and narrow, bumpy sections. Petter and Phil completed the stage in 14m 22.7s, while Chris and Glenn posted a time of 14m 34.8s. That placed them both firmly into the top ten overall. Fastest time: Seb Loeb (Citroen) 13m 58.7s.

SS2: 2006hrs La Cime Du Mas - Col De Gaudissart (17.88km) : The night's second (and final) stage started with two big climbs over the Col de Carri and Col de l'Echarasson. Although the early kilometres of the test were based on a wide, flowing road, the route included a section along an old forest track, which was dirtier and rougher than the first part. Chris enjoyed this test better and was happy with his time of 9m 55.2s. Meanwhile Petter came through the stage in 10m 04.8s. Fastest time: Loeb 9m 31.2s.

Leg two of Rallye Monte Carlo is based to the south west of the service area at Valence. The day begins with a mammoth 46km stage, one of the longest used in the WRC. There are two identical loops of three stages, with a total competitive mileage of 150.62km. The leg is notable for the use of Remote Service Zones, which mean the cars will not have to return to the main service area as often. Remote Service Zones will be used more frequently on events during the 2007 season.

BP-Ford

BP-Ford World Rally Team made a strong start to the Rallye Monte Carlo tonight as the legendary event signalled the start of the FIA World Rally Championship season. Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen lie third in a Focus RS World Rally Car with team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen fourth in a similar car after the opening leg held in darkness in central France. Gronholm was third fastest through the 28.52km test from St Jean en Royans to Col de Lachau and second in the following 17.88km La Cime du Mas - Col de Gaudissart stage to hold third, just 5.2sec behind second-placed Dani Sordo.

Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "I made a cautious start," said the 38-year-old Finn. "I could have driven faster on the opening stage but I didn't have a good feeling, I didn't enjoy the dark. I was braking too early but I think I will feel happier in daylight tomorrow. When the road was damp, it was also shiny and that was hard. The set-up of the car was good and I'm not going to change that tonight"

Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen was fifth on the opening test and fourth on the next to lie 22.6sec behind Gronholm. "I didn't enjoy the dark and I was too cautious," said the 26-year-old Finn. "Some sections of the road were wide but I turned into the bends too tight and could have gone wider and used the entire road. I was nervous at the start and I'm pleased tonight is over, although I'm happy with my position." "I didn't really trust my pace notes in the dark but actually they were fine. It has been a long time since I have driven stages that fast. I'm sure it's exciting to drive in the dark on gravel and snow, but no so much on asphalt," he added

Citroen Total

Sebastien Loeb back in action was unstoppable, even after prediticing possible big moments at night - he won both stages. And the new C4 was equally as impressive, with Daniel Sordo close behind Loeb. On St Jean en Royans-Col de Lachau Sordo was 8.5 seconds behind Loeb, while not quite as close on SS2 but still good enough to hold second behind his team-mate. And all this, Loeb said he still didn't feel 100%.

Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: Apologies, quotes not available at time of publish.

Dani Sordo/Marc: Apologies, quotes not available at time of publish.

Subaru

The Subaru World Rally Team achieved its aim of getting both Impreza WRCs into the top six at the end of the opening leg of Rallye Monte Carlo and the first day of the 2007 season. Mindful of the need to start the season with solid points finishes, both drivers ensured they had error-free runs. Petter was fourth fastest through stage one, and Chris emulated that feat on stage two. That meant Petter Solberg held fifth overall, just ahead of Chris, and neither driver had any problems to report after the two stages.

Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "Not a bad start to the rally at all. The first stage was particularly good for us, but on the second one we struggled a little in some of the dirtier sections, where it was extremely slippery and we were a bit down on traction. Overall I'm pretty happy though. We made no mistakes, the tyres worked well and we are in a good position ahead of the next three days of competition."

Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "On the first stage I found it hard to get into a rhythm. It was the first time I've driven the 2006-specification Impreza WRC on asphalt, because last year I drove the 2005 car on the hard-surface events. But I really enjoyed the second stage and felt able to carry more speed into the corners. There's no problem with driving in the dark and I'm confident we can keep up the pace we showed on stage two."

OMV Kronos Citroen

The OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team is satisfied with the beginning of the "Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo". Manfred Stohl and Ilka Minor lie in seventh overall place following the first two special stages that were completed Thursday night. Taking into consideration that only 100 kilometres of testing with the new Citroen Xsara WRC could be done prior to the first run to the FIA World Rally Championship, the OMV driver did an excellent job.

Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: Following the first testing last Sunday Manfred Stohl looked a little bit worried. But already after the shakedown on Thursday things cleared up for the OMV driver. At this point he would never have reckoned with fourth-best shakedown time. Stohl: "Getting to know the car seems to go faster than I expected. But there is still a lot of work ahead. We have to test the car's limits, but without getting off the road." For the evening the first two night special stages since 1997 had been scheduled. The OMV duo Stohl/Minor mastered the overall 46,40 special stage kilometres without any problems and reached the finish in Valence in seventh place, 1:01,7 minutes behind. Stohl: "It was truly a satisfying beginning. Taking into account that tarmac is definitely not my favourite surface we did a very good job. Each kilometre is important to us in order to gain experience. Thus we will be able to improve constantly. Therefore we won't take full risk on Friday even though scoring points remains our objective."

Stobart M-Sport Ford

All three Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team drivers completed leg one safely after battling the testing two night stages. It was a solid effort for all three Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team drivers; Matthew Wilson, Jari-Matti Latvala and Henning Solberg, as they completed both the night stages with no problems. With their first drive on tarmac in a Ford Focus RS WRC 06 at shakedown this morning, all three drivers set out to tame the precarious opening two stages. Solberg was first of the Stobart VK M-Sport cars to take to leg 1 as he took things at pace in his first proper tarmac rally stage. At times he struggled to hear co-driver Cato Menkerud causing him to take extra caution in places of the pace-note important night stages. Rallye Monte-Carlo was contested by Solberg last year, but with snow and ice, it was a different style of rally altogether. Latvala was quickest of the three cars but explained that he could not find his confidence on the twisty and slippy roads. The young Finn finished 12th at the end of the day having showed improved speed on stage 2 en route to leg 2, which consists of one of the longest stages of the year, St Pierreville, at 46.02km. 19-year-old Briton, Wilson, had a steady opening leg in only his second ever drive on a competitive night stage. Wilson took a cautious approach on stage 1, choosing to preserve his tyres and he continued that approach still adjusting to unfamiliar night-time stages.

Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "The car is really great. I feel very confident with the car but can't get confident enough to drive fast. It was hard to feel at-home on the slippery roads tonight and find the rhythm I need to drive competitively. We have two days left and the whole year ahead of us so we will see how it goes!"

Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: I was taking it slowly tonight, it is very difficult in the dark but it is ok. I had a small problem hearing Cato sometimes but this is my first tarmac rally with no snow or ice so we just take it slowly and see how the times are tomorrow."

Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "I drove a bit too cautiously on the stages and the tyres tonight, but this is my second time ever racing at night so it was difficult, but good fun. I had a bit of trouble with my notes too, I was lifting off slightly where I probably shouldn't have but I think it comes down to lack of experience and confidence driving at night. We'll see how things go tomorrow but I really want to get experience of this rally and these stages so it's important for me to finish."

-credit: rallye-newsletter.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Timo Rautiainen , Manfred Stohl , Jari-Matti Latvala , Mikko Hirvonen , Jarmo Lehtinen , Miikka Anttila , Henning Solberg , Cato Menkerud , Ilka Minor , Matthew Wilson , Daniel Sordo , Michael Orr , Chris Atkinson
Teams Citroën World Rally Team , M-Sport