Schilke, WRC correspondent
Loeb still leads while the battle for second and third heats up
The final leg will not be decided until Sunday morning when the challengers for the Monte Carlo Rally complete the 18th stage, Ste Agnes to Col de la Madone, in the main city of the Principality of Monaco. It is the Power Stage of 5.16km, starting just after 10:00am (local time). Today, they started with two morning stages (14 & 15) and they will contest them again tonight as SS16 & SS17).
After a three year absence from the WRC, the famous rally has lived up to its reputation and tyre choice has been vital for each leg; especially when they have to decide for the morning stages and cannot make a change until the midway service stop. That was a key again in today’s morning stages, and will be again tonight. This morning it was reported that the temperature on the ground would range from -2c to 16c as the remaining challengers took on Col de Turini and Moulinet-La Bollene Vesubie. The conditions, however, were dry in the hills above Monaco and the sunshine added warmth for the first two runs in the morning.
With the morning stages (14 & 15) completed, Sebastien Loeb still holds the lead in the first World Rally Championship event of 2012 by a very comfortable margin of two minutes and 30 seconds. The French ace for the Citroen DS3 works team and his co-driver, Daniel Elena, now need to retain their lead by taking on the final three stages without making a mistake.
“You can't say I didn’t take any risks, because that is never the case when you’re taking part in a rally! But I was careful not to cut the corners and to avoid stones in the road,” said Loeb. “I allowed myself a bit of slack more or less throughout… Daniel took the time to give a little wave to the crowds on the Col de Turini, but as far as I was concerned, I remained fully concentrated on my driving.”
The main contest is taking place behind the leading team and it is a hot battle between a MINI, a Ford and another Citroen.
At the end of the third leg, MINI driver Dani Sordo was second with a comfortable gap over Petter Solberg. The Norwegian had his share of problems yesterday, but today it was Sordo’s turn to struggle. The Spaniard is now only 40 seconds ahead of Solberg.
Solberg came into this morning’s run with Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen breathing down on him for the final podium step. In the first stage of the morning, the Finn took the stage win to keep the pressure on Solberg. After his stage win, Hirvonen said, “I was driving quite safely and still did that time. I’m not sure it will be enough but I’m getting more familiar with the car.”
This is the most fun stage I’ve had for a long time.
Hirvonen commented after SS15: “There was more dampness on SS15 and Petter pushed really hard,” confirmed Mikko. “It will be hard now to close the gap in normal conditions, but it doesn’t matter too much. I am pleased to complete a series of stages without making any mistakes. I feel really good driving the DS3 WRC when the grip is consistent. I have enjoyed racing on tarmac again, and that augurs well for the rest of the season.”
Even though he lost time to the Finn, Solberg was in a good mood and said after the 14th stage: “It was a really, really good stage - this is the most fun stage I’ve had for a long time. It was just proper.”
The Norwegian answered back in his Ford Fiesta by grabbing the 15th stage victory. Solberg now has an edge of 30.5 seconds over Hirvonen.