WRC

Loeb consolidates Monte Carlo lead

Loeb consolidates Monte Carlo lead

Sebastien Loeb made the most of his rivals' misfortunes and turned a slim lead into a solid one on the second day of the 2004 Monte Carlo Rally, the opening event of this year's World Rally Championship. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel ...

Sebastien Loeb made the most of his rivals' misfortunes and turned a slim lead into a solid one on the second day of the 2004 Monte Carlo Rally, the opening event of this year's World Rally Championship.

S?bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena.
Photo by Citro?n Sport.
As the drivers got into their cars for SS7, the first stage of the day, the Citroen driver was just 18.3 seconds ahead of Markko Martin's Ford, with Marcus Gronholm mere 0.4 seconds further adrift.

And it looked as if Gronholm had struck the motherlode of luck in that first stage of leg two: with Peugeot privateer Nicolas Vouilloz's 206 blocking much of the road, Gronholm managed to squeeze his works 307 through without much delay, while his archrival Loeb was delayed by the traffic jam, finishing a massive 4:38 behind the Finn, who momentarily held a 90-second lead on the rally.

However, as the stage deteriorated into chaos around the accident, the organizers decided to call a halt to the stage, and assign the time of 28:41.3 to all the works entries, the time being that of Anthony Warmbold, the last one to successfully negotiate his way around the blockage.

Loeb, having escaped that stage with his lead intact, doved into SS8 with renewed vigor and aggression, and took the fog-riddled stage with a gap of 28 seconds to Gronholm, and a massive 52 second lead on Martin, who is well known to detest fog.

"I hit some ice and we so nearly went off the road," the Estonian driver recalled. "It really jolted me because I didn't know whether the same would happen again later in the stage."

Markko Martin and Michael Park.
Photo by Ford Motor Company.
"I left service with the car set up for dry conditions but when we got into the mountains, it was wet, damp and foggy. I couldn't use the set up I had chosen and the fog was so bad it was hard to pick out the corners," continued Martin.

Francois Duval, in the second works Ford Focus, was very close, though, flosing to Loeb by a mere tenth of a second.

"I like the difficult conditions," said Duval.  "We made a good tire
choice.  No problems today!"

Gronholm was still close to Loeb at that point in the day, but got caught by a patch of ice, sliding into a snowbank, and losing 59 seconds on SS9.

"Not a good day," Gronholm summed things up. "Fog and ice is a terrible combination. I can't enjoy a rally like this, but I have to try for the podium."

Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen.
Photo by Team Peugeot.

Loeb took another dominating stage win, with over 15 seconds to Duval and Freddy Loix (Peugeot), with Martin 21 seconds behind the Frenchman.

With SS10 cancelled by the FIA due to spectator safety concerns -- due to the crowds overflowing onto the special stage route -- SS11, the final stage of the day, became only the fourth scored stage of the day.

Loeb maintained his domination, though, pulling out another 10 seconds over Gronholm, Martin and Duval to finish the day with a lead of 1:28.7 over Duval and 1:41.7 over Martin, with Gronholm in fourth, 1:57.9 adrift of the lead.

"We were quick in the fog today," Loeb recalled at the end of the day. "Staying on the road was the most important thing, with ice and snow on the roads. The car was perfect today, but anything at all could happen tomorrow."

If the ice and fog stay with the rally for another day, though, it will be very difficult for anyone to make a serious challenge for a Monte Carlo victory against this young Frenchman tomorrow.

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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team