David Schilke, WRC correspondent
Sebastien Loeb appears unstoppable in the 2012 Monte Carlo Rally! He and Daniel Elena have notched six victories in the famous Monaco rally and both must be very pleased to see the World Rally Championship add the challenging event back on the calendar.
Today the roads were a bit easier as they were drier but there were still some very slippery mud spots. Out of six stages in today’s leg the Citroen ace ended up winning five of them in his DS3.
It seems there’s a chance of snow!
The Frenchman has built up a lead of just over one minute and 30 seconds to his nearest challengers. “Today was easier than yesterday, more like a normal Tarmac rally but it was still tricky because it was very muddy in places,” said Loeb. “But I was feeling good so I tried to push. We managed to increase our lead considerably and that means we’ll be a bit more relaxed when we start tomorrow's stages. It seems there’s a chance of snow!”
The real battle is for second between MINI driver Dani Sordo and Ford’s Petter Solberg with the MINI having a 3.7 second advantage. Both the Spaniard and the Norwegian traded places during the six stages that they ran today. It was on today’s fourth stage when Sordo set the fastest time to earn his first 2012 stage win.
Sordo said, “Today was good, as I didn’t have any problems and it was more like rallying in normal conditions. It was a little bit slippery in the morning with some frost on some parts of the stages, but then some places were completely dry. It is good fighting with Petter as on one stage he is faster than me and then on another I am faster. In the last stage we took a little bit of time off him and got back to second, so we shall try to continue that way tomorrow!”
Solberg gave it his best in his Ford Fiesta but came up short in the final stage. At the midday service, the Norwegian had the edge over Sordo. “On the last stage there was so much mud on the road and I don’t have any experience of driving this car in these types of conditions yet,” he said. “It took me a little bit of time to get into the rhythm and the last part of that stage was unbelievably slippery so I had to back off more than I wanted to.”
His return to the Ford camp for this year was a surprise as he was the top privateer team owner and driver. He did have a one year stint with Ford back in 1999. He commented, “I’m really enjoying driving the Fiesta. The conditions have been very difficult and I’m sure we could go quite a lot faster, but I still need to learn the car. I’m much faster than I expected to be. I never thought that after only two days testing I’d be able to jump into the car and fight with Dani and be so close to Seb.”
Two minutes behind the podium fight sets the newest driver with Citroen, Mikko Hirvonen. The Finn is still coming up to speed after switching from his Ford Focus last year. While not yet competitive Hirvonen is holding off Evgeny Novikov who is now 10.6 seconds behind in fifth after the second day.
“The road was wetter than I thought and so it wasn’t the best option," said Hirvonen after trying a mix of soft and super soft rubber. "Otherwise, the morning went very well since I took 4th place, moving ahead of Novikov and Ogier. I am therefore in a good position to score some important points for Citroën and I am ready to grab a place on the podium if I get a chance. I am not totally satisfied, however, because I think I'm still lacking pace when the road surface is changeable. I also have to adapt my driving style. The DS3 WRC requires a very gentle driving style and I am still too aggressive.”
Novikov is leading his M-Sport teammate François Delecour but the gap between them leaves little chance they will fight for position. This weekend marks Delecour's return to the WRC in ten years, the Frenchman won here in the past but will have to settle for a top five finish as his best possible result for now.
Sebastien Ogier is out of Monte Carlo after holding sixth for much of the day. The Volkswagen driver crashed his Skoda Fabia S2000 on the day's final stage at high speed. The chance for a fantastic result in a lower spec car is over when he cut a fork in the road to aggressively, sending the Skoda flying down the road on two wheels before finally cutting to the left and hitting an obstacle head on. Thankfully Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia emerged unscathed but the crew was taken to hospital for precautionary measures.
On three stages are scheduled for Friday with two around Valence before packing up and heading for the principality of Monaco. A final stage will be held in the hills near Monaco before settling down at the Riviera for Saturday.