World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) took the lead on the opening stage and was never headed, despite spinning on the penultimate stage on snow thrown onto the road by spectators. Team-mate Francois Duval was 32.7sec behind, despite spinning...
World champion Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) took the lead on the opening stage and was never headed, despite spinning on the penultimate stage on snow thrown onto the road by spectators. Team-mate Francois Duval was 32.7sec behind, despite spinning at the same place as Loeb. Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) was the only driver to interrupt Loeb's string of fastest times on his way to third. Team-mates Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru) struggled with fading brakes throughout the day, the Norwegian going off the road on the opening stage. He lies fourth, with his French colleague in ninth. New Ford drivers Toni Gardemeister & Roman Kresta lie 5th and 10th overnight after a day learning the Focus. Gilles Panizzi (Mitsubishi) suffered gear selection problems for most of the day but lies eighth, just behind the privately-entered car of former world champion Didier Auriol. Team-mates Armin Schwarz and Alex Bengue (Skoda) both suffered daylong hydraulic problems which affected their cars' differentials and launch control systems. Bengue leads the Czech team's challenge in 12th, just behind Harri Rovanpera (Mitsubishi), the Finn competing on his first asphalt rally since October 2002. There were no major retirements.
Thanks to a scintillating first day run which saw them post three fastest stage times from a possible four, Sebastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Xsara WRC this evening lead the Monte Carlo Rally, an event they have dominated three times and won twice in the past three years. The current 2nd place of Francois Duval and Stephane Prevot, who are making their debut with Citroën this weekend, is not really a revelation. A score of four second-fastest stage times form four for Francois has confirmed not only the swiftness with which he has adapted to his new car, but also his speed and consistency.
Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "Everything went well. The only tiny incident was in SS3 when the engine stalled after a spin on snow thrown onto the road by spectators. On the day's final stage, I concentrated on managing my tyres, notably in the hairpins. Thanks to that, I was able to benefit from super tyres all the way to the flag which allowed me to finish the stage strongly."
Francois Duval / Stephane Prevot: "I couldn't really wish for better than 2nd this evening. I wasn't necessarily expecting to figure so well so soon in this rally. We didn't know how fast our rivals were going to be and I also stalled after spinning at the very same place as Seb. for the same reason. My brakes went off slightly too in SS3, but that was quickly resolved and I was able to tackle SS4 without any problems."
Subaru drivers Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin ended Leg one in fourth and ninth place respectively. Although conditions were sunny and mild in the mountains, the twisty Monte Carlo stages lived up to their demanding reputation and caused problems for many WRC competitors. Petter and Stephane had their fair share of problems when fading brakes prevented both from pushing to the limit. Despite this, Petter ended the day just outside the top-three, while Stephane, on his competitive debut with the team, set a string of top ten times.
Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "Fourth overall is good but obviously we've had a pretty tough day out there. The brakes gave us some problems, especially early on, and although the situation improved at the end of the day we lost quite a bit of time. I've always found Monte Carlo a hard event, and so far this one's been no exception, but a podium finish is still very much possible."
Stephane Sazzazin/Patrick Pivato: "Overall it's been a good first day with the team, I'm enjoying the car but I'm not too happy with ninth place, I could have been higher. We've had a few small problems like a poor tyre choice on the first stage, the brake fade and a half-spin on the last test, but things are improving a lot already and I'm hoping to carry on learning tomorrow."
BP-Ford World Rally Team made a strong start to the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship on today's opening leg of the Monte Carlo Rally. Fielding two new driver pairings for the first time on this oldest and most famous event in the 16-round series, the squad ended the day with Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen fifth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek lying 10th in a similar car.
Toni Gardemeister/Jakke Honkanen: "Overall, the day has gone well. I've listened carefully to my pace notes and adjusted my speed accordingly. In the places where my safety crew marked ice, then I really slowed down. They have done a great job and all the tricky places were marked. Maybe I drove too carefully sometimes. I've enjoyed driving the Focus and I like it a lot. It's a difficult rally and not an easy event on which to drive a new car. Tomorrow I will step up the pace a little."
Roman Kresta/Jan Tomanek: "It was a difficult morning. My times weren't so good but that wasn't a surprise because I drove carefully. Everything was new to me. I tried harder on the final stage and I drove more gently, but better. That's how I think I have to drive this car. It feels nice to drive and we made good tyre choices throughout the day. We'll push harder tomorrow, but only one step harder. I don't want to attack and make a mistake because my aim is to ensure that I finish and learn as much about the car as I can."
The two Peugeot 307 WRC drivers have got off to a solid start on the opening leg of the Monte Carlo Rally, round one of the 2005 World Rally Championship. Marcus Gronholm has finished the day in an excellent third place, while Markko Martin ends the leg sixth.
Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I started off the first stage carefully this morning, which was tricky with about one kilometre of ice after the Col de la Sinne. On the second stage, which was almost entirely dry, I was able to push and I'm delighted to have set fastest time. On the following stage, which was repeated as SS4, we were quite careful. There is no point in pushing too hard at this early stage."
Markko Martin/Michael Park: "The opening stage was very tricky and narrow coming downhill after the Col. I found it quite difficult to place the car, particularly as I am not yet quite used to the width of the 307 WRC! My car felt unstable towards the end of the following stage, which was probably down to the tyre choice we made in the morning. On the third stage I lost a bit of time after stalling on a tight right-hand hairpin bend. I still need to familiarise myself more with my Peugeot in order to get the best out of it!"
Alex Bengue and Armin Schwarz hold 12th and 15th places respectively after the opening day of the Monte Carlo Rally. Alex began his first event with the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team by setting ninth fastest time on the opening special stage of only his second Monte Carlo Rally. He then suffered hydraulic problems with his Fabia WRC that affected the start-line launch control system. Armin had to drive most of the first two stages with a sticking throttle before the problem could be resolved in service but both drivers remain in contention after the first four stages of the 2005 World Rally Championship.
Armin Schwarz/Klaus Wicha: "This is not the event where you want to have a problem with the throttle so I was quite relieved to get through the first two stages with nothing more serious than some lost time. After that the car worked OK although I made a mistake for the third stage by setting the dampers too hard and it made the car quite nervous."
Alex Bengue/Caroline Escudero: "Today has been a learning day for Caroline and me. I made a good start but then had some problems that were partly technical and partly because I need more time to get used to the car. I have deliberately not set myself performance targets for this rally and my wish is to learn as much as I can and build a platform for the future."
After the first leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo, the opening round of the 2005 FIA World Rally Championship season, the Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05 crews of Gilles/Herve Panizzi and Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen hold 8th and 11th positions respectively.
Harri Rovanpera/Risto Pietilainen: "Everything was fine for us, but yes, for sure I am being more careful than normal in every single corner," said Harri, who overnights in 11th position. "This is not one hundred percent because our goal is to finish, but I am learning and gaining confidence every kilometer and this is what is important. The feeling is good at this stage and everything is going to our plan. There is definitely good potential and I think we can make some progress quite quickly. Apart from choosing tires that were too soft this morning, the Pirellis have been working well and I'm getting used to them."
Gilles Panizzi/Herve Panizzi: "Generally I have to say I am happy. It's not possible to compare the car this year with the one I drove last year. It is completely different and I think we are now at a very good level; we just have to sort a few small problems. We have had some trouble with the semi-automatic gear-shift today and I've had to switch to the manual system at times. The problem with the handbrake was frustrating in the last stage; half-way through it went and there was a sequence of maybe 20 or 30 hairpins where we obviously lost time. If I can get a clean run, I feel confident we can make some good times tomorrow."