SÃ©bastien Loeb has pulled out an incredible one minute 28.7 second lead in the sole remaining CitroÃ«n, the Frenchman now well on track to secure a second consecutive victory in Rallye Monte-Carlo. FranÃ§ois Duval has been equally impressive in...
Sébastien Loeb has pulled out an incredible one minute 28.7 second lead in the sole remaining Citroën, the Frenchman now well on track to secure a second consecutive victory in Rallye Monte-Carlo. François Duval has been equally impressive in the Focus. The Belgian, along with Loeb, set a blistering time in stage eight, promoting him from fifth to third overall. He then overhauled team-mate Markko Märtin and the pair finished the day second and third respectively. Marcus Grönholm has slipped to fourth, an excursion off the road in SS9 not aiding his assault.
Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg has had an incident-free day and climbs to fifth, while Freddy Loix rounds off the top six. Carlos Sainz (Citroën) and Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) were the leading casualties of the day, the Spaniard taking a front wheel off while the Finn was forced onto the sidelines with rear end damage after a spin.
At the end of the second leg, during which they won all special stages, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Xsara WRC maintained their grip on the 72nd edition of the Monaco -based - event.
Sebastien: "We drove well, without any mistakes. Thanks to the team's work, our tyre choices were correct. Tomorrow, we will undoubtedly encounter a number of potential traps. We have to keep our concentration, and try to do as well as we did today^Å"
Carlos: "There was snow on the sides of the road, and I suppose that the spectators had spread it over the road as they went by. I came across a brown patch, half snow, half mud, which was not in my pacenotes. I went straight, and hit the wall. The front right wheel was too badly damaged to allow me to continue^Å"
The two Focus RS WRCs complete the podium places after a shortened, but no less dramatic, second leg in the French Alps today. Belgian François Duval holds second after a superb attack over the unpredictable, narrow and twisty mountain roads while team-mate Markko Märtin lies third.
Markko: "I hit some ice and we so nearly went off the road. It really jolted me because I didn't know whether the same would happen again later in the stage. 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," said Märtin, who also spun at the same point as Duval, clipping a wall and flattening his car's exhaust.
Duval: Luck was on our side..." said Duval. "We were also lucky when we spun near the finish of stage nine. The road was slushy and we spun and stalled the engine. I think we lost about 25 sec. I enjoy driving in difficult conditions and made no mistakes, apart from that spin. Now it's necessary to do the same tomorrow. The car has been perfect and I've really enjoyed the day."
Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm has finished the second leg of the Monte Carlo Rally in fourth place with the all-new 307 WRC, after a typically challenging day on the season-opener. His team mate Freddy Loix is in a strong sixth place, after refining the set-up of his 307 WRC throughout the leg.
The Peugeot 307 WRCs of Marcus and Freddy ran without mishap all day, with just a precautionary gearbox change for Marcus before the final loop of stages. Both drivers managed to steer clear of major trouble, although Marcus lost time by sliding off the road for 40 seconds at the end of SS9.
Marcus: "It was a very slow but very slippery corner," said Marcus. "You could have got around it quicker by walking, but we just understeered off. The reason why we lost the time was that it took a while to find reverse gear. I have to say I've not really enjoyed today. There was a lot of fog with conditions changing all the time. It's not the sort of rallying I like, but at least the car has coped very well with the difficult conditions. I don't want to make any predictions about tomorrow because you can never tell in Monte Carlo."
Freddy: "We found some better differential settings that gave me more confidence in the car on the afternoon stages," said Freddy. "I was quite disappointed yesterday but today is an improvement. The car has been very good but for the last stage I chose tyres that were too soft. I was expecting the weather to be colder, but in fact it was warming up and the tyres lost their efficiency."
Current World Champion Petter Solberg delivered a consistent performance in his Subaru Impreza WRC2003 to climb the leaderboard and finish the day in fifth place. His team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, continued to impress on his Subaru team debut and gained further valuable experience at the wheel of his Impreza. Unfortunately, he later retired after sliding wide on a corner and collecting suspension damage.
Petter Solberg: "Actually, I'm quite happy and have the chance of some good points. There wasn't really much more I could do today, but I'm going to see what I can do tomorrow and hope to make some more places. I do feel sorry for Mikko, it was very unlucky that he went off where he did, he seemed to be going well up until that point."
Mikko Hirvonen: "It's a real mystery. I was going steadily to get experience of the rally, and wasn't pushing hard at all. I can understand slipping off the road when conditions are difficult, but I went off on one of the easiest corners of the rally. It was slow speed, second or third gear, and a totally dry road. Maybe I heard the pace note the wrong way, I'm not sure, it's just unbelievable. Of course I'm disappointed, but I suppose you have to accept that from time to time these things just happen in rallying. I'm going to study the on-board film to see if that provides any answers, then it's a case of moving on and trying for a better result in Sweden."
The Mitsubishi Motor Sports crew of Gilles and Hervé Panizzi has powered the new Lancer WRC04 up the leaderboard during the second leg of Rallye Monte-Carlo. The French pair now holds seventh overall with just four stages remaining in the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Gilles: "Now we understand the car more and more and it was the best decision to change the shock absorbers and settings before the last two stages", commented Gilles. "We also raised the ride height which made a big difference in the handling and now things are better and better. I was confident in the stages and I am absolutely sure the car has great potential", concluded the Frenchman, who picked up two 10 second penalties during the day for time taken changing the gearbox (Service D) and replacing the dampers (Service F).
Remaining Event Timetable
Tomorrow's final leg of the Monte Carlo Rally starts at 0730 from Monaco, and takes in four decisive stages. The highlight is two runs over the legendary Col de Turini, which is typified by an enormous variety of surface conditions. Such is the famed unpredictability of the Monte Carlo Rally that the winner will not be decided until the very last metre, with the finish ceremony taking place at 1430.
Conditions are expect to be cold, snow fall is expected on the weekend with snow lying aside the rally stages. Ahead of the snow wet and icy conditions with snow turning to slush can be expected.