Behind GrÃ¶nholm, Manfred Stohl and Toni Gardemeister (both Peugeot) enjoyed a huge battle for second. Stohl started the day in fifth but the pair swapped places throughout before Gardemeister grabbed second on the final test, just 2.9sec ahead...
Behind Grönholm, Manfred Stohl and Toni Gardemeister (both Peugeot) enjoyed a huge battle for second. Stohl started the day in fifth but the pair swapped places throughout before Gardemeister grabbed second on the final test, just 2.9sec ahead of Stohl. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) bounced back from yesterday's retirement to post fastest time on all five stages to climb from eighth to fourth. Team-mates Stephane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson (both Subaru) rounded off the top six, Atkinson unable to reproduce the pace which carried him into second last night. François Duval (Skoda) crashed out of fifth place on stage nine while Gigi Galli (Mitsubishi) retired for the second consecutive day after the same test with a broken gearbox.
The final day covers familiar territory in the mountains above Monaco, close to the town of Sospel. After restarting at 06.50, drivers face two identical groups of three speed tests covering 116.60km, split by a return to the Monaco service park. The last test in each group crosses the famous Col de Turini before a dramatic descent through spectacular gorges near the village of Moulinet. Drivers return to the Principality for the finish ceremony at the Palace at 14.25.
Kronos Total Citroen
After their problem on the 'Pierlas' stage yesterday, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were on a mission to make up time. Helped by their flawlessly reliable Citroen Xsara WRC, they were quickest on five out of five stages today. It could well have been six out of six, had the second run through the 19 kilometres of 'La Tour sur Tinée/Utelle' (SS11) not been cancelled. By the end of their thrilling day, the reigning World Champions had made up four places and returned to Monaco knocking on the door of the podium. They started the leg's action with a gap of 3m43.6s to leader Marcus Grönholm, but slashed the deficit to 2m41.6s heading into the last day.
Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: At final service, Seb took stock of the situation. "It's been a trouble-free day, apart from a spin at a hairpin bend on 'St Antonin' [SS8], " he said. " For the second loop of stages, I opted for harder tyres than my rivals. I took advantage of that choice on the second run through 'St Antonin'. On the other hand, those tyres cooled down a lot during the three kilometres of snow after the Col de Turini [SS12] and I was never really able to get temperature back into them for the end of this long stage. I still won it, but it was not easy. The gap of 161 seconds to Marcus will be impossible to make up under normal circumstances, in the 117 kilometres or so that are left to run tomorrow. But we have come back to within 35 seconds of a possible second place, and we are going to do everything possible to try and take it tomorrow... "
Xavier Pons/Carlos Del Barrio: " It's good to see a difficult day end well! " said Pons, a former world Enduro champion, after making up two places. " Today's leg was maybe not quite as challenging as yesterday, but it was difficult nonetheless. The car is exactly as I want it, well-balanced and consistent. On sections of road that are dry or damp, I'm able to give it everything. But I struggle when I have to drive on roads that are snowy or icy with slick tyres. My inexperience of these conditions results in gaps to the opposition which are too big for my taste. I need to work hard in order to reduce them...and getting to the finish is the best way to do that. "
Dani Sordo/Marc Marti: It's all about learning -- learning as much as possible! " This is also the personal maxim of Dani Sordo, who is feeling more and more comfortable at the wheel of his Xsara WRC rented from Kronos Racing. The reigning Junior World Rally Champion was satisfied with his day's work. " We've made some good tyre choices, avoided mistakes, and set a fourth-fastest time [SS7] and a second-fastest time [SS10], making up two places, " he said. " I will remember my second day at the wheel of a World Rally Car as a very good experience... "
One half of the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT has reason to be satisfied with day two of the 74th Rallye Automobile. Manfred Stohl lies in excellent third overall place after twelve of 18 special stages. He is only missing 2,9 seconds on second-placed Finn Toni Gardemeister. Henning Solberg, on the other hand, was less successful. After having chosen the wrong set of tyres in the morning, the Norwegian lost a lot of time in the afternoon due to a spin and ensuing technical problems. Up to now Manfred Stohl has achieved more than he had dared to hope. Originally his main focus at the season's WRC-premiere in Monte Carlo had been on getting to know his new Peugeot 307 WRC more intimately. But the OMV duo Stohl and co-driver Ilka Minor soon found the right rhythm.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "We didn't know our exact standing after the tests last weekend. But the initial special stage times gave us confidence. We also didn't make any grave mistakes up to now -- and so this comes from that. But Sunday will be tough and the time differences aren't exactly huge." The Austrian is referring to the 2,9 seconds he lies behind Gardemeister but also to the 32 seconds he still has on Loeb. Stohl: „There is still a tough fight to come with Gardemeister. If Loeb keeps on performing like he did today we will hardly be able to cope with him. If I want to reach the podium I'll have to beat Gardemeister -- and I want to. But Toni know this rally inside-out. After all he came in second last year."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: It was a day to forget for Henning Solberg. Wrong tyres in the morning and eventually a spin on the last special stage of the day -- which caused problems with the engine power. The Norwegian of the OMV Peugeot Norway WRT was able to finish the stage but had to park his Peugeot 307 WRC immediately afterwards in order to prevent engine failure. Solberg: "We don't know what really happened. But it is better to give up now and rather compete again tomorrow thanks to SupeRally. Since this problem occured on the last special stage of the day and we've already lost a lot of time we don't mind the five-minute-penalty. At least we'll try to really put our foot down on the last leg."
BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen extended their lead in the Rallye Monte Carlo during today's second leg in the French Alps. Ice and slushy snow on the winding mountain roads once again made conditions treacherous, but Ford's Finns controlled their pace throughout the day to return to Monaco this evening with a 2min 05.9sec advantage in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car. Grönholm and Rautiainen posted top five times on every speed test to extend their leg one lead by 42.2sec on their debut drive in the new Focus RS. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen lie ninth in a similar Focus RS with one day remaining of this opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Marcus Grönholm/Timo Rautiainen: I spun just after the top of Turini," he said. "The conditions there were terrible, the worst I have ever seen them, and we have to go over there twice more tomorrow so anything can still happen. The Focus has again been really good today but the conditions mean that it's not enjoyable to drive this rally because on every corner I'm waiting for something to happen. "It's hard to judge what is a good pace. I'm looking at Loeb's times and calculating the pace at which I need to drive. I'm not trying to beat his times. I hope I don't make any mistakes tomorrow because in these conditions that is so easy to do," he added.
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: Hirvonen and Lehtinen tackled the day's opening stage using the back-up manual gearchange system on their Focus RS after a clutch sensor problem en route to the test. However, the Finns, made light of the situation and two top five times on the next two tests lifted them to eighth. "I fixed the problem after the first stage by disconnecting the chassis controller and had a steady drive in the next two," said Hirvonen. "I hit a wall in the third stage but it wasn't a problem. The road was narrow, covered with gravel and with big ditches alongside and it was easy to make a mistake." Hirvonen spun 7km from the top of the Col de Turini this afternoon and dropped about 30 seconds and a place on the leaderboard. "I slid wide at a hairpin, the back of the car caught the snow and I spun round. But just to reach Turini was fantastic for me because I've never got this far before. Everyone told me it was a tough stage and that's true, but I've finally driven it so I'm happy. "I tried to find a good speed but be cautious at the same time because I could earn a good finishing position without being on maximum attack. I think I can move up tomorrow. I think sixth is possible and that's my target," he added.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team of Matthew Wilson and Pieter Tjoen left Monaco at 0630 this morning, bound once more for the icy mountain passes of the French Alps, north of the Monaco base for this opening round of the 2006 FIA World Rally Championship. Once again, the route provided a mixture of old and new. Stages like St Antonin-Toudon has always been part of the fabric of this event. The road from Sigale through Le Mas and on towards St Auban, however, hadn't been used for 14 years. No matter how often they're used, at this time of the year, these stretches of asphalt remain among the most challenging in the championship, with black ice, snow, slush and even gravel waiting to catch out the unwary. Mindful of a troubled opening leg, courtesy of a bent steering arm for Matthew and a fourth-stage excursion for Pieter, both would be taking a cautious approach to leg two. Saturday's stages, however, didn't deliver quite the same level of difficulty in terms of surface changes. That was, until the crews arrived in La Bollene late this afternoon. In the fading light, Matthew and Pieter nosed their Fords into the last stage of the day, which included the pass over the awesome Col de Turini. This stage had everything: a true test of nerve and skill as the drivers skated their way across a surface shorn of anything resembling grip.
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "It's been a bit of a mixed day. Some of the stages have been fantastic, really dry and good grip, giving lots of confidence. Then you go into the next one and it's completely different again, really slippery, with lots of ice. I knew Turini was going to be tough and it lived up to its reputation. When I was sitting on the start line, I actually felt really privileged, knowing all the great drivers who had sat there before me. The stage itself was absolutely unbelievable. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've driven through there! It was just starting to get dark when we came over the top of the Col, which added to whole experience. I could see all of the camera flashes and fires going, it was stunning -- I think I even saw some Union flags flying. It was one of life's experiences, something I'll never forget. After all that, though, I was pretty pleased to see the finish. We came over the top of the Col and it was ice for about five kilometres down. I was driving so slowly, but I knew that as soon as I tried to go any quicker, we'd go off the road. I feel more comfortable with that kind of thing now. The experience is coming -- and that's what I'm here for."
Pieter Tsjoen/ Eddy Chevalier: I'm not here to race with anybody -- I don't want to push the car too hard, that's not my plan. I'm here to learn and that's what I'm doing. Going up the Turini I was trying to be really smooth, just drifting the car on ice, really trying not to make any mistakes. As soon as you spin, you're going to lose a lot of time. I came through with no spins and was really pleased."
Both Stéphane Sarrazin and Chris Atkinson had a trouble-free run through Leg two of Rallye Monte Carlo to end the day in fifth and sixth respectively. All of the day's five run stages were won by Sébastien Loeb, but Sarrazin was the closest challenger when the Subaru driver finished just two seconds behind him in SS8. Sarrazin finished every stage in the top ten to move from seventh to fifth, with his team-mate Atkinson in sixth. Subaru's youngest driver continued his aim of gaining more experience on asphalt, often matching the pace of more experienced drivers.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: Retired
Stéphane Sarrazin/Stéphane Prevot: We did some good times and I'm very happy with the car, it feels very strong. Today our tyre choice was spot on, so it's a good average. I'm sure a lot is down to confidence, all the time I'm learning more about the new car with the mechanical diffs and so on and I have had to adapt my driving style to cope. Of course for tomorrow I will try to catch up the cars ahead but I'll try to push without going crazy -- something like the level I was pushing at today."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "It's been quite a challenge for us today. We knew we would drop a few places anyway but we've lost a bit more time than we wanted. We had a few slow spins in the morning and then this afternoon we were massively too cautious on the Turini stage. I've never done that stage before and everyone was warning us about how tricky it was. In the end I took it too carefully and threw away some time. Tomorrow I think we can go at a much faster pace than we did today, that's for sure, but we still want to finish the rally, that's the main thing."
Red Bull-Skoda Team
The second day of the 74th edition of the Monte Carlo Rally was again a quite successful one for Red Bull Skoda. Although Gilles Panizzi dropped down to P8 from his fourth position yesterday, points are well within reach for the Frenchman at this year's season opener.
Gilles Panizzi/Hervé Panizzi: "My car seems very twitchy since Friday evening, I had a spin and lost some time. This situation stayed pretty much the same this morning, and I informed the team about it."
Andreas Aigner/Timo Gottschalk: The 21 year-old from Styria, who was the first to tackle today's stages thanks to his 15th position yesterday, coped well with this new situation: "On one hand, you feel honoured, on the other hand there are quite a few stones lying around on the tarmac, which you will clear away for the other competitors whether you want to or not. I especially need to improve at the start of a stage, where I am still losing time because of bad timing. I will try my best to reach the finishing line in my first WRC event."