Sebastien Loeb and CitroÃ«n-Michelin claim a Monte Carlo hat-trick For the third year in a row, the reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb has won the season's curtain-raiser, the Monte Carlo Rally. In unusually mild conditions, the ...
Sebastien Loeb and Citroën-Michelin claim a Monte Carlo hat-trick
For the third year in a row, the reigning World Champion Sebastien Loeb has won the season's curtain-raiser, the Monte Carlo Rally. In unusually mild conditions, the Citroën-Michelin driver led from flag to flag and not once did his grip on the event look threatened. The Frenchman's performance also makes it three consecutive Monte wins for Citroën and Michelin which takes the French tyre firm's record on this legendary rally to a total of 20 victories since the creation of the World Championship in 1973. I n addition to Loeb's triumph, Michelin also secured 2nd place in the Principality thanks to the brilliant run of Finland's Toni Gardemeister at the wheel of his Ford Focus WRC.
Sebastien Loeb has kicked off his 2005 WRC campaign in Monte Carlo exactly as he finished last year's-- with a victory. Feeling particularly confident with his Citroën Xsara WRC and Michelin tyres throughout this highly specific rally, the Frenchman got off to an ideal start by claiming fastest time in the opening stage, profiting from this brand new 22 km test to pull 11 seconds clear of his own team-mate Francois Duval. "Even though the total length of the first loop was 43 km, I chose soft compound tyres and the combined times show that it was the right choice," declared Loeb back in Monaco. Two further fastest times on the two runs through the long Lantosque-Col de Braus test (32 km) saw Sebastien and his Monaco-born co-driver Daniel Elena carve out a han dy cushion of 32 seconds over Duval (Citroën-Michelin) and more than a minute over Marcus Gronholm (Peugeot) by the end of Day 1.
First thing the next morning, despite the early frost, the Citroën-Michelin driver was back in stage-winning form and was consequently able to control from in front with ease as drama began to befall those following in his wake. In SS6, his team-mate Franc ois Duval crashed out while in 2nd position, while Stephane Sarrazin was caught out by a patch of ice and tore a wheel off his Subaru. Armin Schwarz (Skoda-Michelin) then rolled out of the event in the next stage and this series of incidents left Marcus Gr onholm, Toni Gardemeister and Petter Solberg (Subaru) grouped within a mere 25 seconds in 2nd, 3rd and 4th places respectively.
Meanwhile, the second leg saw the emergence of another promising youngster in the person of the 2003 French Champion Alexandre Bengue. Making his debut with the Skoda Fabia WRC-Michelin, he posted two fastest times (SS6 and 7) and was 3rd best on SS8 befor e losing the benefit of all this work when he damaged a wheel in the last corner of Saturday's final stage (SS9). The Frenchman finished the stage but was unable to complete the leg. However, the new Superally regulations allowed him to rejoin for the fina l day and, despite the 5-minute penalty this entailed, he succeeded in finishing in 9th position to collect a Manufacturers' point for Skoda.
The third and final day was marked by two runs through the infamous Col du Turini stage which produced a further batch of surprises when Marcus Gronholm and Petter Solberg were both caught out first time through by snow thrown onto the stage by spectators just after the summit. The Finn dropped 5 minutes in total but was able to complete the stage and make repairs at the following service halt but his Norwegian rival was able to go no further. These misfortunes played into the hands of the third driver in t he hunt for a podium finish, Toni Gardemeister (Ford-Michelin), who, despite asphalt not being his speciality, has frequently gone well on this event in the past. The Finn finished 4th in 2000 with Seat and was 5th in 2001 driving a privately-entered Peuge ot 206 WRC-Michelin and this year, after taking time to familiarise himself with his new car during Leg 1, he progressively upped his pace to take the flag in 2nd place. Finally, Citroën and Ford figure in equal 1st position in the provisional 2005 Manufac turers' World Championship after the Monte Carlo Rally with a score of 10 points each.
MICHELIN'S 20th-- Sebastien Loeb's third Monte Carlo Rally win brings Michelin tyres their 20th success in the Principality since the creation of the World Rally Championship in 1973. After Tommi Makinen's run of consecutive successes with Mitsubishi-Michel in in 1999, 2000 and 2001, Sebastien Loeb also gives Michelin another hat-trick on the winter classic. Indeed, the Frenchman's performance this weekend earns him the second Michelin Hat-trick Trophy of his career after being presented with his first by Mic helin staff in Clermont-Ferrand earlier this month (Jan 7th) in recognition of his successive victories in Germany (2002, 2003 and 2004).
VICTORY AND A ONE-TWO FINISH FOR MICHELIN!... In a repeat of last year's Monte Carlo classification, Citroën and Ford secured first and second places, Toni Gardemeister (Ford-Michelin) clinching a one-two for Michelin tyres in the course of the dramatic th ird leg. Prior to his retirement on Saturday afternoon, Citroën-Michelin's Francois Duval figured in 2nd place.
FLAG TO FLAG-- Sebastien Loeb and the Michelin-shod Citroën Xsara WRC dominated the season's opening round from start to finish and Michelin's tyres were competitive from the very first group of stages which saw Loeb pull out a significant early lead. In t otal, Michelin runners claimed 10 of the 15 stages with three different manufacturer/driver combinations: 7 with Loeb (Citroën), 1 with Kresta (Ford) and 2 with Bengue (Skoda). Engineers estimate that the average difference between Michelin's tyres and tho se of its rivals was 6/10ths of a second per kilometre over the duration of the event.
AN EXCEPTIONAL YEAR 1-- This year's Monte Carlo Rally proved warm and dry which allowed competitors to drive at high speeds. But these exceptional conditions only served to make the lingering damp and icy portions or patches particularly hazardous. In the c ourse of the weekend, Michelin runners employed three different dry-weather products (Michelin N): a product for ground/air temperatures of around 0C, a second for a temperature range of 5 and 8C, plus a third for the temperatures of up to 15C encounter ed on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
AN EXCEPTIONAL YEAR 2-- This year's Monte Carlo also marked the introduction a new tyre regulation which, for this event, allowed drivers to use a maximum of 55 tyres from their allocated quota of 80 asphalt tyres and 50 snow tyres (although the latter were n't actually fitted given the conditions). After consultation with their engineers and Michelin technicians, the drivers had to finalise their choice on the Monday before the event. The 80 asphalt tyres included the three or four compounds they believed wo uld be competitive but the difficulty was determining the ideal quantity of each option for the three-day event. Michelin's one-two finish in Monaco shows that the work put in by its technicians and partner teams and drivers in pre-event testing paid divid ends.
AND ON TO SWEDEN-- In three weeks time, the calendar takes teams to Sweden for the season's winter event. Unlike previous years, the regulations will allow just one tyre pattern this time round instead of two. Each driver will be able to use a maximum of 4 5 tyres from his total quota of 75.