After a four months' absence, SÃ©bastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (CitroÃ«n/BFGoodrich) have bounced back to the competitive arena by securing their fourth Monte Carlo win at the wheel of a brand new car, the C4 WRC. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti made it...
After a four months' absence, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Citroën/BFGoodrich) have bounced back to the competitive arena by securing their fourth Monte Carlo win at the wheel of a brand new car, the C4 WRC. Dani Sordo and Marc Marti made it a one-two finish for Citroën and were joined on the podium by the 2006 Monte winner, Marcus Grönholm (Ford Focus/BFGoodrich). Now running on BFGoodrich tyres, the Subaru Impreza was able to battle with the 2006 Manufacturers' title-winning Fords.
Saint Jean en Royans, Antraigues, Burzet, Saint Bonnet le Froid are all classic Monte Carlo Rally stages, yet today's stars only know of them through what they have seen in dusty mags or ageing videos. It's been ten years since the Monte last visited the Vercors and Ardèche regions, so the past few days have given the current crop of drivers a chance to sample the legend.
This return to the past kicked off with Thursday evening's Saint Jean en Royans stage high in the Vercors National Park. And by slashing 50 seconds off the previous record for the test, Sébastien Loeb (Citroën/BFGoodrich) pulled out an early assertive lead that he never seriously looked like losing until the finish. His team-mate Dani Sordo reassured Citroën about the potential of the brand new C4 WRC/BFGoodrich by tucking in behind the Frenchman in 2nd place, a position he too would hold all the way to the chequered flag.
After meeting with precious little resistance in the Vercors, they continued to dominate as the event switched to the Ardèche region on the other side of the Rhone where the menu featured some of the great stages that have helped forge the Monte legend over the years. The two Citroën C4 WRC/BFGoodrich drivers claimed 1st and 2nd places on all Leg 2's stages and, although Dani Sordo emerged as a possible threat to Loeb's supremacy when he closed to within 6s of the leader after the first attempt at Saint Pierreville-Antraigues (46km). But the three-time World Champion showed his teeth on the afternoon's repeat run to pull out a lead of around 20 seconds as crews returned to Valence on Friday evening. The Ford Focus WRC/BFGoodrich drivers Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen never looked like being a serious threat and Marcus soon saw that his best tactic would be to settle for a podium finish, especially after gearbox problems saw him lose further ground. The next two rounds of the 2007 WRC, Sweden and Norway, will give him a chance to retaliate on the year's two wintry fixtures.
Driving the Subaru Impreza, which is running on BFGoodrich tyres in 2007, Chris Atkinson was back in fighting form. The Australian claimed two stages during Leg 3 and then squeezed past Mikko Hirvonen on today's superspecial on Monaco's harbour-front to clinch 4th spot by a mere 0.2s!
Sébastien Loeb (Citroën/BFGoodrich)
"It wasn't easy to choose the ideal tyres for the different loops this weekend. We made some pretty bold calls, some of which paid off like our choice for Thursday evening while others worked less well, such as Friday morning. That said, BFGoodrich's tyres allow you to take certain gambles. They are very versatile and cope well in what, for them, are extreme conditions. For example, the '2-' medium compound [theoretically for dry conditions] works well even in the wet, so long as you succeed in keeping it at its ideal working temperature."
Chris Atkinson (Subaru/BFGoodrich)
"This result is much better than we had hoped for. I had a good feeling and I felt confident with my BFGoodrich tyres from the very start. We haven't yet begun to exploit them to the full and it's down to us to work on the car."
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich Rally Programme Manager
"Given the weather conditions, the drivers didn't have to choose between studded or unstudded tyres, yet some of the calls they had to make between the different compound options (soft, medium-soft, medium, etc.) were quite tough. With the conditions frequently switching between dry and wet, the drivers had to make a few compromises. On the sporting side, we saw Sébastien Loeb make a successful comeback with a new car that proved very competitive on this weekend's stages. I was also surprised by the Subaru Impreza which succeeded in rivalling with the Fords on the dry less than four weeks after its first tests on BFGoodrich tyres. It's a big day for BFGoodrich since its tyres have won two legendary events today: the world's most famous rally-raid, the Dakar, with Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (Mitsubishi/BFGoodrich) and the world's most famous rally, the Monte Carlo, with Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena."