SÃ©bastien Loeb put in a faultless performance to claim his second consecutive Monte-Carlo victory, the Frenchman winning for CitroÃ«n by more than a minute. Behind him, a battle raged between Ford drivers FranÃ§ois Duval and Markko MÃ¤rtin and it...
Sébastien Loeb put in a faultless performance to claim his second consecutive Monte-Carlo victory, the Frenchman winning for Citroën by more than a minute. Behind him, a battle raged between Ford drivers François Duval and Markko Märtin and it was not until the penultimate stage that Märtin overhauled his team-mate to claim second position.
Marcus Grönholm was also in the thick of the fight, but the Finn ultimately came home in fourth position in the new Peugeot 307. Petter Solberg was the greatest loser today, the Subaru driver dropping from fifth to seventh after damaging the front suspension in stage 14. His position was taken by Freddy Loix in the second registered 307.
Citroen has thrown down the gauntlet to the other teams in the 2004 World Rally Championship with an emphatic win by Sebastien Loeb in the opening round of the season, the Monte Carlo Rally, by steering his Citroen Xsara WRC to the winner's podium with more than a minute to spare.
Loeb: "The best option was the dry-weather tyre, which we chose," he said at the finish. "That meant that we had to negotiate, without making any mistakes, the slippery five-kilometre section around the Turini Pass, as well as the patches of ice on the St Roch Pass. Most of this had melted since our gravel crews went through, but I was still careful. The second pass through was less tricky, so the situation was easier to manage. I have a special feeling for this event. This rally is legendary, and to win it for a second time gets our season off to the best start possible! "
Monte Carlo born Daniel Elena, Seb's co-driver, joked: "I am unbeatable on home ground! But, being serious for a moment, I have an amazing feeling of joy, quite a special feeling. This win has that little something extra, just like when Seb won his first WRC event in Germany."
Ford leads the manufacturer's championship after claiming a double podium finish on the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally. Markko Märtin was second on the opening round in his Focus RS WRC with team-mate François Duval third in a similar car after three days of tough competition in the snowy and icy French Alps.
Markko: It's been an incredibly tough rally," said Märtin. "We've had snow, ice and fog and these Monte-type conditions are quite new to me so to finish second is much more than I expected. This weekend has been playing on my nerves for a long time. I was close to leading on Friday but on Saturday morning I lost so much time in the fog. Perhaps I need to eat more carrots! I set out to get second place back and managed to do so but I've been counting down the stages and I'm glad it's over. It's a great start to the season for Ford and now we've got to keep this up for the rest of the year."
Duval: "I'm really happy to start the year on the podium," he said. "Markko was very fast over the Turini stage on both occasions and I prefer to be third than risk everything and crash. I've enjoyed this weekend a lot, taken no risks and made no mistakes. The conditions have been tough, especially on the Turini today, but I like that. My Focus has been perfect all rally and two cars in the top three, on one of the hardest rallies of the season, is a great way to start the year."
Monte Carlo has traditionally been an unlucky event for Peugeot, but Marcus Gronholm and Freddy Loix came home in a strong fourth and fifth place after three days of tricky and competitive action. Marcus concentrated on having a clean run and making no mistakes today, and he finished in style by winning the final stage of the rally.
Marcus: "I'm glad it's all over!" said Marcus at the finish. "I've always found the changing weather conditions of this event very difficult, so fourth place is not a bad result at all. Maybe we could have been higher up if we had not slid off the road yesterday for 40 seconds, but I can't complain about anything else. The most important thing is that the new 307 WRC has been both fast and reliable, so I feel very positive about the rest of the season."
Freddy: "We decided to take the safest possible option, as I had a big gap in front of me and behind me," said Freddy. "It turned out that snow tyres were the wrong option, but you can never tell what will happen in Monte Carlo. I'm happy to get to the finish with some points after my first rally in the 307 WRC. I've learnt a lot and I think I am improving all the time."
Current World Champion Petter Solberg continued to demonstrate the performance of the Subaru Impreza on a range of difficult asphalt conditions today, and scored a stage win on SS13. Unfortunately, a small error on the penultimate test cost the Norwegian two places on the leaderboard, but he still ended the event in a points-scoring position.
Petter Solberg: "What can I say? I just hit a patch of snow, braked a little too late and slid into a wall. It's a shame as I wasn't really driving to risk anything, but these things just happen sometimes. Perhaps I was a little unlucky, but at least we didn't drop out of the points altogether. Luckily, we're taking two points away this year, which is two more than last year! Overall, it's not such a bad result especially when you consider that there are fifteen more rallies still to go."
David Lapworth, 555 Subaru World Rally Team Principal: "Monte Carlo has certainly lived up to its difficult and specialist reputation. It's a shame that after such a well-paced performance on Friday and Saturday Petter was caught out this afternoon. But, these things happen and we can take some consolation from the fact that he's got some points in the bag. Mechanically, both cars were trouble free all rally, and the pace that Petter showed with his stage win on SS13 highlighted the tarmac developments that have been made in conjunction with Pirelli."
The Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports team scored points in its debut outing back in the FIA World Rally Championship. Gilles and Hervé Panizzi piloted the all-new Lancer WRC04 back to Monaco in sixth position in Rallye Monte-Carlo, claiming points for themselves and the team in their first event as a new partnership.
Gilles: "I am very happy... We did not make a lot of testing and of course we are all completely surprised we have not had more problems the first time the car has run in these conditions. To finish and score points is very good. I am confident with the team and the car, and this is the start of a new chapter in my motorsport career; I have found a good team".
The second round of the FIA World Rally Championship takes the contenders to the snowy forests of Scandinavia for the Uddeholm Swedish Rally (February 6-8). Sweden is also the first qualifying round of the seven-event FIA Production Car World Rally Championship and 18 crews have nominated this as one of their points-scoring rallies.