Monte Carlo: Subaru leg one summary

After a measured performance, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds overnight sixth place and is well positioned ahead of Legs two and three. His new Subaru team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, also taking a long-term approach to the event, ended the day in...

After a measured performance, 555 Subaru driver Petter Solberg holds overnight sixth place and is well positioned ahead of Legs two and three. His new Subaru team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, also taking a long-term approach to the event, ended the day in overnight eighth, 0.8 seconds off seventh overall.

Stage Summaries

SS1: 0748 Selonnet - Breziers (22.64km)

Despite stopping access to the first stage of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship at 0548hrs this morning, thousands of spectators had already made it to the roadside on SS1. The crowds were so large that organisers cancelled the first pass through the Selonnet - Breziers test for safety reasons and crews moved directly to the start of SS2.
Fastest Time: n/a

SS2: 0826 Piegut - Urtis (20.18km)

As usual, the weather played a significant part on the first competitive test of the opening WRC event. Last used in 2000, the Piegut Alpine test which runs more than 1,100 metres above sea level, presented crews with a combination of freezing conditions, snow, ice and asphalt. With falling snow reported in the stage, Subaru's Petter Solberg and Citroen's Carlos Sainz opted to run on a narrow studded snow tyre, while the remainder of the field chose a wider tyre option. Despite skidding off the road 2km in and suffering a stall on a hairpin, Solberg was fifth fastest, while Sainz was seventh. Marcus Gronholm was quickest, with Ford's Markko Martin second and Citroen's Sebastien Loeb third. Making his competitive debut for the 555 Subaru team, 23-year-old Mikko Hirvonen put in a steady performance at the wheel of his Impreza to finish twelfth fastest. After the finish, crews returned to the Tallard Aérodrome for the first scheduled service of the event.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 17:20.9

SS3: 1009 Selonnet - Breziers (22.64km)

As light snow continued to fall, Martin was fastest for the stage win, with Gronholm second, Sainz third and Gigi Galli, fourth. Making his debut for Mitsubishi on its return to the WRC after a season away, Galli carefully negotiated the snow and ice covered test to finish 2 seconds off the pace. His team-mate Gilles Panizzi was thirteenth due to a transmission problem on his Lancer, which he reported affected its handling. As 2003 World Champion, Petter Solberg was running first on the road and, unlike those behind him, was unable to use the markings left by competitors ahead. He was twelfth fastest, while his new Finnish team-mate Hirvonen was eighth. After the finish, crews moved directly to the start of SS4.
Fastest Time: Martin (Ford) 15:45.6

SS4: 1047 Piegut - Urtis (20.18km)

2003 Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Loeb was fastest to take his first stage win of the season, while Sainz was 1.8 seconds slower for second and Gronholm a further 6.6 seconds behind for third. Despite contesting the final 3km with his Peugeot 307 stuck in third gear and a broken windscreen, which he collected when he cut a corner and hit a branch, the Finn still managed to finish ahead of the Ford duo of Martin and Francois Duval, who were fourth and fifth respectively. Subaru's Solberg was sixth fastest with Hirvonen tenth. After the finish, crews returned to Tallard for the second service of the day.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 16:53.7

SS5: 1305 Laborel - L'Aubergerie (26.68km)

It's often said that experience counts on the Monte Carlo Rally, but the Laborel - L'Aubergerie was a new test for all. Having only ever been included before as a non-competitive road section, it was a good opportunity for younger drivers to compete on a more level playing field. Sure enough, Subaru's young pilot Mikko Hirvonen posted the sixth fastest time, his best of the day, while 23 year-old Francois Duval was fourth. No such luck for Mitsubishi driver, Gigi Galli. Skidding off the road 1.5km from the start, the Italian's car became beached two metres from the roadside and he was forced to retire. Gronholm was again fastest to take his second win, with Loeb second and Martin third. Running on intermediate tyres, Peugeot's Freddy Loix struggled in the snowy conditions and finished fourteenth. After the finish, crews completed a 5.07km road section to the start of SS6.
Fastest Time: Gronholm (Peugeot) 18:04.1

SS6: 1348 Rosans - L'Epine (31.81km)

Regarded by Subaru co-driver Phil Mills as a 'classic' stage, Rosans - L'Epine took crews more than 1,000 metres above sea level, before descending sharply with a series of flowing hairpins. Loix's gamble of running on intermediate tyres paid off in the final stage of the day and, as the snow melted, the Frenchman completed the test second fastest, 6.2 seconds ahead of third placed Sainz. Sebastien Loeb was fastest and took both the stage win and overall lead. Solberg continued his steady run to finish fifth fastest, while Gronholm, running on a wide snow tyre was sixth, dropping to third place overall.
Fastest Time: Loeb (Citroen) 18:15.2


Petter Solberg
It's been difficult today, what with being first on the road and being forced to make some very difficult tyre choices. As the temperatures rose, the amount of snow and ice became very unpredictable, but that's how it is. I'm happy with where I am, my plan was always to be between fourth and sixth at the end of the first day. Tomorrow, perhaps we'll try more speed, but I have a lot of respect for this rally and can't be stupid like last year. I wanted to come through the first day cleanly and I've done just that.

Mikko Hirvonen
It's been a really good first day, I'm really happy. It's all going according to our plan and to already be in a potential point winning position feels good. I had a little bit of a shock driving on the snow this morning, but we took things steady and I've made no mistakes all day. I lifted off a bit on the last stage, just to be safe, but I'm very pleased with how it's gone and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

David Lapworth , Team Principal
Overall, it's been a good solid day, nothing spectacular, but that's absolutely according to our plan. Both Petter and Mikko have stuck to a strategy of keeping out of trouble and erring on the side of caution when it came to tyre choice and pace. At the end of the day we're exactly where we planned to be. Now we have to wait and see if the conditions tomorrow will allow us to push a little harder and climb the leaderboard.

News from Pirelli

Fiore Brivio , Pirelli Tyres Rally Manager:
Today has been a typical Monte Carlo Rally day with the drivers encountering a mixture of conditions from the outset. Petter selected the Pirelli PZero S1 full snow tyre for the first group of stages - his Pirellis sweeping the road for those that followed. During the second service of the day, Petter chose the Pirelli WX tyre, which was partially studded in order to combat the mixture of ice and snow conditions. Mikko Hirvonen spent the day gaining valuable experience of his Pirelli tyres, selecting to use the Pirelli PZero WX with studs in the morning and later, in the last section of stages, with no studs at all.

Tomorrow's Leg , Saturday 24 January

Leg two starts tomorrow at 0640hrs when crews leave Monaco parc fermé for the first service of the day. The second longest of the event, Leg two comprises a further five stages and 140.79 competitive kilometres. Run north of Nice, which is more than 200km south of Leg one's action, Leg two includes the longest test of the event, SS7, which is 34.41km. The first test starts at 0818hrs.


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About this article
Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team