Winners of the opening stage of the 2015 Rallye Monte-Carlo, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena reached Gap with a thirteen second lead at the top of the overall standings.
After leaving Monaco at 6.30pm, the Rallye Monte-Carlo competitors set course for Gap, completing the opening two stages of the 83rd edition of the rally on their way.
Starting in fourteenth position, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were quickest on the very first stage of the season. The Franco-Monegasque duo finished 22 seconds ahead of Ott Tanak and beat Sébastien Ogier by some 30.9 seconds, after completing just 21.31 kilometres. On roads featuring a mix of ice and snow, with wet and dry sections, Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg also finished in the top 5 in the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s two other DS 3 WRCs.
In the second test, between Norante and Digne-les-Bains, the conditions were different. As more mud and gravel were dragged onto the racing line by cars completing the stage ahead of him, Sébastien Loeb secured the third fastest time, whilst Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg lost a bit more ground.
At the end of this short opening leg, Sébastien Loeb arrived in Gap in the overall lead, ahead of Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. Kris Meeke ended the day in sixth position, ten seconds or so ahead of Mads Østberg.
In the WRC 2 category, Stéphane Lefebvre took the early lead in a DS 3 R5. In the FIA Junior WRC, Quentin Gilbert ended the day ahead of Terry Folb and Simone Tempestini in their DS 3 R3-MAXs.
Tomorrow’s leg features six timed stages, contested over a total of 134.10 kilometres. Parc Ferme opens at 8.10am, with service periods in Gap at 12.37pm and 5.14pm. The running order remains the same as today, but the crews allowed to rejoin under Rally 2 rules going ahead of the other P1 drivers.
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “We have had a particularly tough first evening, with conditions varying significantly depending on your position in the running order. The roads changed quite dramatically. Sébastien Loeb fared best with a very good time on SS1. But the performance of the day is undoubtedly the time he set on SS2, where he minimised the time conceded to his direct rivals. He just keeps on surprising us! These initial results suggest that the technical upgrades to the DS 3 WRC are paying off. Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg have got different objectives. They are managing a championship and weren‘t able to produce the same pace as the drivers who pushed on SS2 to make a difference. It’s only the opening night of the Rallye Monte-Carlo. The three stages tomorrow morning will certainly have a major influence on the rest of the rally.”
Sébastien Loeb: “The first stage was really very icy. Without the split times, I didn’t know where I was in relation to other drivers, so I was surprised to see the gaps when we got to the finish. When you drive twenty kilometres on ice, you don’t have the impression of going fast, but we must have been quick! We really pushed on SS2 but the roads were very dirty. There was mud, gravel and grass on all of the corners. Anything can happen at Monte-Carlo. There is still a very long way to go. In some senses, I’m reassured about the pace that we are capable of setting. I hope the ground is frozen solid and the corners aren’t too dirty tomorrow.”
How action unfolded
SS1 – Entrevaux – Rouaine (21.31km) – Opening night stage with dry sections, then damp portions with patches of black ice and some snow. Sébastien Loeb set the fastest time having started from fourteenth position. Despite the very tricky conditions, Kris Meeke and Mads Østberg produced fine performances to finish fourth and fifth respectively.
SS2 – Norante – Digne-les-Bains (19.68km) – With mud and gravel dragged onto the racing line, it became increasingly difficult to set a fast time as more crews came through the stage. First on the road, Sébastien Ogier went fastest, followed by Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Loeb. Kris Meeke grabbed the ninth-fastest time, whilst Mads Østberg was eleventh.
Standings after day 1
1. Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena (DS 3 WRC) 30:08.2
2. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +13.3
3. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +36.1
4. Ott Tanak / Raigo Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +38.6
5. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +47.4
6. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +59.8
7. Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +59.9
8. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:06.8
9. Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:08.7
10. Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:17.6
Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier, 1.