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Gronholm heads Monte pack, Loeb crashes

20 January 2006


Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm has taken the lead on the Rallye Monte Carlo Friday, after Sebastien Loeb crashed out in the final test of the day, throwing away a sizeable lead.

Loeb started the event in dominant fashion, winning the opening test and building up a 1 minute 16.4 second advantage going into SS6.

However the Frenchman lost it in the 23.22 kilometre Pierlas-Illonse test, on a fourth gear corner when his Xsara WRC hit a patch of ice and slid 10 metres off the road. Whether or not he will be able to re-start tomorrow under the SupeRally format depends on if his Kronos mechanics can fix the car and get him back out, either way, any hope of him taking a fourth win on the trot at the Principality now appears all but lost. Assuming he can re-start, he is now eighth overall, nearly four minutes off the lead.

Gronholm meanwhile has gotten his Ford debut off to a perfect start, the Finn claiming two stages out of the five run - SS3 was cancelled - and he will enjoy a solid lead going into the second leg on Saturday, 1 minute 23.7 seconds up on Chris Atkinson.

Aktinson has put a steady pace all day and in doing so has shown up his Subaru team-mates - Petter Solberg and Stephane Sarrazin. The fact this is the Aussie's first Monte Carlo Rally just goes to show how good a job he has done.

Toni Gardmeister meanwhile is third and on course for the final podium position, the Finn going well in his Astra Racing run 307 WRC, although he is only just ahead of Gilles Panizzi. Panizzi was in the top three for much of the day, and although he dropped to fourth following SS6, he remains well placed in the Red Bull Skoda Fabia WRC and is also incidentally the best place driver in the M2 category.

Of the rest, Manfred Stohl lies fifth, ahead of Francois Duval, who cheekily was quickest in SS5. The Belgian will be eager to impress this weekend, as his deal to drive a First Motorsport run Fabia only came together late in the day and it is uncertain how many events he will contest this season, after being left in the lurch following Citroen's exit from the sport.

Sarrazin and Loeb complete the provisional points scorers with reigning Junior champion, Daniel Sordo a fantastic ninth on his debut in a World Rally Car. The Spaniard is just 13.8 seconds off Loeb, in eighth and 1.4 seconds ahead of Mikko Hirvonen, in the second works Ford Focus.

Of those that hit problems, in addition to Loeb, Gigi Galli, Pieter Tsjoen and Petter Solberg all had issues.

Galli broke a steering arm in SS4 after hitting an object in the test, while Tsjoen hit a patch of ice in the same test and went off and hit a snowbank. The Stobart VK driver rejoined, although he finished the test nearly 6 minutes off Loeb, who was quickest through the stage. Solberg meanwhile retired from the leg after SS6, when his engine developed an oil leak. Subaru have since confirmed that the engine was irreparably damaged and as such 'Hollywood' will not be able to re-start.

In the Production category, Fumio Nutahara is on top, 33 seconds up on Jasen Popov, while Nasser Al-Attiyah is third. David Higgins lies fourth, with Stefano Marrini and Jari-Matti Latvala fifth and sixth respectively, the only other PCWRC crews who opted to contest this event.

The second leg Saturday is the longest of the rally and is primarily based to the south of the Var river. As today, it comprises two groups of three stages which are split by a return to the Monaco service. It includes a test which has not been used for 14 years and ends with the first of three passes over the famous Col de Turini. Drivers leave Monaco at 06.00 and return for the overnight halt at 18.56.


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