Loeb all but has Monte win in bag
20 January 2007
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb looks almost certain to take the victory on the 75th Rallye Automoblie Monte Carlo, the opening round in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship.
With just the 2.8 kilometre Monaco circuit super special left to run on Sunday to finish the third and final leg, the Frenchman enjoys a comfortable 31.1 second lead over his team-mate, Daniel Sordo.
Seb has been on it throughout, stamping his authority on proceedings from the off on Thursday, when he won both the night stages that made up the very short leg 1. Furthermore while he came under pressure from Sordo on Friday, in the first loop that made up the second leg, and saw his 20 seconds cushion cut back to less than 9, he re-established his dominance on the repeat runs through to end the day 25.2 seconds in front. Loeb then paced himself through Saturday's six stages to all but take the win - what potentially will be his fourth, to equal the record held by held by Sandro Munari, Walter Rohrl and Tommi Makinen, who have all won the Rallye Monte Carlo four times.
Sordo meanwhile has also done well in the sister car, taking an additional three stages win for the Citroen C4 WRC, in addition to the five notched up by Loeb. Like Seb, Dani eased off during Saturday's stages, content to try and sow up the eight points on his debut with the factory Citroen Total WRT and to give the French marquee, the perfect 1-2 result on its return to the FIA World Rally Championship with the new C4.
BP Ford team leader, Marcus Gronholm looks set to take the final place on the podium, and while he has set some good times - and has been in the top 3 on 12 stages out of a possible 14, despite gearbox problems on Friday and an off in SS12, which left him with a broken left rear wheel for SS13 and SS14, he has simply been unable to match the C4's. Hopefully he will be able to find more speed on gravel and on the next two winter rounds, which take place on snow.
Gronholm's team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen is locked in a tight battle for fourth spot with Chris Atkinson. The Finn closed the gap considerably on Saturday morning, cutting it from 17.2 seconds overnight to 8.9 seconds going into the mid-day service. Furthermore while he went in front on SS12, after taking his second stage win of the event, Atkinson bounced back in SS13, to win his second test and re-take fourth. Mikko wasn't finished though and stormed through SS14, to take another stage win and beat Atkinson, who was second quickest in his Subaru by 8 seconds. Mikko will thus take a slender 0.8 second lead into the Monaco circuit super, something that guarantees the battle for fourth should go to the wire.
Further-down the order, Petter Solberg is sixth in the second Subaru WRT Impreza WRC, the Norwegian grabbing seventh from Toni Gardemeister in the first test on Saturday and then proceeding to pull out a 30-odd second gap. Petter has been reasonably pleased with his form and while he has been no match for the top four, he has still set some good stage times – eight times in the top six.
Gardemeister lost time on the third day with brake problems and while he has set three top five stage times, he is still getting to grips with his privately run Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05.
Jan Kopecky rounds out the provisional points' scorers, in eighth, the Czech again showing the Skoda Fabia WRC does have potential. Indeed he matched Sebastien Loeb's time in SS11, when he was joint fourth fastest. All-in-all, Jan has managed two fourth quickest times and has been in the top ten on every single stage, bar one.
Of the rest, local ace, Jean-Marie Couq is just outside the points in ninth, in his Peugeot 307, 40 seconds off Kopecky, while Manfred Stohl completes the top ten in his OMV Kronos-run Citroen Xsara WRC, despite having had brake problems on leg 1 and on the first loop on Saturday. Stohl gained a place in the final 'proper' test, after Jari-Matti Latvala made a mistake and hit a wall. The Finn, who has lead the way for the Stobart team, dropped from ninth to eleventh and while he completed the stage he will not be able to continue after damaging the roll cage. As a result Gareth MacHale and Matthew Wilson move up to 11th and 12th respectively.
Frederic Romeyer and Henning Solberg complete the top 14, the latter admitting that he may need to do a bit of circuit racing to get to grips with driving on tarmac. Henning has very limited experience on asphalt and has been disappointing throughout.
In the Group N class, Olivier Burri, who has lead from start to almost-finish, lies 17th overall, while Martin Prokop, who heads the A6 class, is one place further down the leaderboard.
The 2007 Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo now concludes on Sunday, with the 2.80 kilometre Monaco Circuit super special stage, which starts at 09.00 hours local time.