Citroen number one driver Sebastien Loeb has won Rallye Monte Carlo after another dominant display.
Loeb led the opening round in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship for all but two of the stages, and while he was quickest in SS1 on Wednesday, he slipped back to second in the next test, with Ford World Rally Team leader, Jari-Matti Latvala leaping up the order from fourth to first following an inspired tyre choice, which was prompted after discussions with his new team-mate, Petter Solberg. Loeb was unable to make any inroads into the Finn's 30 second lead on SS3, however, the fight ended all too soon, when Latvala rolled out and into retirement in SS4 after failing to hear a pace-note [you can see that incident HERE
After that Loeb was never really challenged, ending the first leg with a 1 minute 4.2 second cushion over Dani Sordo, something he proceeded to increase further on the following days. Indeed he finished Thursday with the gap up to 1 minute 37.2 seconds and then he took yet more time on Friday and Saturday, to head into Sunday's event ending Power Stage with a massive 2 minute 41.6 second cushion.
Unsurprisingly he swept through the 5.16 km Ste Agnès-Col de la Madone test today with no problems, although the Frenchman didn't take it easy, as he also set the quickest time, thereby securing the maximum 28 point haul from the event - 25 for the win and 3 bonus points for the Power Stage victory.
In total Loeb won nine of the 18 stages en-route
to his sixth win at the Principality, his last one coming in 2008, the last time it was part of the WRC.
“For sure it is always a really great moment to start the season like this especially in front of so many fans,” Loeb told World Rally Radio
post-SS18. “Full points in the first race is incredible and for sure it's the perfect start [to 2012], but Monte-Carlo is my rally - and for the others we will have to see.”
Sordo meanwhile claimed the runners-up spot after another terrific performance in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC car. The Spaniard ran strongly from the off and was never lower than fourth throughout the five-days, setting eight top-three times in total, including winning SS8 on Thursday: “I am really happy to finish the rally in second place,” said the Spaniard. “I am happy for me and the team. It is another podium and my second here [having also been in P2 on the Monte in 2007].”
Petter Solbeg completed the podium, 28.7 seconds further back, and while neither he nor Sordo ever put much pressure on Loeb, they did enjoy a good battle for second. The fight ebbed and flowed over the first two days with practically nothing between them. However a wrong tyre choice in SS12 cost the Norwegian dear. Indeed while Petter stormed back yesterday, winning three of the day's four stages and slashing Sordo's advantage from over a minute to 19.1 seconds, with only just over 5 kilometres to run today, 'Hollywood' just ran out of kilometres. Despite that, however, he was still delighted to begin the 2012 season so strongly, especially as this is his first year back in a works car after three seasons running privately. It was also the very first time he has got on the podium on the Monte.
Further back, Mikko Hirvonen had a mixed debut event with the Citroen Total WRT. He showed good speed at times, winning three stages, but was never really comfortable when conditions were damp. He finished up 1 minute 4.9 seconds adrift of the final rostrum place.
M-Sport Ford WRT duo Evgeny Novikov and veteran Francois Delecour took fifth and sixth respectively, both shinning in their Fiesta RS WRC cars.
Novikov put in a mature display and post top-ten times in every single stage, including three third fastest times.
Delecour, who of course won this rally back in 1994, showed he is still extremely competitive, despite his age. The 49-year-old also set some very good times, and was even second fastest in SS4 and SS11. In the final stage, Delecour's co-driver, Dominique Savignoni took over at the wheel to mark his final outing. Delecour also added post-SS18 that he wouldn't mind doing another WRC event or two this season...
Behind Pierre Campana had a very solid outing in the second works MINI and the Frenchman was never outside the top-ten. He moved up to eighth at the end of day 1, before then climbing to seventh, setting a number of good times, the highlight being a third quickest time in SS12 on Friday.
Ott Tanak was eighth, leaving Campana very much in a M-Sport Ford WRT 'sandwich', followed by Martin Prokop, who was also competing in a Fiesta, and then Armindo Araujo, in his privately entered MINI John Cooper Works WRC Car.
Britain's Matthew Wilson was just outside the top ten in eleventh, ahead of Volkswagen Motorsport man Kevin Abbring, the second Go Fast Energy WRT car of Henning Solberg and SWRC victor, Craig Breen.
Of the rest, other notable finishers included Paulo Nobre in 20th, taking two manufacturers' points, and Michal Kosciuszko in 30th and also securing the PWRC honours in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
In terms of retirements, in addition to Latvala, two other notable runners also failed to finish, namely Sebastien Ogier and P-G Andersson.
Ogier crashed out dramatically on day two in SS10 [you can see that accident HERE
]. The VW Motorsport man had been running sixth in his Skoda Fabia S2000 at the time after a brilliant display, including posting a third fastest time in SS2!
Andersson had also gone well and had led the SWRC class from the very start. However mechanical issues stopped the Proton Motorsport ace in the penultimate stage on Saturday. He had been over 7 minutes up on his closest rival and ninth overall.
The 2012 World Rally Championship now goes to Sweden next, with that event running from February 9-12.
To view the result for the 2012 Rallye Monte Carlo - CLICK HERE