Citroen's Sebastien Loeb came through to win Rallye Monte Carlo, although he took the victory somewhat earlier than anticipated after the final two tests were cancelled.
The opening round to the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship began on Wednesday and Loeb had to wait until the second stage to take the lead. After that though, he built up an unassailable cushion, winning all two stages on the repeat loop in the afternoon, when timing issues meant the overall classification wasn't known until sometime after SS4 and the final test of the leg.
On Thursday, Loeb pulled further ahead, extending his advantage to 1 minute 34.8 seconds at the close of day two.
The Frenchman then took another two stage wins on the penultimate day to head into Saturday's action with a commanding 1min 47.4secs lead. Although Saturday's opening loop proved tough, with the two runs through Turini especially challenging, Loeb held on, and with SS17 and SS18 culled on safety grounds, he took the win by 1min 39.9secs.
It was his seventh victory in the Principality and the 77th of his WRC career, achieved after yet another dominant run: “It is great [to win here again]. I am always happy when I win,” Loeb told WRC Live
. “Monte Carlo is one of the most exciting rallies I've done. This one was really tricky, very difficult. The conditions were extreme compared to what we have usually here. Winning in these conditions was not easy.”
Sebastien Ogier was next up and took the runners-up spot, a great result for him and Volkswagen on its first event with the new Polo R WRC. Ogier began in style by winning the very first stage on day one, and while he was unable to take the fight to his former team-mate, he still did very well. Indeed he took two stage wins and posted 14 top-five times from a possible 16. P2 was also a good result as Loeb isn't a championship contender this year, given his decision to only do four events.
“I'm so, so happy,” said Ogier. “For me it is like a victory. I'm a competitor and I have never been happy to finish second but this weekend it was really the target. To start the season like this is amazing. I've been waiting for one year, I've done so many tests and it was frustrating sometimes, and now here we are with the Polo on the pace already. It would have been so easy to make a mistake today. However this second place is perfect. It is a great, great feeling. I want to thank the team. I am happy to give them this result.”
Behind, Dani Sordo re-took third place after Qatar M-Sport WRT man, Evgeny Novikov went out in SS14. Sordo, who has returned to the Citroen fold this season, put in a very solid drive on his debut event with the DS3 WRC, and he certainly outperformed team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen.
Indeed Hirvonen struggled and finished more than 1.5 minutes back in fourth, only gaining two positions on the final day after Novikov and Jari-Matti Latvala retired.
Bryan Bouffier completed the top-five in his privately entered DS3 WRC, with Mads Ostberg taking sixth on his first event as team leader for the Qatar M-Sport WRT team. Ostberg had a scare in what ended up being the final test, when he went wide and broke a wheel. However, despite losing over 5 minutes, he came through to secure valuable points.
Further back, Martin Prokop was seventh, with WRC2 class leader, Sepp Weigand eighth in his Skoda Fabia S2000. Peugeot 207 S2000 pilot Olivier Burri and Michal Kosciousko completed the top ten, the latter taking the final senior WRC drivers' point on his first outing with the Lotos Team WRC-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC.
Of the rest, Sebastien Chardonnet took the WRC3 victory – and P13 overall. Chardonnet was the only remaining runner in that class after his only rival, Renaud Poutot, was sidelined on Thursday in SS9.
In terms of major retirements, four works drivers failed to finish. Thierry Neuville was the first to go, when he went out in the last stage on day one, while Novikov and Latvala both retired on the final day in SS14. Juho Hanninen also went out in that test after damaging the front-left wheel on his Qatar WRT Fiesta RS WRC.
The WRC now moves to Sweden next month for round two, with that event running from February 7-10.
To view the result for the 2013 Rallye Monte Carlo - CLICK HERE