Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has increased his overnight lead this morning on Rallye Monte Carlo and he now heads into the mid-day halt with his advantage up to 1 minute 23.2 seconds.
Loeb, who began the day with a 1 minute 4.2 seconds cushion, dominated the first loop, winning all three stages. In SS5, the first test of the day, he was 2.9 seconds up on his closest rival. He then gained a further 8.6 seconds in SS6, before stretching his lead by another 3.3 seconds in SS7.
“The road conditions were less tricky to handle than yesterday,” Loeb said. “The early starters had reported that there was a bit of ice, but it almost melted by the time we came through. Of course, there were some tricky spots with patches of very slippery black ice. We set the fastest time on all three stages, even with tyres that were too soft on SS7. The weather is not expected to change much this afternoon. We'll have to keep pushing and pick up time where we can.”
Meanwhile, Petter Solberg is now up to second, although the battle between him and Dani Sordo for the runners-up spot remains very close. Solberg moved 1.9 seconds ahead of the Spaniard in SS5, only to slip back in SS6. He regained the position in SS7 and now heads the MINI by 3.7 seconds.
Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen enjoyed a positive morning and moved up from sixth overall to fourth, albeit more than 1.5 minutes off the fight for second.
“We have moved up the field as planned, but I feel that I wasn't consistent enough,” Mikko stated. “I am still having a little trouble getting into my stride. SS6 was pretty good as I set the second fastest time. In the morning's third stage, I made a mistake in combining two soft tyres with two supersoft tyres. The road was wetter than I had expected and I didn't feel confident. I have to keep working on my driving, which is still too aggressive for the Citroen.”
Sebastien Ogier lies fifth, continuing to impress in his Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia S2000. Indeed the Frenchman was fourth quickest in the final test of the loop and lies only 12.5 seconds off the man that replaced him at Citroen for 2012.
Evgeny Novikov had moved ahead of Ogier in SS6, but he slipped back in the final test of the loop. The M-Sport Ford WRT man trails the Fabia S2000 by 2.6 seconds.
“We made the right tyre choice so that was good,” said Novikov. “The stages are very difficult and in some places I went a bit too easy as I didn't know what was there. On the final stage [SS7] we also touched a curb going over the bridge which damaged the rear left wheel a little – nothing serious but because of that we lost some time for sure. Apart from that everything else is all ok. We're driving our own rally so we'll just try and do the same this afternoon.”