Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has taken another step closer to glory on the 2012 Rallye Monte Carlo after increasing his lead yet further in the first loop of the day.

Loeb started the fourth and penultimate day of the event, the opening round in the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship, with a 2 minute 12.4 second cushion, and after going third quickest in the first test, SS14 - the 23.41 km Moulinet-La Boll?ne V?subie test - he stretched that by another 14.2 seconds. Seb then gained another 4.1 seconds in SS15, having set the joint second quickest time, to head back to service in Monte Carlo with his lead up to 2 minutes 30.7 seconds.

"I didn't take any risks," Loeb said after the first test of the day. "I am just trying to find the right rhythm and to stay concentrated. It is not so easy - it is really tough to find the right rhythm when all you have in your mind is not to make no mistakes."

"I didn't cut the corners, I tried to avoid the stones on the road and I stayed focussed," Loeb continued back in service. "I saw that Daniel [Elena - my co-driver] took the time to give a little wave to the crowds on the Col du Turini, but I still concentrated fully on the road. We'll have to be careful during the night runs as there'll probably be some dew on the roads."

Meanwhile, Dani Sordo still lies second for the MINI WRC Team, although Petter Solberg has cut the gap quite significantly, from over a minute last night, to 39.9 seconds post-SS15. Solberg was second quickest in the opening test of the day, before going fastest in Lantosque-Luceram 1.

With Solberg on a charge in that last test of the loop, Mikko Hirvonen lost ground in the fight for the final place on the podium and he conceded he had been more cautious in the second test as it was damp. Despite saying that though, he was still joint second quickest with his Citroen team-mate, Loeb - 8.4 seconds off the works' Ford Fiesta RS WRC car of 'Hollywood'.

"There was more dampness on second stage and Petter pushed really hard. I'm not too bothered, I'm just very pleased not to have made any mistakes," Hirvonen stated. "I feel so good driving the car and I'm enjoying racing on tarmac again. It bodes well for the rest of the season."

Further back, M-Sport Ford WRT duo, Evgeny Novikov and Francois Delecour remain fifth and sixth, the latter continuing to set good times, with a fourth best effort in SS14 and a fifth in SS15, despite reporting some power steering issues.

"It was okay, but we had some problems with the power steering," Delecour confirmed. "I think the problem was with the pin, which made the steering very stiff and really difficult in the twisty, narrow corners. The problem is stable. It was not getting worse and we'll get it fixed in service, but we lost a lot of time. I think we could have set a really quick time otherwise."

"Definitely we made the wrong choice with the soft tyres," Novikov added. "It was really difficult to drive, especially in the twisty, downhill sections and the car was understeering a lot. We're not making any changes in service and we'll try hard this evening. The stages are very difficult but for sure I'm enjoying it a lot."

Pierre Campana, who is piloting the second works MINI WRC car on this event, is next up, having posted two solid sixth best times in SS14 and SS15, followed by Ott Tanak, in the third M-Sport Ford WRT car, and then SWRC class leader, P-G Andersson in his Proton Satria Neo S2000.

"I'm enjoying the stages," Tanak said. "It was a little damp in some places but mainly dry. These are difficult stages - the second half of the second stage [SS15] is all downhill and it's not easy for sure. We made the right choice with the hard tyre which worked well in the second half of the stage, but we're not pushing. We need to think carefully in service and make sure we make the right tyre choice again. The important thing for us is to make it to the end."

Martin Prokop rounds out the top ten and is now on course for the final drivers' point, having moved in front of Armindo Araujo in SS14. Araujo was not happy with his tyres. Of the rest, Go Fast Energy WRT men, Matthew Wilson and Henning Solberg hold positions 13 and 14, with Craig Breen 15th in his Fiesta S2000.

"This afternoon's stages were a real challenge," Wilson reflected. "We had a heart-stopping moment before the start line [of SS15] - the dash froze and then our intercom became stuck on road mode, which made it difficult to concentrate throughout the stage [SS15]. I have to thank everyone for keeping quiet on the stage, otherwise it would have been a nightmare!"

"I'm quite happy with the stages" Henning added. "I had soft tyres, which was not ideal. We lost quite a lot of time but that's the way it is and we have to live with that. I think we have to make the change to hard tyres [this evening] and then maybe that will make things easier."

Day four now concludes this afternoon, with a repeat run through this morning's two stages. SS16, the 23.41 km Moulinet-La Boll?ne V?subie test, is scheduled to start at 19.34 hours local time [18.34 hours UK time].

Rally Monte Carlo: Overall standings after Stage 15 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 4hours 00mins 10.9secs M
2. Dani Sordo MINI WRC Team John Cooper Works WRC +02mins 30.7secs M
3. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 10.6secs M
4. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +03mins 41.1secs M
5. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +05mins 13.2secs M
6. Francois Delecour M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 49.3secs
7. Pierre Campana MINI WRC Team John Cooper Works WRC +08mins 05.6secs M
8. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +09mins 18.0secs M
9. P-G Andersson Proton Motorsport Satria Neo S2000 +15mins 00.4secs S
10. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +15mins 22.3secs


11. Armindo Araujo Armindo Araujo WRT MINI Cooper Works WRC +15mins 28.0secs M
12. Kevin Abbring Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +16mins 48.8secs
13. Matthew Wilson Go Fast Energy WRT Fiesta RS WRC +17mins 21.8secs
14. Henning Solberg Go Fast Energy WRT Fiesta RS WRC +18mins 59.5secs
15. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +22mins 02.6secs S
16. Bryan Bouffier Peugeot 207 S2000 +26mins 34.4secs
17. Michael Burri Peugeot 207 S2000 +27mins 49.1secs
18. Cedric Robert Citroen DS3 R3T +28mins 47.7secs
28. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +47mins 26.4secs P

SWRC standings after Stage 15:

1. P-G Andersson Proton Motorsport Satria Neo S2000 4hours 15mins 11.3secs S
2. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +07mins 02.2secs S

PWRC standings after Stage 15:

1. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 4hours 47mins 37.3secs P
2. Louise Cook Ford Fiesta ST +1hour 18mins 53.6secs P

Notable retirements:*

SS1. Giandomenico Basso Proton Motorsport Satria Neo S2000 Accident S
SS2. Lorenzo Bertelli Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX Gearbox P
SS3. Julien Maurin Ford Fiesta RS WRC Mechanical
SS4. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Rolled M
SS4. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC Retired

SS5. Peter van Merksteijn Sr van Merksteijn Motorsport Citroen DS3 WRC Mechanical
SS10. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 Accident

* Note: There is no Rally 2 (as the SupeRally has been renamed for this year) on Rallye Monte Carlo.

all times unofficial