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 Bollène Vésubie 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.”