Loeb in control at end of day two
24 January 2004
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has pulled out an incredible 1 minute 28.7 second lead today in the sole remaining Xsara WRC, the Frenchman now well on track to secure a second consecutive victory on the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo.
Loeb, who won all of today's three competitive stages - SS7 was stopped after Nicolas Vouilloz's accident, while SS10 was cancelled - commented: "We drove well, without any mistakes.
"Thanks to the team's work, our tyre choices were correct. Tomorrow, we will undoubtedly encounter a number of potential traps. We have to keep our concentration, and try to do as well as we did today."
FranCois Duval has been equally impressive in the Ford Focus. The Belgian, along with Loeb, set a blistering time in stage eight, promoting him from fifth to third overall. He then overhauled team-mate Markko Martin and the pair finished the day second and third respectively.
Duval noted: "Luck was on our side there [when SS7 was cancelled because we were on the wrong tyres]. We were also lucky when we spun near the finish of stage nine. The road was slushy and we spun and stalled the engine. I think we lost about 25 seconds. I enjoy driving in difficult conditions and made no mistakes, apart from that spin. Now it's necessary to do the same tomorrow. The car has been perfect and I've really enjoyed the day."
Martin added: "I hit some ice and we so nearly went off the road [in SS8]. It really jolted me because I didn't know whether the same would happen again later in the stage. I left service with the car set up for dry conditions but when we got into the mountains, it was wet, damp and foggy. I couldn't use the set up I had chosen and the fog was so bad it was hard to pick out the corners.
"We also hit a rock face at the same point as Carlos Sainz had done earlier in the day [in SS11]. The car scraped along the cliff but fortunately it didn't pull a wheel off like Carlos. We had a few lucky escapes but we're still here and it's been a good day for Ford. My car has worked well but I need to make sure the driver does the same tomorrow."
Marcus Gronholm meanwhile has slipped to fourth in the new Peugeot 307 WRC, an excursion off the road in SS9 not aiding his assault.
He explained: "It was a very slow but very slippery corner [where I went off and lost around 40 seconds]. You could have got around it quicker by walking, but we just understeered off. The reason why we lost the time was that it took a while to find reverse gear. I have to say I've not really enjoyed today. There was a lot of fog with conditions changing all the time. It's not the sort of rallying I like, but at least the car has coped very well with the difficult conditions. I don't want to make any predictions about tomorrow because you can never tell in Monte Carlo."
Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg has had an incident-free day and climbs to fifth for Subaru, while Freddy Loix rounds off the top six.
'Hollywood' normally accustomed to fighting for the victory on rallies, said he wasn't disappointed with his day.
"Actually, I'm quite happy and have the chance of some good points," said the Norwegian, "There wasn't really much more I could do today, but I'm going to see what I can do tomorrow and hope to make some more places."
Carlos Sainz [Citroen] and Mikko Hirvonen [Subaru] were the leading casualties of the day, joining amongst others Mitsubishi's Gianluigi Galli, who retired yesterday.
Sainz took a front wheel off in SS9 while Hirvonen was also forced onto the sidelines in the same test after suffering rear end damage after a spin.
Sainz explained: "At the start of the climb up to the Bleine Pass, the road was just damp. There was snow on the sides of the road, and I suppose that the spectators had spread it over the road as they went by. I came across a brown patch, half snow, half mud, which was not in my pacenotes. I went straight, and hit the wall. The front right wheel was too badly damaged to allow me to continue."
Hirvonen was at a loss to explain why he had gone off.
He added: "It's a real mystery. I was going steadily to get experience of the rally, and wasn't pushing hard at all. I can understand slipping off the road when conditions are difficult, but I went off on one of the easiest corners of the rally. It was slow speed, second or third gear, and a totally dry road. Maybe I heard the pace note the wrong way, I'm not sure, it's just unbelievable. Of course I'm disappointed, but I suppose you have to accept that from time to time these things just happen in rallying. I'm going to study the on-board film to see if that provides any answers, then it's a case of moving on and trying for a better result in Sweden."
Of the rest, only 22 competitors remain, 34 started today, while 43 started in total on Friday, meaning the field has been decimated by nearly 50 per cent.
Leading the rest after Loix is Mitsubishi's Gilles Panizzi. The team have been pleased today with the performance of the Frenchman and the new Lancer WRC04.
Team boss, Sven Quandt commented: "We have made a big step forward compared to yesterday. The car is now running better and better, as you can see from the stage times, and we are closer to our rivals."
After Panizzi, privateers' Anthony Warmbold, Olivier Burri and Josef Beres completed the top ten, driving a Ford, Subaru and Hyundai respectively.
In the Junior World Rally championship category, ten runners remain - roughly half the field - Renault Clio driver, Nicolas Bernardi first, 24.2 seconds up on Suzuki's Urmo Aava, while Alessandro Broccoli completes the top three.
Brit Kris Meeke is fourth in his Opel Corsa. Yesterday's leader, Kosti Katajamaki, went out in SS11.
The final leg tomorrow [Sunday] is again based around a central service park next to the swimming pool complex on Monaco's Grand Prix circuit. After leaving Monaco at 07.30, drivers face two loops of two stages before returning to the Principality for the finish at the palace at 14.30. The first test of each loop contains the mythical Col de Turini, one of the most celebrated landmarks in the entire championship. Thousands of fans, many of whom will camp out overnight, will generate a noisy and colourful atmosphere at the top of the col as the cars begin their descent towards the stage finish. Drivers face 104.40km of competition in total.