Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb
has got his title defence off to the best possible start, after winning the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo Rally today [Sunday], to take the maximum 10 points.
The Frenchman led the event, probably the most prestigious in the World Rally Championship, from start to finish, in the process winning eight of the 15 stages, and taking his third successive win at the Principality, following victories in 2004 and 2003.
"I was perhaps happier after the 2002 event because it was all so new," admitted Loeb. "I made a name for myself that year by dominating the others until a time penalty dropped me to second place.
"Ever since, this rally has been good to me. Each time I take the start I am as motivated as ever and I'm certainly not tired of winning. There's something special about this event: it's the most famous rally of them all and it's where my co-driver Daniel [Elena] comes from. I couldn't have got my 2005 campaign off to a better start."
Loeb's team-mate, Francois Duval had been set to take second in the sister Xsara WRC, however he crashed out yesterday, when he went broadside into a concrete electricity pole. The resultant damage to the side of the car saw co-driver Stephane Prevot airlifted to hospital with leg pains. After checks however, he was fortunate to escape with nothing more than painful bruising.
Ford's Toni Gardemeister took second, over 2 minutes 58.3 seconds behind Loeb, to get his career at Ford off to an almost perfect start - it is his best WRC result to date. The Finn also won the 'Star of the Rally' award.
"I'm so, so happy," he said. "It is a great result for us and to achieve it so early in the season makes it even better. We had a good fight with Petter and Marcus but when I heard that they had problems, then I knew it would be ok. My confidence with the Focus has increased with every kilometre and this result has been achieved without making a single mistake."
Gilles Panizzi took the final spot on the podium despite clutch difficulties that prompted the Frenchman to believe he might not see the finish. His third spot though further proves that 'Mitsubishi are back' and back to compete with the best in the WRC, after a disappointing come-back in 2004.
"For me, I said before that it was important for my team; they needed this success and now they and everyone else can see that Mitsubishi is back. Today we have arrived! This result is very important for everyone's confidence and I feel good that the mechanics and engineers have something to be very proud about," noted Panizzi. "I have driven good cars here in the past, but I have never achieved such a result. To finish third, at home, and more importantly on the most famous event in the championship is incredible."
His team-mate, Harri Rovanpera, also finished in the points in his first tarmac rally since 2002, the Finn was seventh.