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Monte - day 3: Loeb invincible now?

26 January 2008


Sebastien Loeb managed to more than double his lead on day 3 of the Rallye Monte Carlo on Saturday and the Frenchman now looks increasingly assured of taking the victors laurels.

The Citroen man was second quickest in the first test of the day - 2 seconds off his team-mate, Daniel Sordo - before he topped the leaderboard in SS10 and SS11, 1.2 seconds up on Sordo in St Bonnet 1 and 8.9 seconds up on Francois Duval in Lamastre 1.

With Sordo having to pull out in SS11 though due to engine problems, Seb saw his margin over second place go from around almost a minute to nearly two. He subsequently returned to the mid-day service at Valence with a 1 minute 53.5 second lead.

In the afternoon he managed to further increase his advantage - securing two more stage wins and taking his tally to ten stage victories in total from a possible 14.

He will now go into Sunday's final leg with a 2 minute 10.6 second lead and with that record fifth Monte victory well within touching distance.

"I really like the atmosphere on this rally. The spectators are exceptional. I will start managing my lead but I am not in the most comfortable situation," said Loeb.

"However I am better off in my shoes rather than in Hirvonen's! Today's bad news was Dani's retirement because it has a negative impact on our result for the manufacturers' championship."

Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile has now inherited the runners-up spot following Sordo's misfortune. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #1 had been hoping to cut the deficit to Dani this morning but actually lost out in SS9 and SS10.

In the afternoon he continued to push, setting three more top four stage times and ensuring he remains well in front of his closest rival, Chris Atkinson, who is 52 seconds adrift.

Atkinson has continued to swap quickest times with Francois Duval today and while they had been battling for fourth, now the ante has been increased and it is the final place on the podium up for grabs.

Chris has held the position throughout and while he did lose out in SS10 and SS11, going into service F just 10.1 seconds in front, he put in a big push this afternoon. Indeed the Subaru man was second quickest in SS12 and then set the top time in SS13. Although he was 1 slower in the final stage, he finished proceedings with a 20.1 second lead.

Further down the order, Petter Solberg is a distant fifth - almost a minute off the battle for third in his Impreza. He slipped further and further behind Chris and Duval during day 3 and had no real explanation for why he was unable to match his team-mate.

Gigi Galli finished day 3 in P6 and he is continuing to gain confidence with the Focus RS WRC07 on his debut with the Stobart squad.

Peugeot privateer, Jean-Marie Cuoq and P-G Andersson round out the provisional points' scorers in seventh and eighth respectively. P-G had a good morning in his SX4 WRC and set some very quick times, including a fifth fastest effort in SS9.

He continued to set top ten stage times in the afternoon as well and now looks poised to score the first ever point with the all-new Suzuki World Rally Car.

Toni Gardemeister also set a number of top ten times in the sister SX4, his best a sixth quickest time in SS13. He was slowed by technical issues though and complained of transmission problems after SS11.

He was also worried about his engine overheating in SS14 and when he returned to service his mechanics were unable to find the cause of the problem. As a result the car was subsequently retired from 10th in order to prevent further engine damage.

Of the rest Henning Solberg ended up in ninth with fellow Stobart runner, Matthew Wilson tenth.

Henning didn't have a very good day though and freely admitted that he was glad it was over: "It was tough," noted the Norwegian post-SS10, "I scared the crap out of myself!"

After that Sordo was eleventh under the SupeRally followed by A7 class leader, Ales Broccoli and Frederic Romeyer's Peugeot 206. Jari-Matti Latvala is classified 14th, but like Sordo he will have to SupeRally on Sunday after hitting a rock in SS12 and damaging the front suspension. He had been in ninth and on course to take the final manufacturers' point.

Patrick Artru and Olivier Burri are 15th and 16th - split by less than 10 seconds and currently fighting for the Group N win.

The action now concludes on Sunday following a free transit section to Monaco this evening. Day 4 is based in the mountains of the Alpes-Maritimes, high above the Principality. After a 07.50 hours start [local time], drivers face four tests, including two passes over the famous Col de Turini, before a short service break at Gilette. They then return to Monaco for a super special stage around the harbour area of the Grand Prix circuit. The finish is at the palace in Monaco in late afternoon after 66.65 kilometres of competition.


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