Monte - day 4: Historic win for Loeb
27 January 2008
Sebastien Loeb became the most successful driver in the history of the Rallye Monte Carlo on Sunday, when he took the victory in his Citroen C4 WRC car, the fifth time he has managed the feat.
Last year he equalled the number of Monte wins held by Sandro Munari, Walter Rohrl and Tommi Makinen, but now he has gone one better and in addition to winning this year's 76th edition, he has also come out top in 2007, 2005, 2004 and 2003. He also won in 2002 too, but later lost that victory on a technicality a few days after the event.
Proceedings got underway on Thursday and Loeb inititally lost out to his team-mate, Daniel Sordo in SS1 and was 3.8 seconds slower.
He soon bounced back though and was 16.5 seconds up on the Spaniard in SS2 and as such he finished the short opening day with a 12.7 second advantage.
Seb was then fastest straight out of the blocks on Friday and he won two of the three stages on the first loop to almost double his overnight lead to 23.5 seconds. In the afternoon he then completed a clean sweep - and with Sordo compromised by a broken front differential, he finished day 2 56.6 seconds ahead and by all accounts well on his way to securing 'gold'.
Day 3 saw the four-time world champion continue to push and he won four of the six stages, to take his tally to ten stages wins from a possible 14. Furthermore with Sordo forced out in SS11 due to engine problems, Seb's margin over second place went up from around a minute to nearly two.
The final day then was a mere formality and in the end he triumphed by over 2.5 minutes to get the year off to a perfect start and take the maximum ten points.
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile had to settle for the runners-up spot - and the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man only inherited P2 on day 3, when Sordo was forced out.
The Finn was no match for the 'works' Citroens but he was still delighted with the result, his best at the Principality. Indeed he reckoned it felt almost as good as win, as the Monte has never been especially kind to him before.
Chris Atkinson held on to take the final spot on the podium, only the second time he has managed the feat. The Aussie came under immense pressure from Francois Duval on the final day and saw his lead cut back from 20 seconds to just 1.1 seconds going into the Monaco GP circuit super special.
In the end Chris and Duval both posted the joint fastest time in SS19 and as such the Subaru took third.
Duval had to be content with P4, but it was still a top showing from the Belgian and he set three fastest times on the final day as he tried to wrestle the rostrum place from Atkinson. Despite missing out though his form should be enough to ensure this one-off appearance with the Stobart Ford outfit is extended.
Petter Solberg was next up in fifth, albeit more than 1.5 minutes off the exciting battle for third in his Impreza. Hollywood's form was solid but rather unspectacular and while it was his best ever result on the Monte, he will be hoping for a lot better in Sweden.
Gigi Galli completed the top six on his first outing with the Stobart Ford team - and his first in the WRC since the Rallye de Portugal in April 2007, while Jean-Marie Cuoq was the top privateer, bringing his Peugeot 307 WRC home in a very respectable seventh place.
Suzuki's Per-Gunnar Andersson completed the top eight and in doing so gave the SX4 WRC its first ever points finish on only its third outing in the WRC. P-G set some strong times throughout the event and even managed a fifth fastest time on day 3. All-in-all it was a top performance, especially as it was his first event in a World Rally Car.
Stobart Ford duo Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson rounded out the top ten after trouble-free runs.
Of the rest, Sordo was classified in eleventh, having re-started on day 4. He could easily have finished in second but for his mechanical problems on Saturday. The fact he took the final manufacturers' point - a result which gives Citroen the early lead in the manufacturers' championship was some consolation, although not much when second was his for the taking.
Jari-Matti Latvala was one spot lower in the #2 BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Focus after also utilising the SupeRally. The Finn had a troubled event and he had to stop to change a tyre after clipping a rock in SS1 - something that cost him around 3-4 minutes. He then hit a stone in SS12 and broke his front suspension. It won't be an event he will remember fondly.
Ales Broccoli was next up and took the A7 class honours in his Renault Clio, while Patrick Artru was 14th and secures the Group N 'win', followed by Eddie Mercier and BP Ford 'third' driver Khalid Al Qassimi.
There were only two key retirements, namely Toni Gardemeister and Citroen privateer, Conrad Rautenbach.
Gardemeister was on course for a points finish early on before he was slowed by technical problems on Friday. He was then forced out for good following the final stage on Saturday when his car began to overheat.
Rautenbach went off in SS1 and re-joined the fold on Friday under the SupeRally. He was then running in 21st place overall, until he crashed out again, somewhat embarrassingly, in the Monaco GP circuit super special.
The WRC now heads to Sweden in two weeks time for the second round in the championship and the only all-snow event of the year.