Citroen driver Sebastien Loeb and navigator Daniel Elena sprayed the victory champagne on the opening round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Monte Carlo. But their celebrations were short-lived, following Citroen's decision [several days later] to withdraw their appeal against a two-minute penalty for changing tyres in the wrong service area.

As a result the ten points in the drivers' world championship were handed to Subaru driver Tommi M?kinen, who finished second on the provisional timesheets.

Loeb's penalty - incurred at Saturday's final 12-minute service - overshadowed Sunday's action, which took place in clear but cold conditions. M?kinen backed off in the early afternoon, believing that the penalty would stand - now proved correct - and that he will thus be promoted to first place. Behind the leading pair, Carlos Sainz finished third for Ford, while his team-mate Colin McRae inched ahead of Peugeot driver Marcus Gr?nholm to claim fourth.

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The Citroen Xsara WRC of Sebastien Loeb ran without major technical problems for much of the weekend. Loeb started Sunday's final four stages with a lead of nearly half a minute over Tommi M?kinen, but he also knew that he had been penalised two minutes after his Citroen service crew broke the regulations by mistakenly changing tyres in Saturday evening's short service. The matter, which was appealed saw Loeb stay ahead of M?kinen and for a few days at least claim his first ever win at World Rally Championship level.

Loeb said: ''It's an incredible feeling. I don't really know what to say. It was very difficult against Tommi - I had to push very hard all the time. But in my mind I have won this rally - in the eyes of the drivers and the spectators the fight is won on the stages, and we won that fight.''

Citroen Sport Team Principal Guy Frequelin added: ''We made a mistake - I accept responsibility for that. But in my view it was a minor mistake. I am happy for Citroen, for Sebastien and for Daniel.''

At Subaru while Tommi M?kinen pinched a few seconds from Loeb on Sunday morning's first stage he then backed off, believing that the Frenchman's two-minute penalty will be applied and that he will duly be promoted to first overall - a belief that was confirmed a few days after the event. The win was Makinen's 24th making him the most successful WRC driver in the history of the series.

His team-mate Petter Solberg didn't relax until the final corner, though - the young Norwegian was fastest on three of the final day's four stages as he consolidated his sixth position and by the finish, he was less than half a minute adrift of 2000 world champion Marcus Gr?nholm.

M?kinen said: ''I don't really know what to say - it's obviously fantastic news [that Citroen have dropped their appeal] and a great honour to have reached this position as a driver. It's just a pity I have no time to celebrate it just for the minute as we are in the middle of our Sweden test. So for now, it's good news but also business as usual I think. But maybe though things will be a little better for me on the rally as there is no pressure for me to break the record - I've done it now and all of that pressure has been passed to the other drivers who must try to catch up!''

Subaru Team Principal David Lapworth added: ''To start the year with a win is a fantastic achievement for Tommi and Subaru. This was a new combination for 2002 and you'd have to say it bodes well for the rest of the year. Naturally it's disappointing that we weren't able to commemorate Tommi's new status on the podium in Monte Carlo, but we had to wait until Citroen and the FIA had resolved the appeal process. I'm just glad that the matter of who won Monte Carlo has been cleared up relatively swiftly and that we can draw a line under it and concentrate clearly on the task ahead in Sweden.''

The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and Markko Martin were reliable on the final day of the event. Colin McRae pushed hard, as he tried to pass 2000 world champion Marcus Gr?nholm and recover to fourth after his engine problems Saturday evening. The Scot managed to pass the Finn with a stage to spare, and he consolidated his position on the last test to score three points on a rally he openly dislikes.

Markko Martin, meanwhile, lost time on Sunday morning when he picked too soft a tyre compound. The Estonian still complied with his team's instructions to finish, though - he claimed 12th.

Colin McRae said: ''Obviously it's good to get some points on the opening round of the championship, but I'm also a little disappointed. Third place was looking quite possible until our problems last night [McRae had an engine misfire on the day's last stage] and although the difference is only a point, it could decide a lot by the end of the season. Today we tried to get past Marcus [Gr?nholm] and we managed that with a stage to go.''

Carlos Sainz added: ''We're quite happy. At the beginning of the rally we were worried about the French cars because it looked like it was going to be dry and we remember how we suffered on the asphalt last year. But the cars have gone well, the tyres have worked well and we've scored some good points for the team. It's a good start.''

Meanwhile over at Peugeot Gr?nholm started Sunday's stages knowing that he'd have to fight off a charging Colin McRae if he wanted to hold onto his overnight fourth position. He started badly, ceding more than 15s to his rival in the first pair of stages and then finally dropped to fifth when McRae passed him in SS13.

Gr?nholm said: ''In the end, I was possibly a bit cautious on my tyre choice. I thought it would be slightly damper so I went for a softer compound, but the roads had dried out quite a lot and the car was moving around because of the tyres. I'm not so disappointed, though - Peugeot really wanted to finish this rally this year and even though we can see we have some work to do, we've at least scored a couple of points.''

His team-mate Richard Burns who finished eighth noted: ''It would have been nice to get a couple of points but it's not a disaster. A disaster would have been retiring on the first day and not learning anything. Instead, we've learnt a hell of a lot and the good thing is that all three of the drivers here have been able to point at what needs to be done.''

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRCs of Alister McRae and Francois Delecour had no problems during the final day, although the Frenchman was not entirely satisfied with his centre differential settings.

Delecour and Alister McRae both started Sunday's stages with little to really gain apart from extra mileage and more knowledge of their Lancer WRC's settings. So they concentrated on that, experimenting again with dampers and differentials. Delecour remained unsure of whether his centre differential was locking enough, but he still kept his Lancer in a relatively lonely ninth position. McRae finished in 14th.

Francois Delecour said: ''It's been okay today but we do need to work on this car's handling on the bumpier roads. The engine is good and the car itself feels very strong, but we could do with going to Corsica quite soon to find some better settings for the bumps.''

Alister McRae added: ''It's been a difficult rally. Monte Carlo's not really a nice place to learn a new car, and I'm still disappointed to have gone off last night. But we've got a lot of directions to go in with the car now, and a lot of work to do. There's not a lot of time before Corsica but I'm hopeful we can do some more testing work on asphalt before then. And I think we'll be closer to the pace in Sweden anyway.''

Kenneth Eriksson's and Toni Gardemeister's Skoda Octavias did not hit any significant mechanical problems during leg three. Toni Gardemeister consolidated his overnight 10th place, bringing his Octavia to the finish on his first drive for the Czech manufacturer. Kenneth Eriksson believed that his suspension was too hard for this morning's opening pair of stages but the Swede was generally satisfied to finish 13th after a long break from asphalt rallying. Skoda's Roman Kresta meanwhile crashed out on day two damaging his suspension after hitting a wall.

Toni Gardemeister said: ''I'm quite pleased to finish in the top ten on my first drive for the team. We had a few problems - we lost some power when I flattened the exhaust yesterday - but generally it's gone well. We're still learning more about the car in the changing conditions but it's quite a promising start. I'm looking forward to Sweden now.''

His team-mate Kenneth Eriksson added: ''I think our suspension was maybe a bit too stiff this morning. The car felt quite good on the dry roads but as soon as there was a bit of damp, it seemed to be very slippery. I actually felt that I was driving well but at the end of the stages, the times weren't so good. Perhaps that's down to just a general lack of traction. It hasn't been a bad event for us, although it would have been nice to get into the top ten. Our car has been pretty reliable, with only the little gearbox problem on the first day to worry us. And I'm quite out-of-practice rallying on asphalt, too - you have to have a good feeling for the surface if you're going to be quick and committed here in Monte Carlo.''

Hyundai's duo of Freddy Loix and Armin Schwarz both retired on the opening day. Loix crashed heavily in SS3 fracturing his left foot and Schwarz retired after he hit a rock 5km into SS4 and damaged his suspension beyond repair.

Schwarz said: ''The car felt good this morning, but then we got caught out on one icy corner. We understeered into a ditch and broke the right-front suspension. We could go no further. It's a pity, because we hadn't really been pushing hard because there were so many tricky places.''

Of the other entries Ford Puma driver Francois Duval scored a comfortable victory in the opening round of the FIA World Junior Rally Championship. The Belgian and his navigator Jean-Marc Fortin grabbed the top spot Saturday evening when leader Gianluigi Galli crashed his Fiat, and the pair consolidated their advantage during Sunday's tests to win the 1600cc, front-wheel drive category by more than four minutes.

Italian Nicola Caldani brought his Peugeot 206 home to claim second-place points, ahead of Lebanese driver Roger Feghali. Feghali impressed greatly en route to third with Swede Daniel Carlsson fourth - the third Ford Puma in a top six point-scoring position. On a rally of huge attrition, five of the seven Pumas finished, Martin Rowe being joined on the retirement list Sunday by Spaniard Marc Blazquez with a broken gearbox.

Peugeot's David Doppelreiter was fifth and Nikolaus Schelle (Suzuki Ignis) was sixth netting the final point position in the Junior category.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 28 cars (all Group A) restarted the rally

Retirements: 2 drivers

Today - Sunday 20 January:
Leg 3 started from Monaco at 07h33 and covered 270.22km, including 98.80km on four special stages.

Stage by stage summary - leg 3:

SS12 Sospel-La Bollene (32.85kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 22m 38.4
2. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 22m 39.4
3. Sainz (E) Ford 22m 39.6

Leaders after SS12:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 3h 12m 08.5
2. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 12m 27.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 14m 16.0

SS13 Loda-Luceram (16.55kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 12m 03.9
2. McRae (GB) Ford 12m 12.1
3. Sainz (E) Ford 12m 14.2

Leaders after SS13:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 3h 24m 12.4
2. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 24m 57.0
3. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 26m 30.2

SS14 Sospel-La Bollene (32.85kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 22m 02.2
2. McRae (GB) Ford 22m 12.9
3. Sainz (E) Ford 22m 13.0

Leaders after SS14:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 3h 46m 41.4
2. M?kinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 47m 27.0
3. Sainz (E) Ford 3h 48m 43.2

SS15 Loda-Luceram (16.55kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 11m 52.7
2. Panizzi (F) Peugeot 11m 55.9
3. Sainz (E) Ford 12m 03.2

Leaders in Monaco after SS14:
1. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 3h 59m 30.7
2. Loeb (F) Citroen +2m 00
3. Sainz (E) Ford +2m 01.6
4. McRae (GB) Ford +2m 43.9
5. Gr?nholm (FIN) Peugeot +2m 53.3
6. Solberg (N) Subaru +3m 15.5
7. Panizzi (F) Peugeot +4m 06.0
8. Burns (GB) Peugeot +5m 02.3
9. Delecour (F) Mitsubishi +5m 21.6
10. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +7m 28.3

Junior WRC Leaderboard after SS14:
1. Duval (B) Ford 4h 25m 06.2
2. Caldani (I) Peugeot +4m 14.9
3. Feghali (RL) Ford +7m 10.4
4. Carlsson (S) Ford +7m 24.1
5. Doppelreiter (A) Peugeot +9m 47.6
6. Schelle (D) Suzuki +9m 50.4

Final rally statistics:

Event:
The rally covered 1461.28km, including 388.38km on 15 special stages (including seven run twice). All stages were on asphalt roads closed to other traffic.

Starters:
55 cars (all group A) started the rally

Finishers:
26 cars (all group A) finished the rally

Stage winners:
Solberg (SS3, SS6, SS12, SS14, SS15)
Loeb (SS4, SS5, SS7, SS10, SS13)
Makinen (SS8, SS9, SS11)
Sainz (SS1)
SS2 was cancelled due to spectator congestion

Rally leaders:
Sainz (SS1-SS2)
Makinen (SS3)
Loeb (SS4-SS15)

FIA World Championships (provisional standings):

FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers (after round 1 of 14):
Makinen (FIN) 10, Loeb (F) 6, Sainz (E) 4, C. McRae (GB) 3, Gronholm (FIN) 2, Solberg (N) 1.

FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers (after round 1 of 14):
Subaru 12, Ford 10, Peugeot 4.

FIA Junior World Rally Championship (after 1 of 6 rounds):
Duval (B) 10, Caldani (I) 6, Feghali (RL) 4, Carlsson (S) 3, Doppelreiter (A) 2, Schelle (D) 1.