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 Mäkinen, 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. Mäkinen 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 Grönholm to claim fourth.
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 Mäkinen, 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 Mäkinen 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 Mäkinen 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 Grönholm.
Mäkinen 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!''