23 January 2004
Loeb takes early honours in Monaco.
Sebastien Loeb has taken the early advantage for Citroen today [Friday] on the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo and holds an 18.3 second advantage over Ford's lead driver Markko Martin.
Loeb, who won the final test of the day [SS6], by 5.9 seconds, commented: "Considering the conditions at the start of the leg, I decided to be very careful. It was very tricky, and I wanted to avoid making any mistakes. After that, the roads changed, and gradually, we 'got back in the game', gaining confidence and increasing the pace. In the last special stage, I was totally at ease with my Xsara WRC, and I was able to really push."
Marcus Gronholm meanwhile has had a mixed day in the new Peugeot 307 WRC, the Finn breaking the gearbox in stage four and then struggling with the wrong tyre choice in the final stage. Despite this, the Finnish former double World Champion led for most of the day, only slipping to third after stage six.
"This morning's stage was much more slippery than I thought, but the performance of the 307 is fantastic," noted the Finn. "We had a very good feeling with the car all day, but the problem on SS4 worried me. We were lucky that it happened close to the end of the stage, but after it was fixed we could keep going. The last stage wasn't so good, but I'm happy with the way that everything has gone today. We're in a good position to fight tomorrow."
Carlos Sainz holds fourth in the second Xsara WRC with young Francois Duval in a fine fifth, despite struggling with the ever-changing conditions.
"The car has been great and I've made no mistakes," said the Ford driver, "I've enjoyed the day even though it has been so difficult. Stephane [Prevot - my co-driver] has been superb, slowing me down and ensuring I was careful in the really slippery sections. Tomorrow's stages are twisty and slower, which I don't like so much, but I will try to regain fourth place."
Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg is sixth, the Norwegian's campaign off to a bad start when he skidded into a fence post in the first stage. 'Hollywood' though is not worried by his rather average start.
"It's been difficult today, what with being first on the road and being forced to make some very difficult tyre choices," said the Norwegian, "As the temperatures rose, the amount of snow and ice became very unpredictable, but that's how it is. I'm happy with where I am, my plan was always to be between fourth and sixth at the end of the first day. Tomorrow, perhaps we'll try more speed, but I have a lot of respect for this rally and can't be stupid like last year. I wanted to come through the first day cleanly and I've done just that."
There has been only one works retirement, the Mitsubishi of Gigi Galli, which slide off the road in stage five, 1.5 kms from the start, beached two metres from the road side. Prior to that the Italian had been leading the charge for the returning Mitsubishi, fourth fastest through SS3 and consistently in the top ten. The fact his car was not damaged in his off, merely added to his misery.
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