Citoren's Sebastien Loeb put in a faultless performance to claim his second consecutive Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo victory yesterday [Sunday], the Frenchman winning in his Xsara WRC by more than one minute.
Loeb, who had lead from the end of leg one, when he snatched it away from Marcus Gronholm, dominated the event, pulling clear of the rest of the field during Saturday's three competitive stages. In the end he beat Markko Martin by 1 minute 12.6 seconds.
"The conditions were harder than last year, but the fight was easier," said Loeb at the conclusion of the event. "Everything went well and the Xsara once again showed its true class.
"I have a special feeling for this event. It gave me some disillusions two years ago [when I was demoted to second], but since then, it has gone really well. This rally is legendary, and to win it for a second time gets our season off to the best start possible."
Behind him, a battle raged between Ford drivers Francois Duval and Martin and it was not until the penultimate stage that Martin overhauled his team-mate to claim second position.
"It's been an incredibly tough rally," noted Ford's number one, Martin. "We've had snow, ice and fog, and these Monte-type conditions are quite new to me so to finish second is much more than I expected.
"This weekend has been playing on my nerves for a long time. I was close to leading on Friday but, on Saturday morning, I lost so much time in the fog. Perhaps I need to eat more carrots! I set out to get second place back, and managed to do so, but I've been counting down the stages and I'm glad it's over. It's a great start to the season for Ford, but now we've got to keep this up for the rest of the year."
Duval meanwhile had to make do with third, but was he ordered to let Martin through - as the Estonia is more likely to be in with a chance of taking the drivers' title? Speaking in the post-event press conference, when asked by a journalist if Ford boss Malcolm Wilson asked him to back off, the Belgian diplomatically avoided the question.
"You will have to ask Malcolm directly," said Duval, "I just did my job and drove well. I stalled twice today, and Markko chose the right tyres in the Turini and was faster there. I did not want to take any risks."