Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb racked up his 68th career victory and his sixth win on the Monte Carlo Rally, underlining his status as the most successful driver in the event’s 80-year history.
Having been absent from the WRC calendar for the past three years (offer joining the rival Intercontinental Rally Challenge) Monte Carlo made a triumphant return with a marathon five-day long itinerary.
One of the early leaders, in changeable conditions, was Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala but the young Finn was distracted by a patch of ice and crashed into retirement on S54. From then on it was business as usual, with Loeb taking and then extending an impressive lead. This was despite a complicated tyre choice on the second day, as drivers tried to find consistent grip in conditions that ranged from dry asphalt to sheet ice.
The wrong tyre selection meant that Petter Solberg, on his debut with Ford, dropped nearly a minute to MINI driver Dani Sordo on day two as the duo were fighting for the runner-up slot. In the end Sordo was able to hold off the Norwegian, who was nonetheless able to finish third and secure his best-ever result in Monte Carlo. He described the penultimate day’s driving as: “the most fun I’ve had in a rally car since 2004.”
Neither of them, though, had any answers to Loeb, who not only won the rally but also picked up three bonus championship points by going quickest on the Power Stage.
“It’s always a great moment to begin the season like this especially in front of so many fans,” Loeb said. “Full points in the first race is the perfect start to my title defence. But Monte Carlo is my rally: for the others we have to see.”
Loeb has a new team-mate for this year: Mikko Hirvonen, who moved from Ford. The Finn said that he took some time to adapt to the Citroen D53 WRC in competition, but he grew in confidence as the rally went on, setting three fastest stage times and claiming fourth overall.
Sebastien Ogier, Loeb’s team-mate last year made his competition debut with Volkswagen Motorsport driving a Skoda Fabia Super 2000 while the German company develops its all new Polo WRC. Despite the Super 2000 car having much less horsepower and torque than the World Rally Cars, Ogier astonishingly ran in the top six, before pushing a little too hard and having the biggest accident of his career on day two.