The third day of the Rallye Monte-Carlo took the competitors from Valence to Monaco. In the Vercors, Citroën Total World Rally Team’s DS3 WRCs produced some genuinely stunning performances, thanks to an inspired tyre choice.
At the front, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena stretched their lead to beyond the two-minute mark, while Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen moved closer to third place after setting their first fastest stage times in the DS3 WRC.
The third day of racing featured three long stages, each run only once. The morning’s loop, made up of the St-Jean-en-Royans – Font d’Urle (SS11) and Cimetière de Vassieux – Col de Gaudissart (SS12) stages, looked like it would be one of the rally’s decisive sections. After crossing the Vercors and stopping one final time at the Valence service park, only the Montauban s/Ouvèze – Eygalayes (SS13) stage remained before reaching Monaco.
Combining its experience with information from the early starters and the weather forecast from Météo France, the Citroën Total World Rally Team analysed the various options before choosing the tyres for the Vercors loop. The DS3 WRCs left the service park with four Michelin Pilot Alpin studded tyres and two Pilot Sport SS1 supersoft tyres as spares. Their rivals having adopted a different strategy, the DS3 WRCs had a tough time of it on SS11. However, at Monte-Carlo more than elsewhere, performances must be judged over an entire loop!
On the Col du Gaudissart, the four studded tyres on the Citroëns worked like a dream. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen took full advantage of them to set their first fastest stage time in a DS3 WRC. Their made up 39s on Dani Sordo, and a massive 1m46s on Petter Solberg! “It’s good to confirm my progress with a fastest time,” acknowledged Mikko. “I felt good in the car with the four studded tyres fitted. The handling was consistent and I was able to push the way I wanted. We have closed the gap to Petter, but I’m not going to take too many risks to catch him.”
Meanwhile, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena had stretched their lead to beyond the two-minute mark: “We knew that the weather might be difficult today. That’s why I kept pushing yesterday to try and open a bit of a gap at the front. If we had chosen the wrong tyres this morning, then I would almost certainly have lost the lead in the rally! Far from doing that, we’re now in a strong position… if the rest of the rally is run in dry conditions.”
This time running on slick tyres, Mikko Hirvonen set another fastest stage time between Montauban s/Ouvèze and Eygalayes. The gap to Petter Solberg was cut to just 23.8s by the end of the third day. “When the grip is consistent, I feel very good in the car,” confirmed Mikko. “There are still 90km of stages to complete, so taking third spot on the podium is by no means out of the question!”
“Without overlooking the difficulties of the last two days, I think I can say that we have probably negotiated the hardest part,” emphasized Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Tyre choice for the stages in the Vercors was particularly tricky. The rally could have been decided at that point. Under normal conditions, Seb and Daniel should now be able to control the race. Mikko and Jarmo had a very good day, which confirms that they are gradually growing in confidence. Tomorrow will give them the chance to confirm their feel for the car and perhaps get closer to a place on the podium.”
In the Valence service park, the crews took down the structures, which will be reassembled in the port of Monaco by midday tomorrow. Before taking on the legendary Col du Turini, the day will kick off with a 45-minute service period, starting at 1.15pm.