The Rallye Monte-Carlo competitors had every possible condition thrown at them on day one of rally in the Ardèche, with wet and dry tarmac, icy patches, and in some places, roads covered with ice or snow.
Looking for their seventh win at this rally, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena came out all guns blazing as they built what is already a substantial lead over their rivals. Third and fourth overall, the Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen and Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio crews can also be pleased with how they fared on the opening day of the rally.
Le Moulinon – Antraigues and Burzet – St Martial: for this first day’s racing, the 73 crews permitted to start the rally were taking on two of the stages that have helped make the Rallye Monte-Carlo such a legendary event. And as every legend needs heroes, the competitors bravely battled with some extremely varied and typically wintry road conditions. Long before dawn and the cars left for the Ardèche, the team analysed and double-checked the data needed to decide on tyre choice. All three DS3 WRCs opted to fit studded Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tyres.
The large sections of tarmac visible on SS1 encouraged the drivers to save their tyres. “I didn’t really know what to expect next, there was over 25km of rough tarmac and I wasn’t sure that the studs were going to last,” explained Sébastien Loeb, second after the opening stage of the season. “My front tyres were fairly worn, but I still managed to set a good time on Burzet.” On a stage totally covered in snow, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT driver grabbed the overall lead after setting the fastest time.
Third at the day’s half-way stage, Dani Sordo was clearly excited about his progress: “I was a bit nervous this morning, as if I was about to start the first stage of my career! But everything went okay and I drove pretty well given the conditions. We are already quite a bit behind Seb, but I’m pleased with my start.” Sixth overall, almost a minute off the pace, Mikko Hirvonen was more circumspect: “It wasn’t the best of starts for us. I was too cautious when the road surface changed. Perhaps it will be a bit easier this afternoon.
After a thirty-minute service in Valence, competitors set out for a second run on the stages. As the road conditions were more varied, all of the competitors opted for a broad mix of tyres, with two supersoft Pilot Sport tyres, two studded Pilot Alpin snow tyres and two non-studded Pilot Alpin snow tyres.
Sébastien Loeb won both stages to move clear in the overall standings: “I wasn’t measuring my pace at all, because with the official timing system not working, I couldn’t change my rhythm in accordance with that of the other drivers. So I pushed hard throughout the afternoon. It paid off and we now have a healthy lead. But it’s only the start. There are still three long days to go.”
After climbing up to fourth place after SS3, Mikko Hirvonen moved past Dani Sordo into third on the day’s final stage: “It’s not too bad and it just shows how strange this rally can be! We have got ourselves back into a good position and now we need to keep going like this. It won’t be easy, but I am going to try to keep a good rhythm, go a bit quicker and keep out of trouble. Maybe we can catch Ogier…”
“Although Mikko got past me on the final stage, I’m not disappointed with the day,” added Dani Sordo. “It’s pretty good to be where I am, well placed to fight for a place on the podium. It was very difficult to stay on the road. When the ice and snow mixed with the mud, there was no grip at all. I’d be happy if the conditions were more consistent tomorrow.”