Loeb claims seventh Monte win

Just as testing as the first three days, despite Saturday’s two night stages on the Col du Turini being cancelled, day four saw Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena win the Rallye Monte-Carlo for the seventh time.

Two Citroën DS3 WRCs finished on the podium at this year’s opening round, with third place overall secured by Dani Sordo and Carlo del Barrio. Thanks to the fourth position of Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT now leads the Manufacturers’ World Rally Championship standings.

Flashback to Valence, early on Friday afternoon: while the crews headed off to complete the final two stages of the day, the Citroën Racing team were beginning to dismantle the service park structures. After covering some 393 kilometres, the five articulated lorries arrived in the Principality in the middle of the night. By dawn, everything was ready to welcome the DS3 WRCs in the place where the pits are set up for the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The switch of the rally base to the far south of France did not result in any milder weather conditions. Incessant rain fell in Monaco, turning to snow above 800 metres. The conditions meant the crews had to fit studded Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tyres again. The first loop was made up of two runs up the Col du Turini (Moulinet – La Bollène Vésubie), interspersed with a run through the Col de Loda (Lantosque – Luceram).

At the end of SS14, Sébastien Loeb couldn’t quite believe how difficult the conditions were: “It was just undriveable… I had to carve a line through a thick layer of slush, and we were aquaplaning all the time. You couldn’t go any faster than 30kph on the straight sections, otherwise you lose the car completely and you go off!” Forced to carve out the line for his rivals, Seb’s efforts certainly delighted Bryan Bouffier, who took his DS3 WRC to the top of the timesheets.

This stage saw a number of crews retire after going off. Dani Sordo’s and Mikko Hirvonen’s rivals made fatal mistakes at the same time. The Spaniard and the Finn thus moved up to third and fourth overall. “You had to stay on the road, the conditions were truly awful, totally mad,” reported Dani Sordo. “The second run on the Col du Turini wasn’t quite as difficult, you just had to keep to the lines. But in any case, I am not taking any risks to make sure I make it to the end.”

Less extreme, SS15 gave Sébastien Loeb a breather before taking on Turini again: “The first run had left two clean lines on the road, lines from which you could not afford to wander. Once again, it wasn’t very interesting for the drivers or the spectators, but we just had to make it to the end…”

When they returned to Monaco in the early evening, the crews set about choosing the least worn studded tyres for the two night stages on the Col du Turini. However, the cars had barely left the service park when the organisers of the rally announced that the final two stages had been cancelled for safety reasons.

The rally was therefore over, with the feeling of surprise quickly replaced by one of joy in the Citroën camp, which celebrated fittingly the achievement of its heroes. “It was a bit of strange end to the rally, but given the extreme conditions, we understand the decision,” admitted Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “The target we had set ourselves was to put two cars on the podium, and that’s exactly what we did. It’s also very pleasing to see the four DS3 WRCs end the rally in the top 5.”

In winning the Monte-Carl’ for the seventh time, Sébastien Loeb equalled the record of four consecutive wins held up to now by Tommi Mäkinen. “It’s been a little bit peculiar, not because of how the rally has gone, but because we have had every condition possible this weekend… apart from dry roads! I think this is the first Monte-Carlo that I have competed in where I haven’t used slick tyres at all. We dominated the event nearly from start to finish, so I’m pleased about that and I’m going to really savour this win, especially as in all likelihood it’ll be my last one here.”

“Obviously, I am pleased to mark my return to Citroën with podium finish,” said Dani Sordo. “In conditions which aren’t really natural for me, it really is a good result. There’s no doubt that I finished quite a long way behind both Sebs, but we quickly found ourselves in a different race. I can’t wait for the next rally!”

Mikko Hirvonen’s fourth place overall enabled Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team to finish the first round with a 19-point lead at the top of the Manufacturers’ World Championship standings. “I was perhaps a little fortunate at the end of the race, but I am really happy with this result,” confirmed the Finn. “It was so difficult that I have to be pleased to have made it to the finish in a good position! It’s really not bad in terms of the championship.”

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