Disputed on stages in the Ardèche, day one of the 80th Rallye Monte- Carlo more than lived up to expectations. Sébastien Loeb and DanielElena let their driving do the talking as they chalked up three fastest times out of four. The eight-time World Champions ended the first day atthe top of the standings. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen had a more difficult opening day in their first competitive outing in a Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC. The Finnish driver pairing ended the day sixth in the overall standings.
The tension was already palpable as the driver pairings chose their tyres for the rally’s first two special stages. TheCitroën DS3 WRCs opted to fit four soft slick tyres and put studded tyres on the two spare wheels. Sébastien Loeb andDaniel Elena kicked off the season with the fastest time on the Le Moulinon – Entraigues stage. However, as expected,the morning’s decisive times were set on the Burzet – St Martial stage, with around ten kilometres of snow-coveredroads.
As the cars stopped at the end of SS2, Loeb had lost over 50 seconds to Jari-Matti Latvala, who had used extra-softtyres. At that point, the Citroën driver trailed the leader by 30 seconds in the overall standings. “I didn’t think the timedifferences would be so big. We took a bit of gamble in putting on a mix of slicks and studded tyres,” commented Sebwhen he got back to the Valence service park. “It wasn’t much fun driving in these conditions, but we didn’t come outof it too badly. At a Rallye Monte-Carlo, this kind of gap is never insurmountable.”
The day continued with a second run over the stages in the Ardèche. This time with extra-soft tyres fitted, SébastienLoeb was able to hit back at his rivals. After setting the fastest time on SS3 by four tenths of a second, he then movedinto the overall lead in the rally after SS4, in which Latvala went off.
“We didn’t have the best tyres this morning, but I knew that I could put in a big performance this afternoon because Ihad the right tyres. As soon as we hit the tarmac between two snow-covered sections, the extra-soft tyres provided mewith exceptional grip,” analysed the eight-time World Champion at the end of day one. “It’s a shame that Jari-Matti isout of the race because it would have been very close this evening and we could have looked forward to a good scraptomorrow. In any case, holding a one-minute lead over Sordo and Solberg means I can’t afford to relax at all!”
Mikko Hirvonen had a more taxing day. After making a good start on SS1, the Finn acknowledged that he had beentoo cautious on SS2. At the start of the afternoon, he broke a rear brake disc following a minor impact on SS3. He wasforced to remove the brake disc, and had to complete the day’s final stage with no brakes on one wheel. “It was adifficult day but I am pleased to be here,” confirmed the 2011 WRC runner-up. “There are nevertheless some positivesI can take away. This morning, I was a little nervous. But this afternoon, I had good pace on the sections where the gripwas consistent. It could have been worse and I think I still have a chance of a podium finish.”
“We threw ourselves into a real Monte-Carlo,” concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “Each of thespecial stages in the Ardèche loop needed a specific tyre configuration and so we had to compromise. It would havebeen somewhat premature to draw any conclusions after the first loop and we can now assert that we had a good day,especially if we take the limited use of our quota of extra-soft tyres into account. Mikko had a minor impact which costhim some time, but he remains in contention for a spot on the podium. We are only at the beginning and there are stillseveral tricky parts to negotiate, especially on Friday.”
NEUVILLE AND VAN MERKSTEIJN FORCED TO RETIREThe two Citroën DS3 WRCs prepared by Citroën Racing Technologies had to drop out of the race at the end of this firstday of racing. After making a promising start to the day, notably with the fifth best time on SS3, Thierry Neuville andNicolas Gilsoul had a collision on SS4. With part of their front right-hand axle broken, the Citroën Junior World RallyTeam driver pairing couldn’t make it to the Valence service park. The fourth stage also proved fatal for the driverpairing of Peter Van Merksteijn and Eddy Chevaillier, after they went off. As the Rally 2 (formerly known as SupeRally)is not permitted at this Rallye Monte-Carlo, both driver pairings have been forced to retire from the rally altogether.
OVERALL STANDINGS1 Loeb / Elena Citroën DS3 WRC 1:30:30.12 Sordo / del Barrio Mini Cooper JCW WRC +1:04.23 Solberg / Patterson Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1:05.24 Ogier / Ingrassia Skoda Fabia S2000 +2:21.15 Novikov / Giraudaet Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2:26.56 Hirvonen / Lehtinen Citroën DS3 WRC +2:30.07 Delecour / Savignoni Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2:49.98 Campana / de Castelli Mini Cooper JCW WRC +4:09.79 Tanak / Sikk Ford Fiesta RS WRC +4:14.010 Andersson / Axelsson Proton Satria S2000 +4:33.8