Monte Day 1: Loeb Leads after Latvala Crashes

Posted on 18. Jan, 2012 by in Event Coverage, Monte Carlo Rally, World Rally Championship, WRC 2012

Sebastien Loeb (Photo: Citroen WRC)

In the first rally since clinching an eighth consecutive WRC title, Sebastian Loeb has opened up more than a minute lead over rivals at the 2012 WRC opener, the Monte Carlo Rally. The opening day consisted of just four stages and classic Monte Carlo conditions, slick tarmac with ice at elevation.

“We didn’t have the best tires this morning, but I knew that I could put in a big performance this afternoon because I had the right tires. As soon as we hit the tarmac between two snow-covered sections, the extra-soft tires provided me with exceptional grip,” said Loeb.

Loeb’s biggest threat, Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala, set a blistering pace after an inspired tire strategy from teammate Petter Solberg. Latvala earned a massive 52.7 second lead after winning the Burzet-St Martial stage. Latvala had been using a “cross over” tire setup, where only two tires have studs, and are put on diagonal corners of the car.

However, the grip was not enough to keep Latvala on the road. He crashed out on stage three, ending his rally. There is no Super Rally in this year’s Monte Carlo.

“I really wanted to fight for the victory. I thought I would be able to gain time on the icy section, because that’s where I had been so quick in the morning. I was pushing too hard, and it’s so easy to make a mistake in those conditions. Everything was in place to do well, and that is what is killing me inside,” said Latvala.

With Latvala out, Loeb drove largely unchallenged to win the last stage of the day.

Mini’s Dani Sordo finished second, one minute 4.2 seconds behind Loeb. Sordo had a close call on the second stage, hitting a bridge and damaging his suspension, but the crew were able to make repairs in service.

Dani Sordo on attack (Photo: MINI WRC)

Ford’s second driver, Petter Solberg finished the day in third, just 0:01 behind Sordo. Ford team boss Malcolm Wilson required Solberg to use only soft compound tires – no studs – as an alternative strategy to Latvala. The effort seemed to work, with Solberg making good time on the dry portions of the road. On the ice it “was interesting,” said Solberg.

Loeb’s former teammate, Sebastien Ogier put the Super 2000 Skoda into fourth place, over a minute back from Solberg. The Skoda is serving as a development platform for Volkswagen’s WRC team, slated to launch in 2013. Evgeny Novikov rounds out the top five.

Citroen’s second factory driver, Mikko Hirvonen, suffered brake problems partway through the day, and finished sixth, 2:30 back from the lead.

“It was a difficult day but I am pleased to be here,” said Hirvonen. “There are nevertheless some positives I can take away. This morning, I was a little nervous. But this afternoon, I had good pace on the sections where the grip was consistent. It could have been worse and I think I still have a chance of a podium finish.”

Day two consists of six stages making up over 130km of stage. Conditions are likely to be the same, making the roads a challenging mix of surfaces that will demand the utmost care and attention. A new scoring system also means there will be no split times sent to drivers on stage.

“Holding a one-minute lead over Sordo and Solberg means I can’t afford to relax at all!” said Loeb.

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