Saturday midday wrap: close battle for podium places

Loeb closes on victory on Rallye Monte-Carlo



21 January 2012 - 18:10
Saturday midday wrap: close battle (...)

While Sebastien Loeb might be edging towards his sixth victory on Rallye Monte-Carlo, the final podium positions remain up for grabs with three stages of this thrilling World Rally Championship season-opener left to run.

Driving a Citroen DS3 WRC, Loeb leads the legendary rally by 2m30.7s following Saturday’s opening brace of stages in the mountains above Monaco. Despite his comfortable margin out front, Loeb said he must continue to maintain his focus and not make any mistakes.

“I didn’t take any risks, I’m just trying to find the right rhythm and to be concentrated,” said Loeb. “But it’s really difficult to find the right rhythm when all you have in your mind is to make no mistakes.”

Dani Sordo started day four with second position all but guaranteed. However, the Spaniard said he struggled for pace on stages 14 and 15 and was unable to pinpoint exactly why he couldn’t go faster in his MINI John Cooper Works WRC. As a result his advantage over third-placed Ford driver Petter Solberg has been trimmed to 39.9s.

Solberg, in a factory Fiesta RS WRC, was coming under pressure from Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen after the Finn won stage 14. But with Hirvonen reporting a lack of confidence on the damp patches on stage 15, which Solberg won, the Norwegian is now 30.5s clear of Hirvonen prior to the two night stages getting underway.

M-Sport Ford Fiesta driver Evgeny Novikov continues to shrug off his lack of Rallye Monte-Carlo experience to hold a strong fifth place on his first appearance on the event. The Russian is 1m36.1s clear of former Monte-Carlo winner Francois Delecour, whose similar car has been hit by a powersteering problem.

Pierre Campana is seventh in the second factory MINI, despite a small intercom problem nearing the end of stage 14. Ott Tanak is eighth with Super 2000 World Rally Championship pacesetter PG Andersson ninth for PROTON. Martin Prokop completes the top 10 in his Fiesta after moving ahead of MINI driver Armindo Araujo on stage 14.

Kevin Abbring is 12th for Volkswagen Motorsport with Matthew Wilson 13th and Go Fast Energy team-mate Henning Solberg 14th. Craig Breen, Andersson’s only other challenger for SWRC glory, is a solid 15th with Bryan Bouffier’s recovery from his day one delays taking him up to 16th in his Peugeot.

Michal Kosciuszko, from Poland, continues to top the Production Car World Rally Championship leaderboard in his Mitsubishi Lancer.

Following service on Monaco’s harbour front, crews will repeat this afternoon’s two stages prior, the first of which gets underway at 19:34hrs local time. The rally concludes with the 5.16-kilometre Power Stage, which awards bonus points to the fastest three drivers, on Sunday morning.


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