Fri Day 3 -SS11: Loeb starts leg 3 with stage win
The thermometer registered -13°C in La Cime du Mas, but the biting wind present yesterday has calmed to leave more pleasant conditions for the thousands of fans lining the roadsides. Blue skies, bright sunshine and trees bending under the weight of snow – classic Rallye Monte-Carlo stuff.
The first 10 kilometres in the valley were wet asphalt, but once the test started to climb, the roads were snow covered. Studded tyres were the only sensible option for the mountains, but it meant drivers had to look after their tyres on the initial asphalt.
Rally leader Sebastien Loeb was first into the test in his Citroen DS3 and duly set fastest time. There’s not much surprises the unflappable Frenchman, but even he was blown away by the Rally Sweden-like conditions.
“Incredible. The nicest stage of the rally so far. There was more than 20km of full white snow, sunshine and snow banks. I wasn’t in a situation where I needed to push too hard and I didn’t take any risks. I was careful in the fast downhill and I’m here without any mistakes,” he explained.
Second quickest was the Volkswagen Polo R of Sebastien Ogier. After ceding time to Loeb on the asphalt, Ogier reeled him in on the snow and finished just 1.5sec behind. Not that he minded because, as we should all know by now, he’s not worried about comparing his times to his former team-mate.
“It wasn’t easy because it was the first time for me on this stage and it’s my first Monte in a World Rally Car. I preferred to be safe and I could be faster,” he said.
Norway’s Mads Ostberg was chatty at the finish, a sign that he was happier this morning. Third fastest for the Qatar M-Sport man in his Ford Fiesta RS was a great performance.
“We did a good job on the Tarmac. I’m improving on the Tarmac with snow tyres. And my snow driving was OK too. I’m pleased with the stage,” he said.
The battle for third in the leaderboard between Dani Sordo and Evgeny Novikov continued to rage. Novikov was fourth fastest in his Fiesta RS, closing the gap to the Spaniard to just 7.4sec as Sordo dropped time with a spin after the rear of his Citroen DS3 caught a snow bank.
“I will fight, there’s no question,” said the pumped up Russian.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth fastest in a Polo R, the Finn rueing the fact he didn’t have much previous experience of this stage.
Juho Hanninen and Mikko Hirvonen were next up. Hanninen reflected that he pushed too hard on the downhill section to the finish and went too sideways, while Hirvonen’s hopes of closing on Novikov took another knock and he is now more than 30sec behind.
Bryan Bouffier lost well over a minute in his Citroen DS3 after going off in the final third of the stage. “Thanks to the spectators who helped us to continue. It’s a disappointment but that’s it,” he said.
Skoda Fabia S2000 driver Sepp Wiegand was once again fastest in the WRC 2 category, despite saying he had driven cautiously. "It was difficult, very slippery, so we took no risks," said the German, who is 4min 12.1sec clear at the top of the standings. Armin Kremer was second fastest with Yuriy Protasov third.
Citroen DS3 R3T driver Sebastien Chardonnet, the sole remaining WRC 3 entrant, adopted a careful approach in the snowy conditions. He completed the stage cleanly to remain on course for a maximum points haul on Saturday.
click: wrc.com/monte ss11
SS12: Ostberg nets maiden stage victory
Mixed conditions offered tyre selection headaches, especially as teams had to choose rubber for both this stage and the following Sisteron test before leaving service. Sections of clean asphalt were interrupted by icy corners and patchy snow and that meant full studs were again the option for most.
The roads became increasingly dirty as more cars came through the stage but that didn’t worry Mads Ostberg who claimed fastest time from ninth on the road in the Qatar M-Sport Fiesta RS – his first stage win on his Rallye Monte-Carlo debut.
It’s been a tough week for the Norwegian but he was 2.1sec faster than team-mate Evgeny Novikov and revealed that changes to his car had boosted his confidence.
“I had a good rhythm and a new set up on the car worked well,” he said. “It was very dirty and we had one big moment. It was dry in my notes and it looked dry, but there was a lot of mud on the road.”
Second fastest for Novikov was sufficient to promote him to third on the leaderboard, relegating Dani Sordo who lost time with a spin. “Very difficult, very slippery and very narrow, but everything was fine,” said the Russian, whose few words summed up the views of all the drivers.
Sordo hinted that the set-up of his Citroen DS3 wasn’t perfect and the rear of the car was moving. “I stopped near the beginning. I touched the throttle and the car spun. I didn’t do so well afterwards because conditions were tricky and it’s hard to see where the dirty places are,” said the Spaniard, who was ninth fastest and lies 8.6sec behind Novikov.
A rejuvenated Mikko Hirvonen was third in the stage, 3.4sec behind Ostberg. “Conditions were changing all the time and it was melting in places, but I’m quite happy with the drive,” explained the Finnish Citroen DS3 pilot.
Next up was Sebastien Ogier, the Volkswagen Polo R driver saying with a glint in his eye: “It’s quite difficult especially because Loeb had dragged snow onto the road in the cuts. I hope I put more snow on the road for the others!”
The Frenchman was 1.0sec quicker than rally leader Loeb. “It was not nice to drive. There was always snow on one side of the road, left or right, but there were never two wheels on the same grip. When you braked the wheel on the snow always locked. I didn’t push,” he explained.
Jari-Matti Latvala was sixth fastest, the Polo R pilot again sounding frustrated. “I thought I was driving OK, but it seems not. We have a radio problem so I have no idea of the split times. I don’t know what speed to drive at,” he said.
Bryan Bouffier was seventh despite a clutch issue which meant he had to leave the stop line by firing up his Citroen DS3’s engine ‘on the key’ while in gear. “I hope it will be possible to repair it,” he said.
WRC 2 category leader Sepp Wiegand stopped on the road section before the stage with a broken battery cable. The battery wasn’t charging, but the German made repairs and made it safely though the stage in his Skoda Fabia S2000. He was again fastest from Yuriy Protasov and Armin Kremer.
Sebastien Chardonnet, sole survivor in the WRC 3 category, was a remarkable 12th quickest in his two-wheel drive Citroen DS3 – faster than all the WRC 2 cars.
click: wrc.com/monte ss12