Loeb continues love affair with Monte Carlo

 

Frenchman Sebastien Loeb kept his cool on the ice-covered roads of the French Alps today to cruise to a second successive victory in the Monte Carlo Rally.

The Citroen driver, runner-up in the world championship last year, lived up to his pre-rally status as favourite to win by one minute 12.6 seconds and emphatically stake his claim on the drivers' crown this season.

Estonian Markko Martin's final day attack which yielded two fastest stage times out of four enabled him to snatch the runners-up spot from Ford team-mate Francois Duval.

It was mighty close with Martin taking second place by just seven seconds overhauling Duval on the penultimate stage to deny the young Belgian his best-ever finish on a WRC event.

Finland's two-time former world champion Marcus Gronholm finished fourth, almost a minute-and-a-half behind, in an encouraging debut for Peugeot's all-new rally challenger.

Reigning champion Petter Solberg began the defence of the title he clinched in South Wales last November, when Loeb was ordered to ease off to ensure Citroen won the Manufacturers' title, with seventh place for Subaru.

The Norwegian limped home after going off the treacherous, tight road in the mountains above Monaco, damaging his suspension after whacking a wall on the penultimate stage when lying a comfortable fifth.

Solberg somehow got to the finish but had dropped many minutes and slipped behind Peugeot's Freddy Loix and Mitsubishi's Gilles Panizzi, who gleefully assumed fifth and sixth places respectively.

There was no repeat of the clean sweep enjoyed by Citroen last year with Spain's Carlos Sainz crashing out yesterday and Britain's Colin McRae driveless, a victim of new rules limiting teams to two scoring cars.