27 Jan 08
Citroen's Sebastien Loeb has won the Rallye Monte Carlo, the opening round of the 2008 World Rally Championship. Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena maintained an iron grip on the event throughout Sunday's five final stages, and completed the rally in their C4 WRC more than two and a half minutes ahead of second placed Mikko Hirvonen.
By collecting his fifth Rallye Monte Carlo victory, the Frenchman becomes the most successful driver ever on the event, which was first run in 1911. WRC win number 37 also means Loeb has started the defence of his 2007 drivers' championship title in the best way possible.
Hirvonen, in the factory Ford Focus WRC, completed an excellent debut rally as the team's lead driver. Although unable to match the pace of the Citroens on the asphalt roads, the Finn was consistently their biggest threat.
The final day's action saw the crews complete two loops of stages, which included the legendary Col de Turini section, where thousands of spectators traditionally gather to cheer on their heroes. After the four mountain stages the rally concluded with a spectator superspecial stage using parts of Monaco's famous Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit.
Behind Hirvonen an exciting battle raged for third between Australia's Chris Atkinson in his Subaru Impreza WRC and Belgian driver Francois Duval in a Ford Focus WRC. The pair started the final day of competition with the Subaru driver ahead by 20 seconds, but as they began the Monaco Superspecial Duval had reduced the gap to just 1.1sec. Amazingly, the pair set exactly the same time around the 2.7km street circuit, giving Atkinson the final podium place - his best WRC result since he was third on Rally Japan in 2005.
The final day of competition brought no changes to the top 10 positions, but Citroen driver Conrad Rautenbach retired from 21st when he crashed his Xsara WRC just metres before finish line. The Zimbabwean lost control of his car as it approached the swimming pool section of the circuit, and it spun off backwards into a wall. Rautenbach had been lying 21st overall before the accident.