Stage data: SS3, Le Moulinon – Antraigues (37.10 kilometres)
A classic Rallye Monte-Carlo stage, which was last used in this format in 1994. It starts from the Ardeche village of Le Moulinon, south west of Valence on narrow, twisty and technical roads then climbs gradually, passing through small villages, until reaching the top of the Col de la Fayolle at the midway point. From there the road widens and it’s a fast descent, on bumpy roads to the finish at the village of Antraigues.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Loeb stretched his overall lead of Rallye-Monte Carlo to 26.6sec by setting the fastest time on the repeated Le Moulinon stage, run earlier as SS1.
The Citroen DS3 driver completed the test in 25m16.2s, 12.1sec quicker than Jari-Matti Latvala who was next fastest in his Volkswagen Polo R. Dani Sordo was third fastest, stopping the clock 15.4sec slower than Loeb.
With an allocation of just 30 winter tyres, many drivers elected to run a ‘crossover’ choice on the largely dry SS3, typically with a combination of two winter and two asphalt tyres fitted front to back or, like Loeb, on diagonal corners.
“It’s not so nice to drive without full studs but I think this is the fastest way to do it,” explained Loeb. “We are here. We need to think about how we use our snow tyres. I expect more snow tomorrow and on Friday. We have to take care and think like that.”
Latvala collected a 30 second road penalty before SS2 when work to try and soften his car’s front suspension on a road section overran. After service however Latvala was far happier with the feeling in his Polo R. “I am pleased with that time, after the changes in service the car feels much better,” he said.
Sordo, meanwhile, was loving his competitive debut in the DS3. “In the dry sections especially the car is incredible to drive – the way it works is almost unbelievable,” he said.
Hirvonen was fourth fastest but didn’t enjoy driving on a mixed set of tyres. “Okay, I’m happy to be here but it’s very difficult to get a good feeling like this,” he said.
Fifth fastest Sebastien Ogier was satisfied to have got through the stage cleanly and hold second place overall. “It’s okay, not a bad time,” he said, before adding that he wouldn’t be chasing Loeb’s lead, saying, “I don’t care about Loeb’s times!”
At the midday service the problem with Michal Kosciuszko’s MINI John Cooper Works was traced to a faulty fuel injector. The Pole’s luck showed no sign of improving on SS3 when the replacement injector proved to be faulty as well. Things went from bad to worse when he also picked up a puncture and had to stop mid-stage to change the wheel. He eventually completed the stage 7m14sec slower than Loeb.
After the finish control, crews set off on the 30km liaison section to the village of Burzet and the start of SS4.