26 Jan 08
At the end of the third day of Rallye Monte Carlo Sebastien Loeb remains firmly in the lead; on course to clinch a record breaking fifth Monte victory and get his world title defence off to the best possible start.
Loeb started the day 56 seconds ahead of his Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo in second, but after Sordo's retirement in the morning with an engine problem, the Frenchman will start Sunday's final day more than two minutes ahead of the rest of the field. "I'm enjoying myself," said Loeb. "It's a nice rally, a lot of spectators everywhere so it's a good atmosphere. The stages were interesting and not too tricky today so they've been good to drive, and I'm looking forward to the five remaining ones tomorrow."
The third day of the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship was the longest of the event. Drivers faced 132.78km of competition, divided between six speed tests in the Ardeche Mountains to the north-west of the rally base in Valence.
Crews left the town in darkness shortly before 0600hrs for the opening loop of three special stages, which were repeated in the afternoon after a 30-minute service. Clear skies and icy patches greeted drivers on the early stages, but roads were generally dry and ice free for the rest of the day.
Sordo got off to a good start by going fastest on the opening test, SS9, but Loeb was back in dominant form on SS10. When Sordo retired with a broken turbo on SS11, Loeb's closest rival became Ford's lead driver Mikko Hirvonen, who was nearly two minutes away. "After Sordo retired we took it a bit easier," said Hirvonen. "Okay, we are now up to second, and if I can finish the rally like this it would be very important points for the drivers title. There are just four or five difficult stages to go tomorrow, so we'll see."