Fickle weather adds to Monte challenge
Four seasons in one stage
Entrevaux - Rouaine, 21.31km
The opening test of the season, broadcast live on television, has not been used since 1983. It starts in exposed countryside before a tricky downhill section likely to be icy. The following climb of the Col de Laval is flowing, but the final section is twisty and testing.
The nine-time world rally champion mastered the icy conditions in his DS 3 to storm to a time that was a resounding 22s faster than his closest challenger, Ott Tanak.
With in-car split times banned for the new season, Loeb had no idea he had trounced his rivals by such a staggering margin. As he took off his crash helmet at the stage end and looked at the time sheets, his face was awash with shock.
“I said to Daniel (Elena, Loeb’s co-driver) three kilometres before the end that it felt like we were stopped,” he explained. “The road was full of ice everywhere and it was very, very difficult. But I’m happy for this time.”
Tanak was thrilled with his first stage performance as a full-time factory driver in M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC. “The secret was that we didn’t have any moments,” the Estonian said. “Moments distract the rhythm.”
Third fastest was reigning world champion, Ogier. He was 30.9s slower than Loeb’s benchmark time. It was a nightmare start for the VW Polo driver, but he openly admitted he’d played the first 21.31km of the rally safe. “There was not so much risk for me,” he said.