Monte Carlo Rally 2012 - Day Three
When Sébastien Loeb emerged from the Citroën motorhome to get in his DS3 on day three of the Monte Carlo Rally the world champion's mind was focused on his tyre choice for the upcoming Saint Jean en Royans and Cimetière de Vassieux stages where surprise snow more or less settled the outcome of the Rallye Monte-Carlo this time last year.
In addition to the rain, the temperature was reasonably mild in Valence which sits on the left bank of the River Rhône. The question mark concerned what was happening high in the nearby Vercors Mountains, near Col de la Machine, Col de l'Echarrasson and the cross-country skiing resort, Font d'Urle.
At the Stop Control of SS12, the thermometer displayed 5°C and rain was falling from the low grey clouds, while patches of mist shrouded the forested mountain sides. According to the teams' ice note crews however, there was a nastily-place portion of ice on the test.
"Yes, studded Michelin snow tyres were absolutely the best choice this morning," announced Seb Loeb at the stage finish. "I stalled my engine on the start line, but Solberg was still 44 seconds down at one point according to the split times I received." Both Citroën factory drivers, Loeb and Hirvonen, were on studded Michelin Alpin WRC tyres all-round. The Finn even posted the best time, his first with the DS3 WRC, while Pierre Campana's Mini was third quickest on studded tyres.
For the second year running, Petter Solberg made a poor choice for the 'Vercors' loop, and his fastest time on 'St Jean en Royans' was of little consolation. With two non-studded Michelin Alpins at the front, and two Pilot Sport asphalt tyres on the back wheels, the Norwegian's Ford dropped almost two minutes to Loeb over the 24km of SS12, a result which gave second-placed Dani Sordo some welcome breathing space.
So going into the final day of the rally Loeb holds a 2.12 minute lead over Dani Sordo's MINI who in turn is just over one minute ahead of a revitalised Petter Solberg in the number 2 works Ford Fiesta who has a motivated Mikko Hirvonen coming up on the rails a mere 23 seconds behind. The scene is set for an epic finale to the rally on Saturday.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 3h31m25.2s
2. Dani Sordo Mini + 2m12.4s
3. Petter Solberg Ford + 3m22.2s
4. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 3m43.0s
5. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 4m28.2s
6. Francois Delecour M-Sport Ford + 6m39.1s
7. Pierre Campana Mini + 7m45.1s
8. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 8m44.8s
9. P-G Andersson Proton + 13m20.8s
10. Armindo Araujo Araujo Mini + 14m40.7s
20th January, 2012