Sebastien Loeb once again made the art of winning look effortless, winning the last day’s only stage – which just happened to be the bonus points powerstage – to finish the inaugural round of the 2012 World Rally Championship over 2 minutes up on his rivals and with 28 points to boot.
Loeb hadn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, and asserted his dominance in the final short sprint though Ste Agnes to Col de la Madone, with new team-mate Mikko Hirvonen backing the Frenchman up in second place, 1.2 seconds down the road.
“For sure it's always a great moment to start the season like this, especially in front of so many fans,” Loeb told World Rally Radio. “Full points in the first race is incredible and for sure it's the perfect start [to my title defence]. But Monte-Carlo is my rally and for the others we will have to see.”
The battle for second place culminated in a no-show. Petter Solberg had spent the previous day catching Dani Sordo at an alarming rate for the Spaniard, but with three worn tires on the former’s Fiesta RS, he couldn’t muster the blistering pace required to get anywhere near Sordo for second place. Surprisingly for a driver with so much history in the championship though, it was still Solberg’s first time on the podium in Monte Carlo.
The final point for the powerstage went to Evgeny Novikov, who has shown a new sense of maturity at the wheel of his Fiesta RS. The young Russian has been crash-prone in seasons past, but a level headed drive secured fifth place, equalling his best career result in the 2009 Rally d’Italia.
Francois Delecour ended his one-off WRC comeback in unusual fashion, allowing co-driver Dominique Savignoni to step behind the wheel of his Ford to mark the latter’s retirement from rallying. Predictably, they were a distant 52 seconds off the pace, but with both a large time gap and power steering problems for Pierre Campana, they easily retained the sixth place they had been holding for several days.
Just behind the third M-Sport Fiesta of Ott Tanak, the battle for ninth was still very much alive heading into the final stage. Martin Prokop started the powerstage three seconds up on Armindo Araujo‘s Mini, and it was the Czech driver who would prevail in the end by finishing 5th, just 4.4 seconds behind stage winner Loeb.
The other M-Sport Fords were not so lucky this week however. Matthew Wilson finished just outside the points in 11th, while Henning Solberg, whose car had been plagued with mechanical problems since the opening day, came 13th.
Splitting the two was Kevin Abbring, driving for Volkswagen Motorsport as team-mate to the retired Sebastien Ogier. He may have been the highest placed S2000 car, but not being registered to the SWRC, it was left to Craig Breen to pick up maximum points in class as the sole survivor, after previous leader P-G Andersson‘s Proton Satria Neo had died just short of the Col du Turini yesterday evening. Michal Kosciuszko may not have had a perfect rally, but with a class lead of over 10 minutes, he was never going to be threatened for the lead of the PWRC race. He finished 30th overall at the wheel of his Mitsubishi Lancer, with an eye to upgrading the car before his next appearance in the series.
1. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) 4hrs 32mins 39.9secs
2. Dani Sordo (Mini) +02:45.5
3. Petter Solberg (Ford) +03:14.2
4. Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen) +04:06.8
5. Evgeny Novikov (Ford) +06:03.4
6. Francois Delecour (Ford) +07:47.9
7. Pierre Campana (Mini) +08:31.4
8. Ott Tanak (Ford) +10:34.7
9. Martin Prokop (Ford) +16:10.7
10. Armindo Araujo (Mini) +16:16.6