Nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb showed that he has lost none of his speed since his last FIA World Rally Championship outing 15 months ago as he blitzed the opening stage of the 2015 Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The 40-year-old rally legend finished 22 seconds faster than second placed Ott Tanak and a further 8.9 seconds ahead of reigning champion Sébastien Ogier on the 21.31km Entrevaux – Rouaine opening stage.
“So much ice around.” said Loeb. “It didn’t feel like we were going fast at all. Three kilometres before the end I told [my co-driver] Daniel ‘That’s it, I’ve stopped – completely stopped’ That’s really how it felt. And then we saw the time!”
While Loeb’s pace stunned the opposition, Tanak also impressed as he pushed the M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC to a time that eclipsed Ogier by 8.9 seconds.
Although the Estonian made the stage look easy he admitted it was a tough drive “So difficult, but we didn’t have any moments – and we saw that many people did. I feel so good to be back in a factory team. I’m doing my best and trying to be as relaxed as possible.”
Ogier finished the stage in third place after opening the rally with the first run. “Almost full ice everywhere.” he said. “Quite little grip but okay, we tried to start very carefully. Not so much risk for us in here. Not really fast but not bad. An easy tyre choice though – no doubt you need studs here.”
British interested was led by Kris Meeke who impressed as he finished fourth place with a tidy run just 1.7 seconds behind the reigning champion.
Martin Prokop was running faster than Ogier at the first split but a brush with a barrier on the final part of the stage saw him lose time, eventually finishing down in twelfth place. “When you try to go fast it’s impossible,” he said.
Dani Sordo also run out of luck as he tried to make up time, “I lost time in the first split.” said the Spaniard. “I braked too late, went off and stalled the engine. My co-driver Marc had to get out to help push us out of the ditch.”
The luck wasn’t with the French trio of Bryan Bouffier, Sébastien Chardonnet and Stéphane Lefebvre who all suffered damage on the opening stage.
For SS2 it was a 19.68km challenge from Norante to Digne-Les-Bains and Ogier was ready to fire back, but despite setting the fastest time for the stage rued his earlier tyre choice and admitted it was tough being the first car on the stage.
“I’m very happy to be here because the stage was difficult. I was surprised by my time on the first one.” said the two-time world champion.
“First on the road is very difficult and I have done a wrong tyre choice for this one. Studs were the correct choice for the first stage – but not this one.”
Ogier would round the day out with the second fastest overall time.
On paper team-mate Latvala had a good run but following the stage he admitted that the boot on the car kept opening and distracting him. The Finn still managed to finish the stage second fastest and head in to the second day with the third fastest overall time.
Much like Ogier, Loeb had issues with his tyre choice for SS2 and would finish the stage in third and while he lost time to Ogier he would top the time sheets at the end of day 1.
Robert Kubica lost a lot of time on the second stage following a spin, “We spun, and when we were in reverse we lost the lights and the alternator I think.” he said.
“First I lost all lights then the car was switching on and off. We managed to reset it and get going – which is the main thing – but we lost a lot of time.”
[tab title=”Day 1 – Overall” icon=”entypo-clock”]
|1||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen DS3||30:08.2|
|2||Sebastién Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen Polo R||30:21.5||+13.3|
|3||Jari-Matti Latvala||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen Polo R||30:44.3||+22.8|
|4||Ott Tanak||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||30:46.8||+2.5|
|5||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||30:55.6||+8.8|
|6||Kris Meeke||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen DS3||31:08.0||+12.4|
|7||Andreas Mikkelsen||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen Polo R||31:08.1||+0.1|
|8||Thiery Neuville||Hyundai Motosport||Hyundai i20||31:15.0||+6.9|
|9||Mads Ostberg||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen DS3||31:16.9||+1.9|
|10||Henning Solberg||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||31:25.8||+8.9|
*Top 10 times
[tab title=”SS1″ icon=”entypo-clock”]
|1||Sébastien Loeb||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen DS3||15:53.5|
|2||Ott Tanak||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||16:15.5||+22.0|
|3||Sébastien Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen Polo R||16:24.4||+8.9|
*Top 3 stage times[/tab]
[tab title=”SS2″ icon=”entypo-clock”]
|1||Sebastién Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen Polo R||13:57.1|
|2||Jari-Matti Latvala||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen Polo R||14:07.8||+10.7|
|3||Sebastién Loeb||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen DS3||14:14.7||+6.9|
*Top 3 stage times[/tab]