Ogier secures Monte Carlo win
|By Matt Beer||Friday, January 23rd 2009, 23:48 GMT|
Sebastien Ogier got his 2009 season off to the perfect start by clinching Monte Carlo Rally victory at the first attempt.
The Citroen World Rally Championship driver was making a one-off appearance in the Intercontinental Rally Championship, driving the BFGoodrich-funded Kronos Peugeot 207.
Ogier took the lead when the hitherto dominant Juho Hanninen picked up a puncture on his Skoda late on Thursday, and proceeded to control the rest of the event, winning by almost two minutes.
"It's very, very good - a perfect feeling," said Ogier. "I drove very carefully and now it's finished. I think I had a good strategy this weekend, because I also drove carefully and I made no mistakes. All the others wanted to push a lot and did a lot of mistakes and went off."
Freddy Loix took second place in the Peugeot Belgium 207, and was full of praise for Ogier - while emphasising that he had prioritised his title bid in the knowledge that Junior WRC champion Ogier was not a full-season IRC contender.
"I think Sebastien was the most consistent one - no mistakes and clean driving," said Loix. "We're really driving for the championship, and I can only lose in that situation."
Despite losing five minutes to a trip off the road yesterday and then suffering a puncture today, Stephane Sarrazin charged back to third place on the final leg, winning the final two night stages and completing a Peugeot clean sweep of the podium.
"Maybe I took too many risks because I went off two times," Sarrazin admitted. "Monte Carlo is difficult, and I made too many mistakes to win this rally. But we did a good job and we are here at the end."
Sarrazin's late burst of speed ensured that he came out on top of his battle for third with Skoda's Jan Kopecky. The Czech driver was still satisfied with fourth having struggled with dire power steering problems for half the rally.
"We are very happy because the beginning was very, very, very difficult and we had a lot of problems," Kopecky said. "We are at the finish and I think we have a very good car. Now we just need to make small steps and try to improve."
His teammate Hanninen had crashed out of third place earlier today while trying to make up for his Thursday puncture. The Finn was one of many front-runners to fall foul of the constantly changing conditions, with Peugeot UK's Kris Meeke having a massive accident when fourth this morning, reigning champion Nicolas Vouilloz breaking his suspension, and former world champion and multiple Monte Carlo winner Didier Auriol crashing out in the very first stage of the rally.
The Abarths of Giandomenico Basso and Anton Alen completed the top six - although both drivers were frustrated by the various misfortunes and incidents that had disrupted their rallies.
Toni Gardemeister's Astra-run car should have been the best of the Abarths, as the Suzuki WRC refugee ran second to Ogier heading for the final loop, only to retire with a broken alternator on the final evening.
Pos Driver Car Time 1. Sebastien Ogier Peugeot 4h40:45.7 2. Freddy Loix Peugeot + 1:43.6 3. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 2:21.6 4. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 3:17.3 5. Giandomenico Basso Abarth + 4:28.0 6. Anton Alen Abarth + 10:49.7 7. Frederic Romeyer Mitsubishi + 20:30.3 8. Olivier Burri Abarth + 21:23.0 9. Luca Betti Renault + 24:04.8 10. Patrick Artru Mitsubishi + 25:50.7