Sebastien Loeb looks assured of a sixth Monte Carlo Rally victory and a perfect start to the 2012 World Rally Championship after retaining his lead through the Saturday night stages.
Only Sunday morning's five-kilometre power stage now stands between Loeb and the rally win, with the Citroen driver holding a 2m41.6s advantage after a serene run this evening.
Petter Solberg (Ford) continued to make inroads into the gap to Dani Sordo's Mini in second place tonight, but despite two blistering stage wins, the distance between them has proved just too big. Solberg got the gap down from over a minute this morning to just 18 seconds tonight, but needs Sordo to hit trouble on the power stage to have any hope of snatching second.
Mikko Hirvonen's hopes of getting the second Citroen onto the podium began to fade as Solberg picked up his pace today, and ended completely when the Finn lost a few seconds with a spin early on SS16. After that he began to drive conservatively to keep his fourth place safe.
At the foot of the top 10, Proton's extremely impressive return to the WRC came to a devastating end when P-G Andersson parked on SS16 with a minor fire on his car. Up to then, Andersson had been leading SWRC and - most notably given the poor SWRC entry - holding an excellent ninth overall, ahead of many World Rally Cars. Craig Breen is now the only SWRC contender still running.
Leading positions after SS17: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 4h29m12.1s 2. Dani Sordo Mini + 2m41.6s 3. Petter Solberg Ford + 3m00.7s 4. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen + 4m05.6s 5. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford + 6m00.8s 6. Francois Delecour M-Sport Ford + 6m55.7s 7. Pierre Campana Mini + 8m21.3s 8. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford + 10m27.2s 9. Martin Prokop Czech Ford + 16m06.3s 10. Armindo Araujo Araujo Mini + 16m09.2s