Loeb still leads but Sordo retires

Sebastien Loeb continues to dominate the Monte Carlo Rally on day three, but his Citroen teammate Dani Sordo has retired from second place

Having lost time with a differential problem on Friday afternoon, Sordo restored his margin over third-placed Mikko Hirvonen (Ford) by winning today's first stage and going second fastest behind Loeb in SS12.

But in the following La Mastra 1 stage Sordo's Citroen C4 came to a halt. Reports from following drivers suggested that the Spaniard had made an error and damaged the car, but the team subsequently indicated that an engine problem was to blame.

Sordo's retirement means that Loeb is now nearly two minutes ahead of Hirvonen. The Finn was unable to match the Citroens this morning and also lost time by stalling at the start of SS11.

Despite his commanding advantage, Loeb said he was enjoying himself too much to back off.

"I try to push hard because I've got a really good feeling and it's really nice to drive," Loeb said. "I continue to push because you never know, we could have a puncture or something and then we could lose a lot of time."

The battle between Subaru's Chris Atkinson and Stobart Ford driver Francois Duval for what is now third place continues. Atkinson extended his lead over the Belgian by going third-fastest in SS9, before Duval closed in again in the next two stages, reducing the gap to 10.1 seconds.

Atkinson's teammate Petter Solberg remains fifth, albeit now 40 seconds behind Duval.

Local privateer Jean-Marie Cuoq took seventh place from Stobart Ford's Gigi Galli in the morning's first stage, but the Italian was able to reclaim the position by the end of the loop, with Sordo's retirement set to elevate them to sixth and seventh. Galli admitted that he was still getting up to speed on his return to the championship.

"We try to keep pace but I feel that I'm not good yet," he said after SS9. "I need to get used to the speed and everything."

Having recovered from 15th to ninth after his Thursday puncture, Jari-Matti Latvala's comeback drive was dealt a blow when his Ford developed hydraulics problems in today's first stage.

"We had to use the small lever for gear changing," he said. "The diff is not working and it feels like a front-wheel drive car at the moment. Unfortunately we were having a good battle for eighth position but I'm sure it's lost now."

Latvala lost time throughout the loop and has fallen behind PG Andersson in the new Suzuki SX4. The reigning Junior champion was delighted with the Suzuki's performance, as he set fifth-fastest time in SS9 and moved past both Latvala and Henning Solberg (Stobart Ford) to take ninth, which will become a potentially points-scoring eighth as Sordo moves down the order.

"We're very happy - it's amazing how good it's been this morning," said Andersson. "Yesterday we had lots of small problems, but today we've had no problems and I'm starting to feel comfortable in the car as well."

Leading positions after SS11:

Pos  Driver     Car      Time
 1.  Loeb       Citroen  2h13:43.8
 2.  Hirvonen   Ford      + 1:53.5
 3.  Atkinson   Subaru    + 3:05.3
 4.  Duval      Ford      + 3:15.4
 5.  P Solberg  Subaru    + 3:53.9
 6.  Sordo      Citroen   + 5:55.8
 7.  Galli      Ford      + 6:53.5
 8.  Cuoq       Peugeot   + 6:56.1
 9.  Andersson  Suzuki    + 8:26.3
10.  Latvala    Ford      + 9:15.9

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