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(Attn Editor: See links for WRC team photos and video for editorial use at the end of this release)

NINE-time champion Sebastien Loeb marked the start of his retirement year with a dominant victory in one of the most demanding events of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte-Carlo.

After leading the 2013 opening round comfortably since the second stage on Wednesday, Loeb and long-time co-driver Daniel Elena clinched their seventh Monte win unexpectedly early when organisers cancelled the final two stages stages scheduled for Saturday night, due to spectator traffic congestion on roads made treacherous by rain and snow.

The Citroen Total Abu Dhabi D3 driver pilot drove faultlessly to win by 1 minute 39.9 seconds.

Second was Sebastien Ogier, delivering a superb debut for Volkswagen Motorsport and its Polo R WRC, while Dani Sordo secured third in another DS3.

The final leg in the mountains above Monaco produced dramas galore. Snow followed by rain created conditions so difficult that in places speeds were reduced to just 20 kmh.

Three of the top seven on the leaderboard, Evgeny Novikov, Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hanninen, crashed out on the first pass of the daunting Col de Turini stage.

Organisers then cancelled the day’s final two tests on safety grounds when huge numbers of spectators brought the narrow roads to gridlock.

Loeb drove cautiously to emerge with his 77th WRC victory. Having stepped back from full-time rally driving, he will contest only three more events in this season’s 13-round calendar.

“I’m always happy when I win and Monte-Carlo is one of the most exciting rallies I’ve done,” he said.

“This one was really, really difficult. The conditions were extreme compared to what we have usually and winning wasn’t easy.”

The four-day rally, covering 425.93 km over 16 stages, was based in Valence in southeastern France for the opening three legs, before relocating to Monaco.

While Loeb’s victory was not a surprise, second for Ogier delighted the 29-year-old Frenchman.

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He refused to be drawn into comparing stage times with Loeb, who will tackle only four rounds this season and therefore is not a rival for the driver’s title.

“I’m so happy, it’s like a victory for me,” said Ogier, who won two stages.

“I’m a competitor and I’ve never been happy to finish second, but this weekend it was really the target and to start the season like this is amazing.

“I’ve been waiting for one year, I’ve done so many tests and it was frustrating sometimes and now here we are with the Polo on the pace already.”

Sordo’s podium came on his first rally since rejoining the Abu Dhabi Citroen team this season.

He battled with Novikov most of the rally but when the young Russian ripped the rear left wheel from his Ford Fiesta RS, the Spaniard was promoted into third.

“It has been a very difficult and special Monte-Carlo, not like a normal tarmac rally at all. It has been very easy to make a mistake or lose time.

“Yeah I’m happy, especially because we didn’t have to go out on the Turini again,” Sordo said.

Mikko Hirvonen cut a frustrated figure for much of the week. But the Finn persevered with his DS3 and the demise of Novikov and Latvala, who hit a wall, allowed him to take fourth.

Bryan Bouffier claimed fifth in another DS3 while Mads Ostberg rounded off the top six in a Fiesta RS, after overcoming confidence problems early in the rally and broken right rear suspension on Saturday.

The finishers will take the official podium today in the 13th century Place du Palais, in front of the Monaco royal palace.

WRC teams team then face another snowy challenge in round two, Rally Sweden, on 7-10 February.

As they continue their journey on the world’s most demanding motorsport championship, they will tackle different extremes of conditions in countries including Mexico, Argentina, Greece and Germany, before arriving on the sub-tropical New South Wales Coffs Coast for round 10, Rally Australia, on 12-15 September.

RESULTS, Rallye Monte-Carlo (WRC Rd 1)

1 S. Loeb/D. Elena (Citroen) Total time 5hr 18min 57.2sec
2 S. Ogier/J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen) Gap +1:39.9
3 D. Sordo/C. Del Barrio (Citroen) +3:49.0
4 M. Hirvonen/J. Lehtinen (Citroen) +5:26.3
5 B. Bouffier/X. Panseri (Citroen) +8:13.1
6 M. Ostberg/J. Andersson (Ford) +12:03.7
7 M. Prokop/M.Ernst (Ford) +23:27.3
8 S. Wiegand/F. Christian (Skoda) +29:34.5
9 O. Burri/G. Duval (Peugeot) +35:38.2
10 M. Kosiuszko/M. Szczepaniak (Mini) +36:28.0

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Driver standings (after Rd 1)

1 Sebastien Loeb 25 points
2 Sebastien Ogier 18
3 Dani Sordo 15
4 Mikko Hirvonen 12
5 Bryan Bouffier 10

About Rally Australia

Rally Australia on 12-15 September 2013 will be the 22nd WRC event in Australia and the third since it moved to New South Wales from Western Australia. The 2011 rally attracted more than 13,000 individual visitors to the Coffs Coast, generating more than 64,000 bed nights and a net economic impact of $14.8 million, according to Destination NSW. The shire and forestry roads of the Coffs Harbour, Nambucca, Bellingen and Clarence Valley local government areas provide a true challenge for the WRC drivers against a magnificent backdrop of subtropical coastal and hinterland scenery.

About the FIA World Rally Championship

The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) is widely regarded as the world’s most challenging motorsport championship. Rounds in 13 countries pit drivers in highly-modified versions of popular production cars over a series of timed “special stages” on surfaces varying from gravel and asphalt to snow and ice. Started in 1973, the WRC over the years has been a battleground for makes including Toyota, Subaru, Ford, Citroen, Fiat, Audi, Mitsubishi, Mini and Peugeot. Volkswagen and Hyundai are poised to join the series, which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators in some countries and a huge global television audience. The WRC is regulated and controlled by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for motorsport worldwide.

For further information, please contact:

Ben Rainsford Chris Nixon
Chairman Media Manager
Rally Australia M. +61 418 759 417
M. +61 419 816 227 E. [email protected]

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Dallas Dogger

Dallas Dogger is one of the team of commentators for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.