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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 January, 2004, 16:28 GMT
Loeb takes dominant win
French driver Sebastien Loeb in action in Monte Carlo
Frenchman Sebastian Loeb has taken a second successive victory in the Monte Carlo Rally, the first round of this year's world championship.

The Citroen driver led home Ford's Markko Martin by one minute 12.6 seconds, with Martin's team-mate Francois Duval third.

Double world champion Marcus Gronholm, the only other man to lead the rally, was fourth in the new Peugeot 307.

Reigning world champion Petter Solberg was seventh for Subaru.

Loeb took a safety first approach on the final day on Sunday because of problems with sheet ice posing a constant danger on the stages.

But he completed the closing 15th stage from Lantosque to Luceram with a comfortable cushion .

"It's great to start the season with a win," said Loeb, for whom this was a fifth world rally win.

"It's good for the morale when you get off on the right foot. It's very motivating for the whole team.

"My strategy was to start cautiously because of the difficult conditions and, knowing that Gronholm goes very fast in such conditions, then to build up rhythm when the roads were in better condition, and then to control. We really had a super race."

Martin and Duval's performances put Ford on top of the manufacturers' championship for the first time since 2001.

While Loeb savoured his success with the reigning world champions, there was disappointment for the man who pipped him to the drivers' crown by one point last year.

Solberg, hoping for his best finish yet in the most prestigious rally on the calendar, went from fifth to seventh on the final stage after breaking his suspension.

The trouble allowed Peugeot's Belgian Freddy Loix and France's Gilles Panizzi, in a Mitsubishi, to overtake him.

Gronholm said he was encouraged by the performance of the new 307 on its debut rally.

"I'm glad it's all over," said the Finn. "Maybe we could have been higher up if we had not slid off the road yesterday for 40 seconds but I can't complain about anything else."


1 Sebastien Loeb (Fra) Citroen at four hours 12 minutes 3.0 seconds
2 Markko Martin (Est) Ford at one minute 12.6
3 Francois Duval (Bel) Ford at 1:19.6
4 Marcus Gronholm (Fin) Peugeot at 1:26.8
5 Freddy Loix (Bel) Peugeot at 8:16.9
6 Gilles Panizzi (Fra) Mitsubishi at 10:11.6
7 Petter Solberg (Nor) Subaru at 10:42.2
8 Olivier Burri (Swi) Subaru at 17:49.1
9 Josef Beres (Slk) Hyundai at 19:43.1
10 Nicolas Bernardi (Fra) Renault at 23:38.1




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