(Reuters) - Semi-retired Frenchman Sebastien Loeb won the Monte Carlo Rally for the seventh time on Saturday after the final part of the race was cancelled because too many spectators turned up for the last two stages.
“The organisers ... have stopped the event early, after huge numbers of spectators forced the cancellation of the final two stages on safety grounds,” the official World Rally Championship website (www.wrc.com) said.
The results after the 16th stage became the final classification with nine times world champion Loeb taking his 77th victory in the world championship despite being only a part-timer this season.
Although Loeb is not challenging for an astonishing 10th title in a row, with his focus switching to sportscar racing, he has made clear that he still wants to win the four rounds of the 13-event championship that he is contesting.
“I’m always happy when I win, and Monte Carlo is one of the most exciting rallies I’ve done. This one was really, really difficult. The conditions were extreme compared to what we have usually and winning wasn’t easy,” he said after leading from Wednesday’s second stage.
Snow and ice in the mountains around Valence and north of Monaco made for challenging conditions, even with studded tyres over the infamous Col de Turini, but Loeb never faced a serious challenge.
His compatriot Sebastien Ogier, who was second on his debut for championship newcomers Volkswagen, could see the bigger picture and was content to settle for a safe second place knowing that Loeb was not a championship rival.
“I’m so happy, it’s like a victory for me,” he said after finishing one minute 39.9 seconds behind Loeb. “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.”
Spain’s Dani Sordo took third place for Citroen after a battle with Russian Evgeny Novikov, whose hopes disappeared when he hit a mountain wall and lost the rear left wheel of his Ford. Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen finished fourth.
The second round of the championship is in Sweden next month.
Reporting by Julien Pretot/Alan Baldwin; Editing by Pritha Sarkar