Loeb makes quick getaway in Monte Carlo

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The Independent Online

The Frenchman Sébastien Loeb launched his pursuit of a fourth consecutive world title last night, charging to and early lead in the Monte Carlo Rally.

Eager to emulate the Finnish greats Tommi Makinen and Juha Kankkunen, who both have four world titles to their credit, Loeb needed little time on the first stage to adapt to his new Citroën C4. He dominated the first timed section to come in 8.5 seconds ahead of his Spanish team- mate Dani Sordo, with last year's winner Marcus Gronholm, of Finland, 14.8sec down.

In the second leg Gronholm lost more ground in his Ford to finish with a deficit of almost 30 seconds. Loeb's performance came as a relief after he missed the last few events of 2006 after breaking an arm in a mountain bike accident.

Sordo hung on to second after his good run in the first leg in southern France. The Finn Mikko Hirvonen was fourth overall in the provisional standings more than 50 seconds behind Loeb.