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2012-01-22 08:26

ROUND THE BENDS: Norwegian driver Petter Solberg hurtles through the hairpins in his Ford Fiesta on Stage 4 of the 2012 Monte Carlo rally on Saturday, the first round of the season. Image: AFP

MONACO, Monte Carlo - Eight-times World champion Sebastien Loeb kept his lead on the fourth day of the season-opening Monte Carlo rally while Petter Solberg closed the gap on Daniel Sordo in the fight for second place on Saturday.

Although Loeb failed to win a stage for the second straight day, the Frenchman still leads Sordo overall by 2min41.6.

Loeb took few risks in his Citroen, especially during the two evening stages, and he needs only to stay safe in Sunday's short final stage to win.

FANS AND FIREWORKS

"The conditions were very good, really dry," Loeb said. "Driving at night, with all the fans, the fireworks, it was magical. We enjoyed ourselves. Obviously you go a little less fast at night, but everything is fine."

Sordo, however, lost ground to Solberg. The Norwegian won three of the day's four stages to move within 19.1sec of the Spaniard, having been more than a minute behind overnight.

Mikko Hirvonen of Finland, Loeb's new team mate, won Saturday's other stage - the first of the day ahead of Solberg and Loeb - and is fourth place.

"I drove well, and I'm getting more and more used to the car," said Hirvonen, who drove for Ford last season.

Loeb finished the other three stages second behind Solberg; Sordo failed to place higher than fourth in any of the day's stages.

"It wasn't too bad, even if the tyres were a bit soft," said Sordo, who finished the first stage seventh. "I expected to lose more time to Petter."

Results after Saturday's first two of four special stages
1 Sebastien Loeb (FRA/Citroen DS3) 4hr00min10.9
2 Dani Sordo (ESP/Mini John Cooper Works) +2min30.7
3 Petter Solberg (NOR/Ford Fiesta RS) +3min10.6
4 Mikko Hirvonen (FIN/Citroën DS3) +3min41.1
5 Evgueni Novikov (RUS/Ford Fiesta RS) +5min13.2
6 François Delecour (FRA/Ford Fiesta RS) +6min49.3
7 Pierre Campana (FRA/Mini John Cooper Works) +8min:05.6
8 Ott Tanak (EST/Ford Fiesta RS) +9min18.0

Stage winners
Loeb 8 (SS1, SS3 to SS7, SS9, SS10)
Hirvonen 3 (SS12 to SS14)
P. Solberg 2 (SS11, SS15)
Latvala 1 (SS2), Sordo 1 (SS8)

Retirements
Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN/Ford Fiesta RS)
Thierry Neuville (BEL/Citroën DS3)
Sebastien Ogier (FRA/Skoda Fabia S2000)

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