Sébastien Loeb cruised to his second successive Monte Carlo Rally victory on Sunday after dominating the first two days of the arduous event. The Citroën star scythed through the French Alps to finish more than a minute ahead of Ford's Markko Martin.

Sébastien Loeb cruised to his second successive Monte Carlo Rally victory on Sunday after dominating the first two days of the arduous event. The Citroën star scythed through the French Alps to finish more than a minute ahead of Ford's Markko Martin.


Despite making a relatively slow start, Loeb wrested the lead from Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm at the end of the opening day, but drove conservatively in the final leg, knowing that a mistake on the icy mountain roads could rob him of victory.


"It's important to start the season like this," said Loeb. "After that I'm a lot more confident. At the beginning I started a little bit carefully. After that I saw good conditions and tried to push hard. Then in the fog we made a big difference. Today I tried to be careful again. Now we have Sweden and that's very exciting."


Estonian Markko Martin, who won Sunday’s two stages through the landmark Col de Turini, was locked in a day-long battle with team-mate Francois Duval. The Estonian carved 9,4secs out of the young Belgian's advantage on the opening stage of the final day. Duval fought back on the next test, regaining 3,1secs, but couldn't beat Martin’s Focus WRC 03 on the last two stages.


Reigning world champion Petter Solberg was quickest on SS13, his first fastest stage time of 2004, but his Impreza hit a wall on the final stage. Hampered by a broken suspension, the Norwegian slumped from fifth to seventh. Monte Carlo proved a nightmare for Solberg, who also collided with a fence post on Friday’s opening stage. He reached the finish on Sunday with a wheel strapped to his car's roof.


Meanwhile, Gronholm and Peugeot were satisfied with the 307 WRC's début on an event that has been kind to neither in the past. A couple of mistakes by the former champion saw him drop back to fourth after a strong start on Friday. His team-mate Freddy Loix was typically solid if unspectacular and snatched fifth position from Solberg when the Norwegian crashed late in the event.


"I'm glad it's all over," said Gronholm. "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."


Gilles Panizzi grabbed three points for Mitsubishi on the Japanese manufacturer’s return to the sport. The Frenchman complained of steering and handling problems for much of the event, but performed admirably on day two.


Privateer Olivier Burri rounded out the top eight in his Subaru, benefiting from the retirements of works drivers such as Carlos Sainz (Citroen), Mikko Hirvonen (Subaru) and Gianluigi Galli (Mitsubishi), who all crashed.


Loeb set only the fourth quickest time in Sunday's opening run through the Turini, where thousands of fans had camped overnight and sheet ice posed a constant danger on the final descent.


"Some of the reported icy patches were not there anymore but I didn't want to be caught out by one of the remaining ones," said the Frenchman. The treacherous conditions of the previous two days took a heavy toll on the field, with just 22 of the original 43 starters leaving Monaco on Sunday morning.