SCOTLAND’S Stuart Loudon got his World Rally Championship campaign off to a successful, but soggy start when he slithered to a stunning podium finish in Monte Carlo.
The 25-year-old from Glasgow, co-driving for Irishman Robert Barrable, guided the duo’s WRC-2 Ford Fiesta R5 home in third place, despite the horrendous conditions. With torrential rain and heavy snow dominating the three days in the mountains north of the millionaires’ principality, Loudon acknowledged it was the toughest rally of his career.
“We only got here through a late entry, but to come away with a podium on such a difficult, difficult rally is just brilliant,” Loudon said yesterday after the podium ceremony outside the Monaco Palace in front of Prince Albert
“It has been an exhausting week and the torrential rain, snow, ice and fog have been a real eye-opener. I competed here last year, but this was so much more difficult: definitely the most difficult rally of my career so far.”
Loudon and Barrable, in the Tunnock’s-backed Fiesta, held a comfortable second place in the WRC-2 battle early in the event.
But midway through the opening day, the car developed a burning oil smell in the cockpit.
“Our first thought was that we had broken the gearbox casing,” Loudon explained. “We still had 37 miles of stages to complete.
“Rob really nursed the car through the opening day’s final three stages to ensure we could continue. But it was so frustrating; we had to switch the electronic setting on the car to ‘road mode.’
“The result of that was that while we’d initially been setting top-two fastest times, we were suddenly struggling to break into the top six.”
The drop in performance — eventually tracked to a leaking turbo return pipe — relegated the crew from second in WRC-2, to fourth.
Weather conditions made tyre choice especially tricky on Day 2, yet Loudon and Barrable continued to make great progress.
As an indication of how quickly they were adapting to the stages, the 26-year-old driver from Dublin was 39.2 seconds faster through the Vitrolles-Col D’Espreaux-Faye test the second time around which, at 30.6 miles, was the longest stage of the rally. On arrival in Monaco at the end of the event’s longest day, the duo had moved up from fourth in WRC-2 (and 30th overall) to second WRC-2 (and 13th overall).
But hopes of clinging on to second frustratingly disappeared on the final day as they powered up the Col de Turini for the first time.
As the torrential rain and snow continued to batter the South of France, the duo struggled to see the slippery road as the windscreen completely misted up.
Unable to reach the windscreen to wipe it, the intrepid pair had to do all-but four miles of the 25-mile loop of two stages completely blind, losing two-and-a-half minutes and dropping to third in WRC-2.
“Yeh, obviously that was disappointing,” Loudon continued, “but I’m extremely proud of Rob to get through his first Monte Carlo Rally and to score a podium result. He’s driven very well, and it’s been far from easy, particularly today, when the windscreen misted up and neither of us could see anything.
“It’s so easy in those situations to get frustrated and throw the car off the road, but Rob kept calm and it’s paid off with a good result.
“I’m really happy that our 2014 campaign has started off with such good championship points. But what’s better is that we know we have the pace to be higher than third.”
Defending world champ Sebastien Ogier won the event overall in his VW, finishing 1min 18.9secs ahead of Bryan Bouffier’s Ford.
Colin McRae protegee, Irishman Kris Meeke, finished a solid third on his first full-season outing for Citroen.