Stage data: SS1, Le Moulinon – Antraigues (37.10 kilometres)
A classic Rallye Monte-Carlo stage, which was last used in this format in 1994. It starts from the Ardeche village of Le Moulinon, south west of Valence on narrow, twisty and technical roads then climbs gradually, passing through small villages, until reaching the top of the Col de la Fayolle at the midway point. From there the road widens and it’s a fast descent, on bumpy roads to the finish at the village of Antraigues.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier got Volkswagen’s World Rally Championship campaign off to a sensational start by winning the opening stage of the Rallye Monte-Carlo in the German manufacturer’s brand new Polo R WRC.
The Frenchman completed the 37km test from Le Moulinon in a time of 27m31.8s, beating his Citroen rival, defending world champion Sebastien Loeb, by 3.7s.
After snow flurries on Tuesday, skies were clear as crews left the service park in Valence to make the 45km journey to the start of the opening test. Roads around Valence were largely dry but sub zero temperatures meant there were still patches of snow around. And after a dry start to SS1, a treacherous 7km section of hard packed snow remained on the high altitude approach to the Col de la Fayolle.
Studded winter tyres were the most popular of the four choices on offer, even though the dry sections risked damaging the studs.
Ogier, 28, leapt from his Polo at the end of the stage to check his tyres, before declaring himself delighted with the result. “It’s a good start!” he said. “But we have more than 400km still to go, so really it’s nothing – now we have to carry on.”
With another long stage to come before the midday service, Loeb was concerned about the state of his Michelins. “What can we do?” he said. "I tried to save them on the first part of the stage but it was very long - I think about 25km of dry asphalt. The tyres were moving around a lot so I destroyed them for sure.”
Fellow Citroen DS3 WRC driver Dani Sordo was third quickest, 16.5s slower than Loeb, but satisfied with his first performance on his return to the team.
Mikko Hirvonen was fourth in another Citroen. “It was difficult to find the balance between saving the tyres and attacking. Did I save them enough? I don’t know – we’ll see on the next stage,” he said.
Evgeny Novikov rounded off the top five, setting a time 29 seconds slower than Ogier in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Lotos World Rally Team driver Michal Kosciuszko got off to a bad start, dropping 2m22s after his MINI John Cooper picked up an engine problem. “My first stage in the MINI was going okay but then the engine sound changed,” he said. “ I don’t know what’s wrong. I need to speak to the team.”
After the finish control, crews set off on the 30km drive to the village of Burzet and the start of SS2.