Driving a Citroen DS3 R3T, Poutot won two of the opening day’s four stages and ran reliably all day but rarely seemed at ease in the varied conditions. However he was the chief beneficiary of an unlucky opening day for his rival Chardonnet, also in a DS3 R3T, who picked up two costly punctures and spent the rest of the day playing catch up.
“It’s funny,” said Poutot, “It’s my country, my place and all the time today I’ve discovered new things about it. We’ve seen things on this rally we haven’t experienced before. I hated this day and now I’m looking forward to tomorrow and going south very soon.”
Chardonnet got his first puncture on the rally’s opening stage after he clipped a rock and had to stop to change the wheel. More than two minutes adrift after SS1 he recovered well, going 1m13.5s quicker than Poutot through SS2, and 12.3sec quicker on SS3. But his recovery took another knock on SS4 when another rock strike resulted in his second puncture, 6km before the finish line.
“It’s not difficult to do a mistake in the snow and ice and the big puncture earlier today cost us a lot,” Chardonnet acknowledged. “Now the plan is to do no mistakes and drive, drive, drive!”
Anther Frenchman, Quentin Gilbert, was to have started in a third DS3, but he was forced to withdraw his entry after losing his driving licence for a speeding offence just before the rally.