Sebastien Ogier kicked off the defence of his World Rally Championship title in style after winning Rallye Monte-Carlo on Saturday night.
The VW Motorsport driver won seven out of 15 stages to take victory by 51s from privateer Bryan Bouffier.
But Ogier was forced to draw on all of his world championship-winning experience to make it to the head of the field after suffering a nightmare first day.
Running first on the road, he encountered the worst of the weather conditions and an altercation with a bridge didn’t help his cause either. Partway through day one he was languishing in 9th place.
However, he bounced back on day two to take what would prove to be an unassailable lead. His victory proved to be his first on the Monte Carlo stages as a World Rally Championship driver.
“It’s been a tough weekend,” the Frenchman said. “I had it in my mind that victory was still possible when I lost a lot of time on the first day, but I’m happy the rally is finished.”
Bouffier impressed with an assured drive to second in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The Frenchman led the rally for seven stages but gave way to Ogier after he spun on SS9.
Citroen’s Kris Meeke completed the top-three and was only 35s slower than Bouffier after 15 stages. The Briton battled with Robert Kubica early on but the pressure dropped when the ex-F1 driver crashed into a ditch on SS9.
“This rally has been so crazy,” Meeke said. “If I can finish this rally with no mistakes, I think I can do it on any rally.”
Mads Ostberg completed a memorable weekend for Citroen as he finished fourth, just under a minute behind Meeke, and Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth in his VW Polo.
The Finn didn’t have the best of starts after stopping to change a puncture on day one, but he ended the rally well by taking maximum points on the rally-ending ‘Power Stage’.
Elfyn Evans was another debutant to emerge unscathed from the perilous Rallye Monte-Carlo in sixth.
Andreas Mikkelsen was the final manufacturer finisher in seventh, while privateer Jaroslav Melicharek completed the top eight in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC.