Thursday | 21 Jan 2016

SS1: First blood to Ogier

Sébastien Ogier got the defence of his World Rally Championship title off to a perfect start by topping the first stage time sheets at Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Stage info: SS1

Entrevaux - Rouaine, 21.25km
The main feature of the 2016 season-opener is the climb of the 1100 metres Col de Laval, which drivers crest shortly after the midpoint. After a narrow start on roads lined by a rock face, it opens out after the village of Le Champ and a short descent at 6.3km carries the risk of ice. The climb and descent of the col are on rolling roads but it narrows and becomes twistier near the finish.

The VW driver, who grew up in the mountains around Gap, was predictably the fastest through the 21.25km stage at Entrevaux-Rouaine to carve out an early 4.1s advantage.

If any of the Frenchman’s rivals thought his haul of three drivers’ titles in as many years would dampen his enthusiasm for more success, they were sadly mistaken. And even more galling was the fact the 33-year-old admitted he hadn’t pushed in the opening test.

“I was very cautious,” he said. “The conditions were not too bad but there were some places that were a bit slippery. I could have gone faster but I am here and that’s important.”

Ogier’s closest challenger was Britain’s Kris Meeke driving an Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3. With a limited programme of events in 2016 and no real pressure on his shoulders, Meeke seemed to be enjoying his new-found freedom behind the wheel. And he would have been faster than Ogier if he hadn’t lost some time.

“There was a hairpin near the start and I caught a lip on the inside and had to do a 360 spin to get going again,” he explained. “I lost seven or eight seconds – but that’s not going to lose us this rally.”

Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top three, a further 5.3s down, while VW team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was just behind in fourth as he adopted a safety-first approach.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville gave the new i20 WRC a steady competitive debut in fifth place, while M-Sport World Rally Team Ford returnee Mads Østberg completed the top six in his Fiesta RS WRC.

Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Rallye Monte-Carlo

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