Monte debrief: Part One

We look back at the season opening Rallye Monte-Carlo, and one of the most challenging editions for years.

Driver of the rally: Sébastien Ogier
Being born close to the host town of Gap was something of an advantage for the world champion [above]. But Ogier's local knowledge was restricted.

He didn't know where every patch of black ice lay in wait and his knowledge of the ever-changing weather was as limited as the next man. However, that wasn't enough to stop the M-Sport Ford World Rally team driver taking his fifth consecutive win on his 'home' event.

It wasn't a trouble-free passage to a maximum haul of championship points, but Ogier's experience and class on the snow and ice-covered asphalt allowed him to dodge more trouble than his rivals.

One to forget: Thierry Neuville
With an impressive 2017 campaign fresh in his mind, the Belgian had high hopes he would be able to steal an early championship march on his rivals in the mountains above Monte-Carlo.

But by the end of the opening 36.59km Thoard - Sisteron stage, his event was effectively over. As his car started to spin on a patch of ice, Neuville quickly grabbed the handbrake in a bid to save himself.

Sadly, all four wheels locked and he was powerless to prevent the car sliding onto a snow bank, costing him more than four minutes.

Surprise of the Rally: Ott Tänak
How longtime M-Sport Ford man Ott would fare in his new seat at Toyota was one of the big questions before Rallye Monte-Carlo.

And the Estonian's answer came loud and clear with a stunning second place. Of course, Ott had already shown huge potential in 2017, but the speed with which he settled into his new surroundings, and the pace he wrung from his Yaris WRC on his competitive debut shocked many onlookers – including team boss Tommi Mäkinen who admitted to being “very, very, very surprised."

Turning Point of the Rally: SS1: Thoard - Sisteron
At most 'normal' rallies you wouldn't expect the opening stage to be so vital, but this is the Monte - and Sisteron is no ordinary stage.

Run this year in darkness, and in the reverse direction for the first time, drivers warned pre-event that this one was likely to be the toughest challenge. A treacherous section of black ice ensured they were correct - and the stage effectively set the tone for the whole event.

Expected frontrunners Kris Meeke, Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville all fell victim to the icy conditions and plunged out of podium contention while Ott Tänak, Jari-Matti Latvala and Craig Breen also dropped back. Ogier too had a stop on the stage, but with luck on his side, he still set the fastest time - beginning a theme that continued right to the finish.

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