Sebastien Ogier opens WRC title defence with Rallye Monte-Carlo victory
World Champion Sébastien Ogier opened his title defence with an emphatic victory on Rallye Monte-Carlo, his fifth straight triumph at the event, and sixth overall.
Ogier controlled proceedings throughout, taking a commanding lead on Thursday evening’s dramatic first stage, as he resisted the lingering threat posed by former team-mate Ott Tänak.
It marked Ogier's first win since last May, ending a run of seven rallies without success, his longest barren run since 2012.
Aided by a mistake from Ogier, Tänak reduced the deficit to under 15 seconds on Friday, but the M-Sport driver stormed clear early on Saturday, bringing his lead to over a minute.
Tänak chipped away at Ogier’s advantage through Saturday afternoon’s stages, but Ogier underlined his superiority on Sunday morning’s tricky opening run through the Col de Turini.
Ogier eventually finished the event with a 58.3s gap back to Tänak, who nonetheless captured a podium on his Toyota debut, having switched across from M-Sport during the off-season.
Toyota took a double podium finish as Jari-Matti Latvala had a lonely run to third place, his prospects aided when team-mate Esapekka Lappi lost time after hitting a snow bank.
Lappi's mistake triggered a close four-way battle for fourth, almost five minutes down on victor Ogier, which was ultimately settled in favour of Citroen’s Kris Meeke.
Fastest through the Power Stage, Meeke gained the maximum available bonus points, while his run vaulted him clear of Lappi, who ran wide on a tricky right-hander.
The error not only dropped Lappi behind Meeke, but he also lost places to Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Elfyn Evans (M-Sport).
In turn, Neuville’s Power Stage time had been sufficient for him to edge Evans by just a second in the battle for sixth, which became fifth after Lappi’s mistake.
2017 runner-up Neuville had lost over four minutes after sliding into a ditch on Thursday’s opening stage, and fifth represented a fine reward for his charge across the rest of the rally, as he took five stage wins.
Bryan Bouffier piloted M-Sport’s third Ford Fiesta and placed eighth, while Citroen’s Craig Breen was plagued by brake problems and finished ninth.
WRC2 victor Jan Kopecký completed the top 10, as two of Hyundai’s three drivers dropped out of contention for the leading positions.
Andreas Mikkelsen had been second after Thursday’s opener but was forced to re-join under Rally2 regulations after he suffered an alternator problem.
Mikkelsen was nonetheless able to bag three points in the Power Stage, which was more than could be said for Dani Sordo, who crashed out on Saturday.