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Sebastien Ogier leads the 2018 World Rally Championship-opening Monte Carlo Rally overnight despite spinning on a chaotic, ice-affected, first stage that caught out most drivers.
Ogier’s 2017 WRC title rival Thierry Neuville had the most costly incident of any in the top class and is already more than four minutes adrift.
Starting the season with two after-dark stages was always likely to be a challenge, and a patch of ice and snow on the opening Thoard-Sisteron run caused mayhem for the entirely slick-shod field.
While Ogier somehow still took the stage win despite a spin in his M-Sport Ford, Neuville slid into a ditch and lost four minutes being helped back on course by spectators.
Only Ogier, Andreas Mikkelsen, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo made it through SS1 both relatively unscathed and at a competitive pace, and held the early top four places.
Ogier led Mikkelsen’s Hyundai by 7.7 seconds at that stage, before another fastest time on the ice-less Bayons-Breziers SS2 built his advantage to 17.3s. Sordo was fourth quickest there and took third from Lappi.
Toyota holds fourth, fifth and sixth places overnight. Ott Tanak had an early trip into a bank on SS1 but closed in on Lappi with a stronger SS2, while two early spins left Jari-Matti Latvala a further 13s back.
Craig Breen set some rapid split times on SS1 and felt he might have been leading had he not gone off the road in an incident he estimated cost him 40s.
He still came in fifth fastest, 24.6s off Ogier, but lost two places as he struggled on SS2 having run out of time to adjust his tyre pressures pre-stage and then spun.
Breen’s team-mate Kris Meeke (pictured above) was left kicking himself after reversing into a ditch while trying to recover from a relatively innocuous spin on the first stage.
He is two minutes off the lead in ninth, behind M-Sport’s additional entrant Bryan Bouffier – who said his cautious SS1 pace on his new-era World Rally Car debut was “too slow to spin!”
M-Sport’s second full-season runner Elfyn Evans had to stop early on SS1 to change a puncture then had a half-spin on SS2 as he struggled with an unpredictable throttle.
That left him down with Neuville among the WRC2 runners, the WRC pair finishing the night 13th and 14th.
Their woes mean WRC2 leader Eric Camilli, another M-Sport driver, is currently 10th overall.
Autosport Live’s Monte Carlo Rally coverage resumes at 7.40am UK time on Friday
Leading positions after SS2
|1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||38m09.8s|
|2||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||17.3s|
|3||Dani Sordo, C.del Barrio||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||Hyundai||25.6s|
|4||Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||37.4s|
|5||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||42.4s|
|6||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||52.3s|
|7||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||Toyota||55.4s|
|8||Bryan Bouffier, X.Panseri||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||1m51.0s|
|9||Kris Meeke, P.Nagle||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||2m12.7s|
|10||Eric Camilli, B.Veillas||M-Sport Ford WRT||Ford||2m42.2s|