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(17/1/2014)  FRENCHMAN Bryan Bouffier will take a 38.8-second lead into the second day of Rallye Monte-Carlo after a strong first day in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS.

Bouffier fared the best on Thursday when it came to juggling all the elements that are needed to be successful on this opening round of the 2014 WRC and his reward was a comfortable lead over Citroen’s Kris Meeke.

Bouffier admitted it could have been a completely different story after a nervy moment on the first stage.

“It’s fantastic to be leading but we are very lucky to be here,” he said.

“We hit a bridge on the very first corner of the first stage. I thought our race was over.”

Meeke enjoyed an impressive first day as a full-time Citroen team member in his Citroen DS3 WRC.

Like the majority of the field, the Briton made a cautious start but his confidence increased with each stage and he was able to overtake Robert Kubica for second place on the final stage.

“That was one of the most difficult days I’ve ever had in a rally car,” he said.

“The weather was incredible in some places and you could honestly go off the road driving at only 10kmh. It’s been a big, big challenge.”

Kubica settled for third, 0.7s down on Meeke, on his first event in his M-Sport-prepared Ford Focus RS WRC.

The ex-Formula 1 driver was the standout performer on the opening loop of stages, as he set two fastest times. But he adopted a more cautious approach on the remaining stages to ensure he made it to the end of the leg.

Defending world champion Sebastien Ogier ended the opening day in fourth place after enduring a troubled time at the head of the field.

Uncomfortable tyre choices and an altercation with a wall meant he sat in 9th place at the end of the morning, but he recovered with a brace of fastest times in the afternoon to end the day only 47.3s off the overall lead.

Citroen’s Mads Ostberg and M-Sport World Rally Team debutant Elfyn Evans rounded out the top six on a challenging day for both.

However, day one was a shattering experience of the realities of rallying for the new Shell Hyundai Motorsport team, which had to retire both its i20 WRC cars early in their debut event.

Thierry Neuville saw his Monte-Carlo rally finish less than seven kilometres into the opening stage. He had been 4.5 seconds faster than Ogier at the first split time, but his excitement appeared to get the better of him and he crashed into a telegraph pole a couple of corners later. Damage to the rear of his stopped him from continuing.

Dani Sordo made a promising start in the second Hyundai and finished the morning’s opening loop of three stages in third place overall.

After the lunchtime service, Sordo embarked on the repeat loop with renewed vigour and claimed the second fastest stage time, but as he made his way to SS5 a technical issue stopped him on the roadside. The team tried to help him find the fault with the car but there was no immediate fix possible and the Spaniard was forced to retire from the rally.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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