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PHOTO: Sebastien Ogier (right) and co-driver Julien Ingrassia celebrate victory in Rallye Monte-Carlo (Volkswagen pic)

FRENCHMAN Sebastien Ogier successfully started his quest for a fourth straight FIA World Rally Championship with a dominant win in Rallye Monte-Carlo on Sunday.

Ogier finished outside the royal palace in Monte-Carlo 1 minute 54.5 seconds ahead of Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway, with Belgium’s Thierry Neuville third in a promising debut for the new Hyundai i20 car.

The opening round of the 2016 WRC – which concludes in Australia on 17-20 November – featured an exciting battle between Ogier and Citroen driver Kris Meeke of Northern Ireland.

Meeke was the only driver able to match Ogier’s speed over the treacherous alpine stages and the pair swapped the lead several times over the first two days. However, the world champion had begun to edge ahead before Meeke was forced to retire on Saturday afternoon with gearbox damage caused by hitting a rock.

PHOTO: Andreas Mikkelsen lunges downhill in his Volkswagen past hardy spectators (Volkswagen pic)

Much of the rally was staged around the French alpine town of Gap, in the region where Ogier grew up. He was greeted at the finish by his parents, before receiving the winner’s trophy from Monaco’s Prince Albert.

“It is just an indescribable feeling to win this iconic rally for the third time. The conditions were so tricky. It was so icy and slippery,” Ogier said.

“I would like to thank the entire team, which did a fantastic job this weekend. My ice spies were awesome. It was really tough for them to provide us with accurate predictions regarding the state of the roads.

“Then there were the many, many fans cheering on Julien (Ingrassia, co-driver) and me – it was just a perfect weekend!”

Ogier joined an exclusive club of drivers in the legendary rally’s 84 years to have won three times in a row. Only Sandro Munari, Walter Röhrl, Tommi Mäkinen and Sébastien Loeb have done the same.

Ogier eased through Sunday’s final leg, which included the famous Col de Turini, one of the highlights of the WRC season, and ensured maximum points from the first of the 14 rounds by also winning the final live TV Power Stage.

Norwegian Mikkelsen survived a high-speed spin on Friday to start the final leg 12.5sec ahead of Neuville. But a broken driveshaft bearing troubled the Belgian all day and he limped through the final stage with only two-wheel drive.

On Saturday, Neuville had scored the first two stage wins for the all-new Hyundai i20. The first of these featured an historic 1-2-3 with teammates Hayden P{addon and Dani Sordo.

Mads Østberg finished fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS on his return to the M-Sport squad, ahead of Citroen’s Stéphane Lefebvre, for whom fifth was a career-best result. Dani Sordo overcame handling and suspension problems to complete the top six in another Hyundai.

Behind Ott Tänak, who finished seventh despite rolling on Friday, Elfyn Evans eighth place also ensured him a notable victory in the WRC2 category. Driving an M-Sport Fords Fiesta R5, Evans overcame time lost with two punctures to by more than two minutes.

Notable retirees included 2015 WRC runner-up Jari-Matti Latvala and ex-Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica, both with car damage. New Zealander Paddon also damaged his Hyundai but was classified 25th at the finish of his Monte-Carlo debut,

The WRC travels next to Sweden for its only full-snow event, Rally Sweden on 11-14 February.

RESULTS, Rallye Monte-Carlo (WRC round 1):

  1. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) total time 3:49:53.1
  2. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) behind winner +1:54.5
  3. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +3:17.9
  4. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:47.7
  5. Lefebvre / G. Moreau (Citroën DS3 WRC) +7:35.6
  6. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +10:35.5
  7. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +11:39.9
  8. Evans / C. Parry (Ford Fiesta R5) +18:30.8
  9. Lappi / J. Ferm (Škoda Fabia R5) +20:41.0
  10. Kremer / P. Winklhofer (Škoda Fabia R5) +20:43.9

WRC Drivers’ Standings:

  1. Ogier 28 points
  2. Mikkelsen 19
  3. Neuville 15
  4. Østberg 12
  5. Lefebvre 10
  6. Sordo 10
  7. Tanak 6
  8. Evans 4
  9. Lappi 2
  10. Kremer 1

WRC Manufacturers’ Standings:

  1. Volkswagen Motorsport 25 points
  2. Hyundai Motorsport 25
  3. Volkswagen Motorsport II 18
  4. M-Sport World Rally Team 12
  5. DMACK World Rally Team 8
  6. Hyundai Motorsport N 6
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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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