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SÉBASTIEN Ogier has made a perfect start to his FIA World Rally Championship defence, mastering treacherous alpine winter conditions for an all-the-way victory in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo last night.

PHOTO: Sébastien led from the start in treacherous winter conditions to claim his fifth-straight Rallye Monte-Carlo (M-Sport pic).

The Frenchman came out of-the-blocks flying on Sunday morning’s first stage – taking in the legendary Col de Turini in the mountains behind Monaco – to firmly stamp his authority following a Saturday challenge from Ott Tänak, before backing off and carefully pacing himself to the finish outside the royal palace.

Tänak completed a superb debut for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT by finishing second, 58.3sec adrift of M-Sport’s Ogier but 53.7sec clear of his own teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. Esapekka Lappi was on course to secure a 2-3-4 result for Toyota until he ran off a corner on the final Power Stage and plummeted to seventh.

Lappi’s loss was Kris Meeke’s gain, the Ulsterman claiming not only fourth outright but also maximum points for winning the Power Stage in a Citroën C3. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville finished fifth, ensuring all four manufacturer teams were represented in the top five.

Ogier’s win in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta was his fifth-straight in WRC and sixth in total and produced the best possible start to his campaign for a sixth drivers’ championship.

“It’s been a difficult weekend, but at the end we won. I’m so happy with that,” Ogier said.

“It’s going to be a huge competition again this year, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Born virtually on the rally route in the French alpine town of Gap, Ogier appeared at home this weekend in conditions that varied frequently from snow to ice and wet and dry tarmac.

He led from the start in Monte-Carlo on Thursday night and was masterful in controlling not only the conditions but also the gap to his rivals – despite spinning his car on Thursday night and Friday afternoon.

Ogier’s second spin – from which he needed spectators’ help to recover – allowed the Estonian Tänak, having his first drive for Toyota, to slash the gap by Friday night to less than 15 seconds. But on Saturday morning the Frenchman won back the time and then some and continued carefully to the finish.

Ogier and Tänak, his former teammate who said he switched to Toyota to get out of the champion’s shadow, each won four of the 17 stages. Neuville won five, but his speed was not enough to overcome the loss of four minutes while stuck in snow on Thursday night and a puncture on Friday.

The 13-round WRC moves to Rally Sweden for round two on 15-18 February. It will finish at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the NSW Coffs Coast on 15-18 November.

Overall final classification after Day 4 (Sunday) – provisional:

1 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 4h18m55.5s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +58.3s
3 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m52.0s
4 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) +4m43.1s
5 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +4m53.8s
6 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +4m54.8s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4m57.5s
8 Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri (Ford Fiesta WRC) +7m39.5s
9 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +9m06.7s
10 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +16m43.0s

Drivers’ championship:

  1. Sébastien Ogier 26
  2. Ott Tänak 18
  3. Jari-Matti Latvala 17
  4. Kris Meeke 17
  5. Thierry Neuville 14
  6. Elfyn Evans 8
  7. Esapekka Lapp 6
  8. Bryan Bouffier 4
  9. Andreas Mikkelsen 3
  10. Craig Breen 2

Manufacturers’ championship:

  1. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 33
  2. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC 33
  3. Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 18
  4. Hyundai Motorsport 14
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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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