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SÉBASTIEN Ogier overcame a late drama to secure his sixth consecutive Rallye Monte-Carlo victory in a spellbinding final-stage shootout on Sunday afternoon.

PHOTO: Sébastien Ogier (right) and co-driver Julien Ingrassia celebrate their six-straight Rallye Monte-Carlo victory and first with Citroën (Jaanus Ree/WRC Media pic)

He fended off Thierry Neuville by 2.2sec in the closest finish to the rally world’s oldest and most famous event to clinch an emotional debut win on his return to Citroën. It was the 100th world rally success for the French manufacturer.

A throttle problem on Ogier’s C3 World Rally Car hampered him throughout Sunday’s fourth and final leg of the opening round of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship in the mountains above Monaco.

Neuville clawed back a 4.3sec Saturday-overnight deficit in his Hyundai i20 to start the 13.6 kilometre final stage just 0.4 sec behind the six-time world champion, after 310 kms of intense competition.

Despite dropping behind the Belgian on the clock before the stage midpoint, Ogier battled back to extend his slender lead and claim his seventh Monte-Carlo win in total, with four different manufacturers.

“It is the rally I want to win the most in the season, that is why I am so happy now,” said Ogier, whose home town of Gap hosted the opening three days of the rally.

“It was tough today because we had a problem with a sticking throttle, which was pushing the car when I was on the brakes. Six years in a row with three different cars – that’s not so bad!”

Neuville could only reflect on a second-day overshoot which cost 15sec and, ultimately, victory.

“It was a close fight, but we gave him (Ogier) a nice present on Friday when we made a mistake and gave him the lead,” he said.

Snow, ice and dry asphalt in the French Alps prompted frequently-contrasting tyre choices by the pair, but they were never split by more than a handful of seconds during a captivating final two legs of the event.

Ott Tänak took the bottom step of the podium in a Toyota Yaris. After a clean sweep of all four stages on Saturday, the Estonian was fastest in Sunday’s opening two tests to climb from fifth and leave him regretting a broken wheel rim on Friday that cost almost 2min 30sec.

He eased clear of Sébastien Loeb’s i20 and Jari-Matti Latvala’s Yaris, split by 1.7sec in fourth and fifth. Kris Meeke rounded off the top six in another Yaris and claimed maximum bonus points after winning the final Wolf Power Stage.

WRC 2 Pro winner Gus Greensmith finished seventh for M-Sport Ford ahead of WRC 2 frontman Yoann Bonato. Stéphane Sarrazin and Adrien Fourmaux completed the leaderboard.

Rally Sweden, the only pure winter event of the series, hosts the WRC’s second round in Torsby on 14-17 February.

Kennards Hire Rally Australia will wrap up the 14-round season on the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November. The rally is supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW.

Results, Rallye Monte-Carlo (2019 WRC, Rd 1 of 14):
1 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) 3h21m15.9s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2.2s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m15.2s
4 Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m28.2s
5 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m29.9s
6 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5m36.2s
7 Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondson (Ford Fiesta R5) +13m04.6s
8 Yoann Bonato/Benjamin Boulloud (Citroën C3 R5) +13m56.5s
9 Stephane Sarrazin/Jacques-Julien Renucci (Hyundai i20 R5) +14m06.8s
10 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Citroën C3 R5) +16m03.4s

FIA WRC Drivers’ Standings (after Rd 1):
1 S. Ogier 29
2 T. Neuville 21
3 O. Tanak 17
4 K. Meeke 13
5 S. Loeb 12
6 J-M Latvala 10
7 G. Greensmith 6
8 Y. Bonato 4
9 S. Sarrazin 2
10 A. Fourmaux 1
11 T. Suninen 1

FIA WRC Manufacturers’ Standings (after Rd 1):
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 30
2 Citroën Total World Rally Team 25
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 25
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 14

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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