The Frenchman kicks off WRC season in style with comfortable victory in tricky conditions.
Volkswagen’s 2013 champion Sébastien Ogier has started 2014 where he left off last season, claiming victory in difficult conditions at the Rallye Monte-Carlo ahead of French privateer driver Bryan Bouffier.
Kris Meeke, driving in his first full season as a Citroen factory driver, claimed an impressive third, while team-mate Mads Ostberg was fourth on his first competitive outing in the team’s DS3 WRC.
Ogier’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala claimed fifth after a difficult start to the rally, ahead of M-Sport driver Elfyn Evans, beginning his first full year in top-flight WRC machinery, while the third Volkswagen of Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh.
Ogier had led the rally after passing surprise early leader Bouffier on Stage 9, which the Volkswagen driver dominated in the tricky conditions, completing the 49.03km Vitrolles-Faye 2 stage a full 22.8s faster than Ostberg.
From then on, the 2013 champion didn’t look back. Despite the penultimate stage having to be yellow-flagged due to the increasingly poor conditions, Ogier cruised to win the rally by 1m 18.9s.
“It’s been a tough weekend. I’m happy to finish this rally!” Ogier told the media at the end of the final stage. “It’s a perfect result.”
Meanwhile, it was a debut to forget for the Hyundai factory team after returning to the WRC for the first time since 2003. Thierry Neuville made a rare mistake on the very first competitive stage of the rally and crashed his brand-new i20 WRC out of the event, while a few stages later, an electronics problem brought team-mate Dani Sordo’s Rallye Monte-Carlo to an end.
Former F1 driver Robert Kubica was having problems too as he began his first full season in the WRC category. Midway through SS9, the Pole, who had claimed the first two stage wins of the rally, tried to brake going into a right-hander. But with very little grip in the wet conditions, Kubica’s Fiesta flew backwards off the road, hitting a bridge and ending up in the trees. Both he and co-driver Maciek Szczepaniak emerged unharmed.
And there was heartbreak for Mikko Hirvonen on his return to the M-Sport squad after two years with Citroen. The Finn’s Ford Fiesta RS WRC was suffering alternator problems as he approached the 15th and final stage of the rally. Despite heading into the stage, Hirvonen’s car gave up the ghost midway through, denying the Finn sixth place.
In the Power Stage, it was Jari-Matti Latvala who claimed the three bonus points for the fastest time after a frantic drive through the rain and fog of Sospel Breil-sur-Roya, with Ogier finishing just 0.2s behind to take two points and Meeke claiming a solitary bonus point for third.