Two-time defending World Champion Sebastien Ogier claimed his third Rallye Monte Carlo victory with a controlled drive on the WRC opener.
The Frenchman finished the four-day rally in the French Alps with a 58.0sec margin in his Volkswagen Polo R, after seeing off an early challenge from nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb, who was making a one-off return to the series.
Finn Jari-Matti Latvala finished second, 1min 14.3sec ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, who completed the Volkswagen podium line-up – the first time the German team has achieved a 1-2-3 since its historic maiden clean sweep at Coates Hire Rally Australia last September.
Kris Meeke won the rally-closing Power Stage in Citroen’s DS3 to take maximum bonus points and finished 10th overall. Loeb claimed two points for second in an identical car, with Latvala taking one point for third.
Drawing encouragement from hometown fans from Gap, the main base for stages in the French Alps Maritimes, Ogier was ultra-cautious on the final two days, even forsaking some of the big lead he held after Loeb fell out of the fight on Friday.
Loeb was stunning on his return to the WRC after almost 15 months away, winning the first, third and sixth stages and leading the rally before skidding on ice and breaking his rear suspension on Friday.
But he had never led Ogier by more than a handful of seconds and when he went off his super-calm countryman had already built a buffer of more than 100 seconds over teammate Latvala.
Mindful of the treacherously variable conditions of snow ice, fog, dry tarmac and sunshine across the 15 stages, Ogier dictated his pace to the finish.
Loeb rejoined the event on Saturday in 15th place and out of contention, but won two more stages to fight his way back to eighth at the finish and earn valuable points for Citroen’s manufacturer’s championship score.
Teammate Meeke had a similar tale, slumping from fourth during Friday to 21st overnight after damaging his suspension on the day’s last stage. He won three of the final day’s stages, including the event-closing Power Stage.
Ex-grand prix driver Robert Kubica had a more difficult Rallye Monte Carlo than most.
On the debut for his self-run Ford Fiesta team, the Pole showed stage-winning speed but endured electrical problems and a crash on Friday and today on the penultimate stage another off – thought to be due to brake failure – that ripped two wheels off the car and forced retirement.
Mads Ostberg was the highest-placed driver for Citroen in fourth, while Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo came fifth and sixth in a pleasing result for Hyundai.
Welshman Elfyn Evans overcame inexperience to bring home the first M-Sport Ford Fiesta in seventh, despite brushing a wall on Saturday afternoon.
FINAL POSITIONS : Rallye Monte
|1||S Ogier/J Ingrassia||Volkswagen||3hr 36 min. 40.2 sec.|
|2||J Latvala/M Anttila||Volkswagen||+58.0 sec|
|3||A Mikkelsen/O Floene||Volkswagen||+2:12.3|
|4||M Ostberg/J Andersson||Citroen||+2:43.6|
|5||T Neuville/N Gilsoul||Hyundai||+3:12.1|
|6||D Sordo/M Mart||Hyundai||+3:12.9|
|7||E Evans/D Barritt||Ford||+5:23.7|
|8||S Loeb/D Elena||Citroen||+8:34.7|
|9||M Prokop/J Tomanek||Ford||+9:54.8|
|10||K Meeke/P Nagle||Citroen||+10:55.6|
|7=||E Evans/ S Loeb||6|
|3=||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT/ M-Sport WRT||12|
|5||Jipocar Czech National Team||6|
VIDEO: Stages 1-5
VIDEO: Stages 6-8
VIDEO: Stages 9-10
VIDEO: Stages 11-12
VIDEO: Stage 13
VIDEO: Stage 14-15