Sebastien Ogier has showed his class with a masterful victory on the tricky Rallye Monte Carlo, the opening round of the World Rally Championship.
The French superstar joined an exclusive club of drivers to have won the legendary event three times in a row.
Only Sandro Munari, Walter Röhrl, Tommi Mäkinen and Sébastien Loeb have done achieved three consecutive wins.
Ogier, who was born in the rally base of Gap, was greeted by his parents at the finish of the final speed test in the mountains above Monaco to celebrate a 1:54.5s victory in his Volkswagen Polo R.
Team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen finished second with Thierry Neuville overcoming transmission troubles to secure a debut podium for Hyundai’s new-specification i20, a further 1:23.4s back.
“This rally is the most important of the season for me and it’s so emotional to win here for a third time,” said Ogier.
“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a kid. To win such a difficult rally three times in a row is fantastic, and a real team effort from everyone.”
Ogier and Kris Meeke swapped the lead on several occasions during the first two days on mountain roads in the French Alps that ranged from clear asphalt to snow and ice.
Ogier edged clear in the third leg and the outcome was decided when Meeke damaged his gearbox after hitting a rock and retired.
The French ace eased through the final leg, which included the famous Col de Turini, one of the highlights of the WRC season, and ensuring maximum points from the first of the 14 rounds by also winning the final live televised Power Stage.
Norwegian Mikkelsen survived a high-speed spin on Friday to start the final leg 12.5s ahead of Neuville. But a broken propshaft bearing troubled the Belgian all day and he limped through the final stage with only two-wheel drive.
Mads Østberg finished fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS on his return to the M-Sport squad, ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre, for whom fifth was a career-best result.
Dani Sordo overcame handling and suspension problems to complete the top six in another i20.
Ott Tänak finished seventh, despite rolling on Friday, with WRC 2 winner Elfyn Evans, Esapekka Lappi and Armin Kremer completing the top 10.
Broken suspension sidelined Jari-Matti Latvala and Bryan Bouffier while Robert Kubica and Eric Camilli both retired after accidents.
After being forced on the sidelines on the third stage of the event, Kiwi Hayden Paddon completed the final two days of the event to be classified 25th overall.
“A very trying weekend, but also a positive, character-building weekend for me,” said Paddon.
“At the same time, there are a lot of positives to take away from the weekend.
“We learnt a lot about the surfaces, the conditions, the tyre choices – all these things you really need experience of on this sort of rally to be successful here.”
The championship heads to Karlstad next month for Rally Sweden from February 11-14, the only pure winter round of the championship.
FINAL POSITIONS: Rallye Monte Carlo
|1||Sebastien Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport||Volkswagen||3h49m53.1s|
|2||Andreas Mikkelsen||Volkswagen Motorsport II||Volkswagen||+1:54.5s|
|3||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||+3:17.9s|
|4||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||+4:47.7s|
|5||Stephane Lefebvre||Abu Dhabi Total WRT||Citroen||+7:35.6s|
|6||Dani Sordo||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||+10:35.5s|
|7||Ott Tanak||DMACK World Rally Team||Ford||+11:39.9s|
|8||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||+18:30.8s|
|9||Esapekka Lappi||Esapekka Lappi||Skoda||+17:14.5s|
|10||Armin Kremer||BRR Baumschlager Rallye & Racing Team||Skoda||+19:26.4s|
|3||Volkswagen Motorsport II||18|
|4||M-Sport World Rally Team||12|
|5||DMack World Rally Team||8|
VIDEO: Stage 14
VIDEO: Final stage