Four-times World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier has christened the sport’s new era with a slashing victory at a typically treacherous Monte Carlo Rally.
The French ace and co-driver Julien Ingrassia led their M-Sport Ford Fiesta home to a 2m15s win.
It was the former Volkswagen champion’s 39th WRC triumph.
“I expected to have this victory one day but to have it from the first race with so little preparation is amazing,” Ogier said.
“The season is not going to be easy as we know we still have to work very hard but its nice to start the season with a lot of points.”
Toyota realised a dream re-entry into WRC competition after an 18-year hiatus with Jari-Matti Latvala finishing second in the Yaris.
A powerhouse in the WRC in the 1990’s through the Cologne-based Toyota Team Europe operation, the Japanese maker saw the second Yaris of Juho Hanninen finish 11th after breaking the suspension on Day 2.
Ott Tanak survived a big scare to claim the final podium spot for M-Sport by a mere 4.8s with the Estonian producing a huge ‘scando’ in the shadows of the final stage finish.
After Hyundai’s Dani Sordo won the short 5.5km blast through SS14, a problem for Tanak developed as he lost engine power which saw him concede a chunk of time.
He was subsequently late to the check-in for the opening run through Col du Turini and suffered a 50s penalty which saw him drop behind Latvala into third position.
Falling into the clutches of Sordo, Tanak prevailed against the Spanish driver’s spirited final run.
Citroen’s Stephane Lefebvre rebounded from a difficult rally to top SS15 ahead of Sordo, helping him finish ninth outright.
Organisers were then forced to cancel the second run through Luceram to Col St Roch (SS16) with spectators occupying dangerous positions around the stage.
It left Ogier to tackle the final power stage through Turini with an almost 2:30s lead over Latvala as snow fell through the iconic mountain stage.
The 21.3km stage proved tricky with clear bitumen turning to ice and then light snow toward the peak.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) was given a consolation, winning the final stage after leading the rally over the first two days before his accident.
Craig Breen realised a solid result in the Citroen to finish fifth ahead of DMACK Fiesta driver Elfyn Evans with WRC2 driver Andreas Mikkelsen finishing seventh ahead of fellow Skoda Fabia driver Jan Kopecky.
Result: Monte Carlo Rally (top 10)
|1||Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||4h00m03.6s|
|2||Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC||Toyota||2:15.0s|
|3||Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||2:57.8s|
|4||Dani Sordo, M.Marti||Hyundai Motorsport||Hyundai||3:35.8s|
|5||Craig Breen, S.Martin||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||3:47.8s|
|6||Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt||M-Sport World Rally Team||Ford||6:45.0s|
|7||Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda||9:32.7s|
|8||Jan Kopecky, P.Dresler||Skoda Motorsport||Skoda||12:58.1s|
|9||Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau||Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT||Citroen||14:43.8s|
|10||Bryan Bouffier, D.Giraudet||Gemini Clinic Rally Team||Ford||16:09.4s|