MONACO: Reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally for a sixth straight year on Sunday.
The Frenchman collected his first victory since returning to Citroen this season in the World Rally Championship (WRC) by just 2.2 seconds from Belgian Thierry Neuville in a Hyundai.
Ott Tanak (Toyota) completed the podium, 2min 15.2sec behind Ogier. The Estonian passed nine-time former winner Sebastien Loeb, making his debut for constructor Hyundai, on the closing Power Stage. The Frenchman finished fourth, a further 13sec back.
Ogier, who is from Gap in the Alps where the rally started, equalled Loeb's record of seven Monte Carlo victories as Citroen won for the 100th time in the WRC.
"It's the rally I want to win the most each season, that's why I'm so happy," said Ogier. "Six consecutive wins with three different cars (Citroen, Ford and Volkswagen), that's not bad!"
Neuville was left to rue overshooting a corner on the fifth stage as he lost up to 20 seconds, but suggested it wasn't all bad news going into next month's rally in Sweden.
"I gave him a nice present with my mistake on Friday, which cost me top spot," bemoaned Neuville.
"But it was a good fight, very tight and that's part of the game. Perhaps we can be satisfied with the result. It's maybe not so bad to not set off first in the snow in Sweden."
Ogier led from the seventh stage onward but was never able to put more than a few seconds between himself and Neuville.
The Frenchman started Sunday with a 4.3sec lead, but finished just behind Neuville on the morning's first three stages.
The gap was just 0.4sec entering the last stage and Ogier was having problems with his accelerator pedal.
But Ogier drove an error-free final stage to finish second, 3.9sec behind Briton Kris Meeke (Toyota), who ended up sixth overall, but 1.8sec ahead of Neuville.
Tanak, who won the day's first two stages, finished fourth on the stage to overhaul Loeb, who was seventh.
"It wasn't an easy rally," said Loeb, who had just a day and a half to test out his new car after returning from the Dakar Rally.
"We had some good specials and others I'm less pleased about.
"I'm not all that happy with the performance today (Sunday) because I think I drove fairly well and it's definitely not the time I wanted so we're going to have to analyse things, understand and move on."
"But we had fun behind the wheel," he added.