MONACO: World champion Sebastien Ogier launched his bid for a fifth consecutive title by winning the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally in the snow on Sunday (Jan 22) for his first victory since joining Ford.
The Frenchman, who moved to Ford after Volkswagen announced their shock exit from the competition in November, finished over two minutes clear of Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala with Estonian Ott Tanak third.
Ogier had inherited the lead when pacesetter Thierry Neuville crashed his Hyundai on Saturday's final stage and Ogier took a 47-second lead over fellow Ford driver Tanak into Sunday's four concluding specials.
He drove cautiously as snow fell along the Col de Turini mountain pass but eased to a fourth straight Monte Carlo victory - the fifth of his career - as organisers cancelled the penultimate stage due to fan safety concerns.
The decision came after Thursday's opening special was abandoned after New Zealander Hayden Paddon's Hyundai was involved in a fatal collision with a spectator.
While Ogier avoided trouble, Tanak suffered engine problems and incurred a 50-second penalty as he lost farther ground before finishing close to three minutes behind the winner.
"Of course I hoped to win from the opening race but to do it with such little preparation is incredible," said Ogier, who earned the Ford team's first victory since 2012. "The season is going to be difficult, we're aware of that, but we'll give everything to put up a fight."
Neuville, who had looked like the man to beat before his crash, finished down in 15th but was buoyed by the potential of his Hyundai and won the final stage by 30 seconds.
"We had to put the disappointment of Saturday afternoon behind us and look to return to form. We definitely did that today," said the Belgian, who is expected to present a major challenge this season to Ogier's dominance.
"We can leave Monte Carlo in a positive frame of mind and confident in what we can achieve against strong opposition."