Sebastien Loeb does lead Rallye Monte Carlo at the end of the opening day, having increased his cushion to over a minute following the afternoon loop, which was marred by timing problems.

Loeb began by setting the second best time this morning, 3.7 seconds off his former team-mate, Sebastien Ogier. However he then moved to the fore in SS2, setting the top time - 10.4 seconds up on Ogier. This afternoon he again set the pace in his Citroen DS3 WRC, winning SS3 and SS4, to stretch his advantage from 6.7 seconds to 1 minute 20.3 at the close of the first day. It was a dominant performance, just a shame that timing issues on SS3 meant that the overall classification wasn't clear until sometime after SS4 had finished.

"I wasn't measuring my pace at all this afternoon, because with the official timing system not working, I couldn't change my rhythm in accordance with that of the other drivers. So I pushed hard throughout. It paid off and we now have a healthy lead. But it's only the start. There are still three long days to go," Loeb said.

Ogier meanwhile began the event with a bang by giving Volkswagen its very first stage win with the Polo R WRC and on its very first competitive stage. He was then second in SS2, before slipping back on the repeat loop, when he was 'only' fifth in SS3 and fourth in SS4.

"A good start to the 'Monte', and one I am more than happy with. However, that was just the first day, which does not mean an awful lot. The rally still has a long way to go, and we still have some tough days ahead of us," Ogier stated. "The Polo R WRC feels good and I am obviously pleased with my special stage win this morning. I just drove my own rhythm without really pushing too hard, and was really surprised when I looked at the times.

"It is extremely difficult to drive in these conditions though, and the tyre selection is even more important than usual. For this reason, I must say a big thank you to the gravel crew, with whom I have been working for the first time. That was worth its weight in gold: the 'Monte' is at its best out there, as it is totally unpredictable."

Mikko Hirvonen is next up and on course for the final spot on the podium, albeit almost 30 seconds further back. The Finn struggled this morning and was fourth in SS1 and only eighth in SS2. He found a bit more consistency this afternoon however, and finished the day on a high with the second best time in SS4.

"It wasn't the best of starts for us. I was too cautious when the road surface changed this morning, but it's not been too bad on the second loop. It just shows how strange this rally can be!" Hirvonen remarked. "We have got ourselves back into a good position now and we need to keep going like this. It won't be easy, but I am going to try to keep a good rhythm, go a bit quicker and keep out of trouble. Maybe we can catch Ogier..."

Further back, Dani Sordo has slipped behind his Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT colleague, despite starting stronger. Indeed he was quicker in three of the days four tests, but a poor time in the second-run through Burzet-St Martial saw him concede more than 30 seconds and lose a place on the leaderboard.

"Although Mikko got past me on the final stage, I'm not disappointed with the day," Sordo reflected. "It's pretty good to be where I am, well placed to fight for a place on the podium. It was very difficult to stay on the road. When the ice and snow mixed with the mud, there was no grip at all. I'd be happy if the conditions were more consistent tomorrow."

Jari-Matti Latvala rounds out the top-five, after a difficult morning in which he also incurred a 30-second time penalty when he was late to the second time control. Still he did bounce back on the repeat loop in his VW Polo and posted the second best time in SS3, before losing out a bit in SS4 with a puncture.

"We have survived this typical and unpredictable opening day of the 'Monte'. That is the most important thing," Latvala said. "However, today was not really my day. The first special stage put so much strain on the tyres that we had to change them on the way to the second special stage. We than made a mistake with our timing and arrived at the start too late. On the fourth stage we had to complete five kilometres with a puncture and lost a lot of time as a result. From a driving point of view, I am yet to really find my rhythm. That will come though."

Behind, Evgeny Novikov heads the charge for the Qatar M-Sport WRT - the ex-Ford works outfit, 18.4 seconds off Latvala, and just 4.5 seconds up on team leader, Mads Ostberg, who is making his competitive debut on the Monte this week.

Of the rest Bryan Bouffier, Juho Hanninen and Martin Prokop complete the top ten, followed by Julien Marin and WRC2 class leader, Sepp Weigand.

In terms of retirements, Thierry Neuville was the only major scalp, going out in SS4, when he went off the road. He had been running fifth overall in his Qatar WRT Fiesta RS WRC.

Rallye Monte Carlo now continues on Thursday with two loops of three stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 132.5 kilometres.

SS5, Labatie d'Andaure-Lalouvesc 1, is due to start at 09.33 hours local time [08.33 hours British time].

Rallye Monte Carlo: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 1h 39m 49.0s M
2. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +1m 20.3s M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +1m 46.7s M
4. Dani Sordo Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +2m 01.2s T
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +2m 32.2s M
6. Evgeny Novikov Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 50.6s M
7. Mads Ostberg Qatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 55.1s M
8. Bryan Bouffier Citroen DS3 WRC +2m 57.1s
9. Juho Hanninen Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 03.5s T
10. Martin Prokop Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +6m 11.3s


11. Julien Marin Ford Fiesta RS WRC +8m 17.4s
12. Sepp Weigand Skoda Fabia S2000 +9m 46.9s WRC2
13. Olivier Burri Peugeot 207 S2000 +10m 03.2s P
14. Armin Kremer Subaru Impreza +10m 47.2 WRC2
21. Michal Kosciousko Lotos Team WRC MINI John Cooper Works WRC +14m 58.9s T

WRC2 standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):

1. Sepp Weigand Skoda Fabia S2000 1h 49m 35.9s WRC2
2. Armin Kremer Subaru Impreza +1m 00.3s WRC2
3. Yuriy Protasov Subaru Impreza +3m 36.1s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 4:

1. Renaud Poutot Citroen DS3 R3T 1h 54m 42.7s WRC3
2. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R3T +1m 05.9s WRC3

Notable retirements:

SS4. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off T