Bryan Bouffier is the surprise early leader following the first three stages of the Rallye Monte Carlo, the 2014 WRC season opener.

Bouffier came to the fore in SS3, the 19.34 kilometre run through Montauban-sur-l'Ouveze 1, and made the most of having fitted two snow tyres to surge into P1. Kris Meeke, Dani Sordo and Elfyn Evans also fitted some snow tyres for that test, and consequently finished the loop in second, third and fifth, with early front runner and former F1 pilot, Robert Kubica dropping down to fourth. Kubica was quickest in SS1 and SS2, finishing the latter with a 36.8 second cushion over Sebastien Ogier.

"We hit a wall at the beginning of the first stage and I really thought that my race was finished!" Bouffier said back in service. "Thankfully, the car is very strong. We went through the first stage on slick tyres, which was the same for most of the drivers. I admit that it wasn't so fun in those conditions, but our time wasn't so bad. I wasn't so happy with my driving on the second stage, but for the third we had our snow tyres and were able to set a really good time.
"I was a bit frustrated when I saw the snow in the first stage and knew that I had two snow tyres in the boot, but that is just the way it is and it was the same for everyone. For now, we will just stay cool and try to keep the consistency."

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"These have been the most challenging stages that I have ever driven!" added Kubica. "Honestly, J?nner Rally [the opening round of the ERC] was nothing compared to this! We had slick tyres for all three stages which made it very difficult as there was very little grip. The last stage [SS3] in particular was very demanding and there was heavy snow for the last eight kilometres. I am certainly happy to be here, and to be here in such a good position."

Ogier meanwhile ended the loop down in ninth in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC, having hit a wall in the first test. Sebastien Chardonnet, Olivier Burri and Mads Ostberg filled positions 6 through to 8, with Jaroslav Melicharek rounding out the top ten. Mikko Hirvonen, Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala are 11th, 17th and 18th respectively.

"Well, this has certainly been one of the most difficult starts to a season that we have ever had! Like everyone, we weren't expecting the amount of snow that there was this morning, and with slick tyres, it gives you some really tricky conditions," Hirvonen noted.

"Of course I am really happy that we are still here, but we need to look into the weather and make sure that we are well prepared for this afternoon. If there is more slush and snow then it will definitely be easier for the cars behind, but that is just the way it is and we need to make it through."

In terms of retirements, Hyundai's Thierry Neuville was the big name casualty, crashing out early in the opening test. Francois Delecour and Martin Prokop also both retired.

The action now resumes with a repeat-run through this morning's three tests to conclude the opening day. SS4 is due to start at 13.32 hours local time [12.32 hours UK time].

Rallye Monte Carlo: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):

1. Bryan Bouffier M-Sport Ltd Ford Fiesta RS WRC 45m 44.2s
2. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 13.6s M
3. Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 41.5s M
4. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 42.5s M
5. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 46.7s M
6. Sebastien Chardonnet Citroen DS3 R3T +00m 51.7s
7. Olivier Burri Ford Fiesta S2000 +01m 09.0s
8. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 14.0s M
9. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +01m 19.4s M
10. Jaroslav Melicharek Slovakia WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 55.2s


11. Matteo Gamba Peugeot 207 S2000 +01m 58.9s
13. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 32.7s M
17. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +02m 57.7s M
18. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +03m 04.2s M
20. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta R5 +04m 00.3s WRC2

WRC2 standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):

1. Yuriy Protasov Ford Fiesta R5 49m 44.5s WRC2
2. Lorenzo Bertelli Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 18.5s WRC2
3. Robert Barrable Ford Fiesta R5 +00m 25.5s WRC2

WRC3 standings after Stage 3:

1. Quentin Gilbert Citroen DS3 1h 38m 15.3s WRC3

Notable retirements:

SS1. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Went off the road M
SS1. Francois Delecour Ford Fiesta RS WRC Retired
SS2. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC Mechanical M

M denotes Manufacturer entry

all times unofficial