CLICK HERE for Monte Carlo Rally leading standings after SS2
Kris Meeke has kicked off his 2016 World Rally Championship campaign in fine style to take an overnight lead on the Rallye Monte Carlo after two stages.
Having set the pace in shakedown on Wednesday, though the Abu Dhabi Racing Citroen DS3 driver's rally began inauspiciously with a spin early on – one that he felt lost him eight seconds -, he quickly recovered ground to end the Entreveaux-Rouaine test just 4.1secs shy of initial pace setter Sebastien Ogier.
However, Meeke would make no such mistakes in the Barles-Seyne SS2, powering through the stage 11secs faster than Ogier, allowing the Briton to bridge the deficit and go 6.9secs clear of the Frenchman to lead at the end of Thursday play.
Behind Ogier, his VW team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen rounds out the early top three, 20secs shy of Meeke and ahead of Thierry Neuville, the Belgian tempering a cautious approach in the new Hyundai i20 with otherwise solid pace.
Indeed, with the event beginning under the cloak of darkness, the variable stage conditions would create some tyre choice headaches, but all WRC class drivers would make it to the end of the two stages without any major problems, though seventh place Jari-Matti Latvala – having been fourth fastest in SS1 – is already 38secs adrift after hitting a rock in SS2 and slowing as a precaution.
His problems would promote Hayden Paddon into a fine fifth place heading into Friday, the Kiwi not only competing on his first Monte Carlo Rally this weekend but is doing so at the wheel of the previous generation i20, while Mads Ostberg follows up in sixth position as he made his competitive return to the M-Sport Ford team.
Robert Kubica got his Rally Monte Carlo off to a solid start with an unflustered run to eighth, ahead of Meeke's Citroen team-mate Stefan Lefebvre, who may have been higher but for time lost in SS1 by what he believed was a puncture. Dani Sordo rounds out the top ten in the second of the new Hyundais, the Spaniard complaining of a lack of confidence to slip almost a minute adrift already.
Outside the top ten, Ott Tanak ended the day 11th fastest in the DMACK-shod Ford Fiesta, ahead of M-Sport newcomer Eric Camilli and fellow Frenchman Bryan Bouffier.
In the WRC2 class, Quentin Gilbert has taken an early lead, ahead of Julian Maurin and Armin Kremer, but Elfyn Evans is forging a rapid route back into contention after a time sapping puncture on SS1. Indeed, after proving 26secs quicker than Gilbert on SS2 – not to mention faster than Camilli -, he is already back to within 41secs of the class lead.