Sebastien Ogier has kicked off his World Rally Championship title defence in fine style with victory on the Rallye Monte Carlo, his first event with the M-Sport Ford team.
Having safely navigated the opening two stages of the day, Ogier needed to simply complete the SS17 Power Stage to seal victory after SS16 was cancelled due to overcrowding.
He subsequently held his form to the finish, in doing so securing the first victory for M-Sport Ford since the 2012 Rally GB and beginning his first non-VW title defence in exceptional style.
Even so, Ogier himself will admit to some fortune after being largely out paced by Hyundai Thierry Neuville, particularly after a mistake on SS3 put him 40secs adrift of the Belgian early in the event
However, Neuville would be cruelly punished for a minor mistake on the final stage of day three, in which he ran wide and clipped a kerb with his right-rear wheel, breaking the Hyundai's suspension in the middle of the stage. Losing more than 30mins, Neuville – who was almost a minute clear of Ogier at the time - would end the rally 15th, but with points courtesy of the Power Stage win.
Indeed, Ogier was helped further on the final day when his new closest rival Ott Tanak hit mechanical problems in the sister Ford. The Estonian struggled through SS14, conducted repairs between stages – which led to a 50secs penalty for getting to the start of SS15 late – before losing a further 90secs through the penultimate stage.
Though it would rob Ford a 1-2 result, Tanak nevertheless was able to get to the finish at the loss of just a single position to Jari-Matti Latvala, whose steady approach in the all-new Toyota Yaris was rewarded with a superb second place finish for the returning manufacturer after a largely trouble-free and competitive showing.
Behind Tanak, Dani Sordo won his battle for fourth place with Craig Breen. The pair had swapped positions constantly through the event, but a stronger final day for the Spaniard would see him get the nod over the Citroen DS3 driver by 12secs.
Despite losing the chance of a better result with an time-sapping off at the start of day two, Elfyn Evans recovered to sixth and, perhaps more significantly notched up three stage wins, the first on asphalt for a DMACK tyre-shod car.
Of the remaining WRC drivers to reach the finish, Stephane Lefebvre bounced back from having to restart the rally following day one technical issues in his new Citroen C3 to claim ninth, picking up two positions over WRC2 drivers on the final stage.
Behind Neuville in 15th, Juho Hanninen showed impressive stage pace in the second of the new Toyotas, but lost the chance of finishing higher than 16th after a crash on day two whilst running third. Similarly, Kris Meeke demonstrated podium-worthy performances, but two crashes and a mechanical problem would see him retire three times.
Hayden Paddon didn't progress beyond stage one after an accident that saw his i20 Coupe roll onto its roof. Though both he and his co-driver were unhurt, a spectator was involved and later passed away. Paddon was retired from the event as a mark of respect.
In the WRC2 class, Andreas Mikkelsen was a clear winner for Skoda as he reeled off victory with 11 stage wins out of the 15 completed. The former VW driver – a podium winner overall in 2016 – was more than three minutes clear of second place team-mate Jan Kopecky, with Bryan Bouffier completing the podium.