Reigning world champion, Sebastien Loeb
has come out fighting on the opening day of the Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo, the Citroen
ace winning three out of the four tests to establish a comfortable 32.7 second lead.
The Frenchman, who has dominated the Monte Carlo event for the last three years, already looks good to take his third win in succession.
His only problem came on the penultimate stage, when he spun his Xsara on snow thrown onto the road by spectators.
"Everything went well," he noted at the end of the day. "The only tiny incident was in SS3 when the engine stalled after a spin on snow thrown onto the road by spectators.
"On the day's final stage, I concentrated on managing my tyres, notably in the hairpins. Thanks to that, I was able to benefit from super tyres all the way to the flag which allowed me to finish the stage strongly."
Francois Duval meanwhile is second, following a strong display on his debut in the sister Xsara - he also spun at the same place at Loeb. The Belgian reckoned he couldn't have wished for more...
"I wasn't necessarily expecting to figure so well so soon in this rally," he commented.
"We didn't know how fast our rivals were going to be and I also stalled after spinning at the very same place as Seb - for the same reason. My brakes went off slightly too in SS3, but that was quickly resolved and I was able to tackle SS4 without any problems."
Next up is Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm, the only driver who managed to interrupt Loeb's string of fastest times.
"I started off the first stage carefully this morning, which was tricky with about one kilometre of ice after the Col de la Sinne. On the second stage, which was almost entirely dry, I was able to push and I'm delighted to have set the fastest time. On the following stage, which was repeated as SS4, we were quite careful. There is no point in pushing too hard at this early stage," he said.
Petter Solberg and Toni Gardemeister complete the top five, the former having struggled with fading brakes throughout the day, while the latter tried to get up to speed for his new team as quickly as possible.
Solberg believes that a podium is still possible: "Fourth overall is good but obviously we've had a pretty tough day out there. The brakes gave us some problems, especially early on, and although the situation improved at the end of the day we lost quite a bit of time. I've always found Monte Carlo a hard event, and so far this one's been no exception, but a podium finish is still very much possible."