The expected tussle between Colin McRae and Tommi Makinen on the final day of this year's Monte Carlo Rally lasted less than 20 kilometres as the Scot's miserable luck on the event continued, when he struck terminal problems on the very first stage of the day, allowing Makinen to cruise home to an unchallenged victory.

With just four special stages making up the timetable for the final day of what has been the most compact Rally of Monte Carlo ever, nearly everyone believed that the battle for honours between Ford's Colin McRae and Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen would go right down to the wire seeing as though the pair were separated by a mere three and a half seconds going into the first stage of the day at Sospel.

However as McRae negotiated the 32-kilometre test, the fly-by-wire throttle on his Ford Focus packed up and even though McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist were able to fix the problem, the duo lost more than 13 minutes and McRae was forced to retire before the start of SS13 as the throttle began to stick open.

"It was a safety issue," said a bitterly disappointed McRae, who has now seen victory slip from his grasp in the last two Monte's. "We'd already lost so much time and if the throttle had jammed open in the next stage, who knows what could have happened."

Despite having to slow as he negotiated the stricken Focus, Makinen still managed to post second fastest time on the stage behind team-mate Freddy Loix, who found his tyre choice well suited to the slippery, icy conditions. The Belgian driver's time actually vaulted him from eighth to fifth in the overall standings after SS12 for Colin was not the only McRae family member to hit trouble on the opening stage.

"I got caught out on a patch of ice," explained Hyundai's Alister McRae. "The left rear wheel hit a wall and it broke the centre out of the wheel completely." Luckily no damage was sustained to the suspension assembly although the resulting delay to change the tyre cost McRae nearly four minutes and virtually all hopes of a points scoring finish.

Others to fall foul of the treacherous conditions included Carlos Sainz and Olivier Burri, the former indulging in a quick spin in what was now the leading Ford while the latter left the road at slightly higher speed in his Toyota Corolla and was forced to retire after what had been a very encouraging performance.

The leaderboard had a very different look to it as the cars rolled up to the start of the 24-kilometre Loda-Luceram stage with Makinen now leading Sainz by more than a minute with Francois Delecour third another minute plus in arrears followed by the consistent Armin Schwarz who now had his eyes firmly set on Skoda's first ever podium finish on a WRC event.

Schwarz's dream moved a little closer on SS13 as he posted third quickest time behind Makinen and Sainz, who were separated by less than a second despite the Finn's decision to cruise through the final three stages. Delecour gave up just three seconds to the German Skoda driver but it was enough to cost him his podium spot temporarily such was the difference between the two.

However the second run through Sospel saw the French driver take fastest time by three seconds over Toni Gardemeister, who had finished sixth and fifth on the first two stages respectively and was now in a position to move ahead of Loix for fifth overall. Sainz was third ahead of Loix and Makinen while Schwarz suffered on the cleaner (yes cleaner) roads and dropped 20 seconds. This result virtually secured the final podium spot for Delecour as with the roads becoming less icy, Schwarz's ability to manhandle the Octavia over slippery surfaces became less of a factor and the driveability of the more nimble Focus came into play.

The final stage of the day was little more than a recce run for the 27 remaining combatants and no overall position changes were recorded amongst the leaders although Sainz was able to trim nine seconds off Makinen's lead to leave the Finn's winning margin at one minute exactly. Gardemeister completed his impressive run in the Grifone Peugeot with second quickest time and fifth overall while Delecour once again bested Schwarz as he made it two Ford's on the podium.

Schwarz was not too disheartened with fourth, especially as Bruno Thiry's eighth place was good enough for two Manufacturer points (Delecour and Gardemeister weren't registered) for the Czech marque. "The car has been excellent," quipped the German, "and this is a great start to the year for the whole team. We've come away with a lot of points, and that'll be great for confidence back at the base."

Gardemeister was equally satisfied with fifth overall, especially as he had been in the lower reaches of the top 20 after SS2 while Loix's sixth place was a reward for consistency and hard graft in the elderly and underpowered Carisma.

One driver not happy with his lot however was Alister McRae, who plugged on bravely for seventh overall and two Manufacturer points. "It's disappointing," explained the young Scottish star. "Perhaps my first Monte was going a bit too well and now it's taught me a lesson. The team's done a good job, though and we can take some encouragement from how well things had been going beforehand."

In Group N the outcome was all set and done before the day began barring mechanical misfortune to leader Olivier Gillet and although the Swiss Mitsubishi driver damaged his suspension over a particularly nasty bump on SS13 he was able to coast home to a comfortable class win and ninth place overall ahead of Austrian Manfred Stohl, who took advantage of Gianluigi Galli's retirement on the opening stage of the stage to claim second in class and tenth overall.

More snow and ice is on the menu for the next stop on the WRC calendar, the rally of Sweden on February 8th-11th where both Peugeot and Subaru will be doing their utmost to regain some of the pride lost by their opening day failures here and McRae will be searching for some decent luck.