French manufacturer Citroen has grabbed the headlines for good and bad reasons on the first round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Monte Carlo, which started from the Principality today.

The team's young driver Sebastien Loeb backed up the form that took him to second overall in Sanremo last year to move into the overall rally lead on the day's fourth stage. But there was disappointment for his team-mates Thomas Radstrom and Philippe Bugalski: neither got to tackle a single stage, after they both succumbed to engine failures on the road section to this morning's service in Digne les Bains.

Loeb's ended today's final test with more than 30sec advantage over the Rallye Monte Carlo winner for the last three years, Tommi M?kinen. The four-times world champion survived a spin in the longest stage of the day to hold second on his first drive in a Subaru Impreza, and other fancied runners like Colin McRae, Petter Solberg, Marcus Gr?nholm and Carlos Sainz remain in touch.

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Others hit trouble in the fickle Monte conditions - Gilles Panizzi picked up penalties after hydraulic problems, while Hyundai drivers Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix both set encouraging times this morning, only to retire by early afternoon. Loix crashed heavily, sustaining a badly bruised foot, while Schwarz slid off on SS4 and retired with broken suspension.

Citroen lost two of its Xsara WRCs before they even managed to reach this morning's opening service. Thomas Radstrom's example retired about 10km out of Monaco, while Philippe Bugalski travelled a further 60km before his Xsara stopped on the road section. Both cars suffered engine failures that are suspected to relate to the engine block itself. The problem is similar to the one that halted Sebastien Loeb's car at shakedown yesterday, but as a result the young Frenchman's car was fitted with an older-spec engine whose block came from an earlier batch. His car ran without problems today.

Thomas Radstrom and Philippe Bugalski were both halted by engine failures on the road section from Monaco to Digne les Bains this morning, and neither managed to drive a single kilometre in anger. Team-mate Sebastien Loeb did, and the young Frenchman put thoughts of a similar problem (and the fact that he now shoulders the team's hopes) to the back of his mind to grab the lead with a very fast time on the day's longest stage.

Sebastien Loeb said: ''This morning I just wanted not to make any mistakes, after seeing what happened to Philippe and Thomas. But this afternoon I pushed quite hard in the dry conditions, then concentrated on driving neatly in the snow. There's a long way to go but my engine block is from an older batch so I don't think I will have the same problem as the others.''

His team-mate Philippe Bugalski added: ''I couldn't believe it. Obviously I saw Thomas parked up and then after a few more kilometres, I heard a bad noise and the engine stopped. I can't understand why it happened but it looks like exactly the same problem as Thomas. I'm very disappointed, of course, but we just have to recover, find out why we've had this problem and learn from that.''

At Subaru neither Tommi M?kinen or Petter Solberg had any major technical problems with their Impreza WRC2001s today. M?kinen's only glitch was a slow puncture on the day's longest test (SS4).

M?kinen grabbed the lead on today's opening stage and he looked like building on that advantage when he posted another very fast time in SS3 (SS2 was cancelled due to spectator congestion). But in the day's longest stage, the Finn spun at a hairpin and lost around half a minute as he turned his car around. He dropped to second behind Loeb as a result.

Petter Solberg has concentrated on building his experience of the Monte stages but the young Norwegian was still able to push hard - he set fastest time overall on SS3, which was a repeat of the day's first stage, and held fifth entering SS5.

Tommi M?kinen said: ''The spin was really silly - I think there was some ice under braking because we arrived 50kph too fast for the corner. Then when I tried to handbrake the car round it hit more ice and just slid forwards, so I had to go backwards and forwards for a while. I'm still learning the car but it feels very easy to drive. I'm enjoying it.''

Petter Solberg noted: ''The fastest time came when I changed some of my notes after the first run through that stage. I'm seriously not taking risks because if I want to challenge for a world title next year, I know I'll have to be able to do well here so I need experience. I have a great feeling with the car, though, and the Pirelli tyres are working well in these conditions.''

The Ford Focus RS WRC02s of Colin McRae and Markko Martin have been generally reliable today, although the young Estonian has decided to adopt more of his team-mate's set-up ideas to improve his car's handling. Carlos Sainz's Focus lost its power steering 12km into SS3, forcing the Spaniard to complete the day's longest stage without power assistance.

Carlos Sainz set fastest time on today's opening stage, but the cancellation of SS2 because of crowd problems denied him the chance to extend his advantage. Power steering problems hampered his effort this afternoon, but he still entered the day's final stage in sixth overall.

Both Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz have posted consistent top-six times today, with the Spaniard leading after the opening stage.

Colin McRae said: ''This morning was more like a navigational exercise than a rally - we drove for about six hours and did only 28km. But the times have been pretty good. I'm not sure how our tyre choice for the opening stage would have worked out if the following test hadn't been cancelled but it felt good.''

Carlos Sainz added: ''We tried between SS3 and SS4 to put more fluid into the power steering system but it must have been a pump problem because it didn't really help. I had a little power steering on the fast sections when I didn't need much lock but it was very hard in the twisty sections.''

Gilles Panizzi's Peugeot 206 WRC suffered two major problems even before the start of this morning's first stage. The Frenchman's car had to be pushed out of overnight parc ferme before it would successfully fire up this morning, and then Peugeot engineers found a hydraulic fault that took longer than expected to fix, Panizzi was duly 13 minutes late leaving service.

The cars of Richard Burns and Marcus Gr?nholm, meanwhile, have been basically reliable today.

Richard Burns was given a scare on this morning's opening stage (his first for Peugeot) when he landed heavily after a jump and bounced his 206 WRC off the road and into a field. He lost about 15 seconds before he could rejoin the stage. The reigning world champion soon recovered, though, and quickly moved back into the top ten during this afternoon's tests.

Marcus Gr?nholm, meanwhile, posted top-six times to keep his 206 WRC in the points placings. Gilles Panizzi had to push his car out of parc ferme this morning and then he picked up road penalties after hydraulic problems. But the Frenchman has been dissatisfied with his 206's handling all day and he entered the final test this evening outside of the top ten.

Richard Burns said: ''It was a bit of a fright on the first stage. The car landed quite heavily and we were it bounced us right across the road and into a field. It was a fifth-gear section so it all happened pretty quickly. But I kept the engine running and there was no real damage.''

Gilles Panizzi added: ''I can't go quickly but I don't understand why. I'm okay but I can't have confidence in the car and its handling at the moment. We have to find a solution.''

Meanwhile over at Mitsubishi the Lancer Evolution WRCs of Francois Delecour and Alister McRae have been reliable today, with both drivers experimenting with suspension settings on their first day of competition in the car.

Both Alister McRae and Francois Delecour acknowledge that their Lancer WRCs have been nervous on the bumpy sections today, and they have tried differing solutions to the problem. Engineers were due to make camber changes for today's final stage to see if that helped any further. Delecour held ninth entering the day's last stage with McRae outside the top ten, although the Scot was satisfied to stay within three seconds of his experienced team-mate on the long Sisteron stage.

Francois Delecour said: ''We have some strange tyre wear so now we change the camber. I wasn't aggressive enough on the ice this morning, so I'm changing the car to allow me to do that. I already think that Loeb will win this rally.''

Alister McRae added: ''I haven't quite got confidence in the car yet - it still feels nervous over the bumps and like Francois, we need more camber at the front end. But it's all about learning and it's good to get over the stages at full speed.''

The Skoda Octavia WRCs of Toni Gardemeister and Roman Kresta ran without major problems today until both clouted the same rock in SS4 and damaged their cars' suspension. Kenneth Eriksson's example hit gearbox problems on today's opening stage. The Swede lost fifth and sixth gear by the end of the test, and was duly relieved to see that the following stage was cancelled because of spectator congestion since it allowed him to drive straight to service in Digne les Bains instead.

Gearbox problems and ill handling respectively prevented either Kenneth Eriksson or Toni Gardemeister from making much of an impression today, but Czech driver Roman Kresta surprised many onlookers by holding fifth overall after this morning's first stage. He dropped time this afternoon - particularly after damaging his car's suspension on a rock - but still entered SS5 in a top-ten placing.

Kenneth Eriksson noted: ''The gearbox problem was very noisy, so I was pretty glad that SS2 was cancelled. Then this afternoon the 'box was fixed but the gear cut-off didn't work and I had to use the clutch. That cost me a few seconds.''

Roman Kresta added: ''The first stage today was good - I had the right tyres and I drove carefully, and I was surprised to be in the top six! But then in SS4 I clipped the same rock as Toni. At least I'm still here and still in with a chance to push.''

Hyundai's Freddy Loix encountered no major technical problems but he crashed heavily in SS3. Armin Schwarz retired after he hit a rock 5km into SS4 and damaged his suspension beyond repair.

Both Hyundai drivers posted top-ten times on today's opening stage, with Armin Schwarz particularly pleased to be fourth overall after Gilles Panizzi's road penalties were taken into account. But it was a tough afternoon for the MSD-run team: Loix slid wide on a fifth-gear right-hander in SS3 and clouted a bridge parapet. His Accent was heavily damaged and the Belgian was taken to hospital with bruised foot. Then Schwarz hit ice in SS4, slid wide and hit a rock hard enough to break his car's suspension. He retired on the spot.

Armin Schwarz said: ''The car felt good this morning, but then we got caught out on one icy corner. We understeered into a ditch and broke the right-front suspension. We could go no further. It's a pity, because we hadn't really been pushing hard because there were so many tricky places.''

Of the other entries it's been a thrilling first day in the 2002 FIA Junior World Rally Championship. A different driver led the category after each of the first three stages. Spaniard Daniel Sola's Citroen Saxo held the advantage after SS1, but then he retired with transmission problems in SS3 (SS2 was cancelled). That handed the lead to Francois Duval, only for the Belgian to damage his Ford Puma's suspension in SS4 and drop to second.

Gianluigi Galli was thus the top Junior WRC driver entering the day's last stage. Austrian David Doppelreiter was third in his Peugeot 206.

Rally statistics:

Starters: 55 cars (all group A) started the rally

Retirements: Radstrom (S), Bugalski (F), Auriol (F), Schwarz (D), Loix (B) and 17 other drivers

Today - Friday 18 January:
Leg 1 started from Monaco at 06h00 and covered 704.56km, including 157.70km on five special stages.

Tomorrow - Saturday 19 January:
Leg 2 starts from Monaco at 08h13 and covers 486.50km, including 131.88km on six special stages. The first car is expected to arrive in Monaco at 20h40.

Weather forecast:
Staying clear and cold.

Stage by stage summary - Leg one:

SS1 Sisteron - Turriers (28.74kms):
1. Sainz (E) Ford 17m 54.3
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 17m 55.2
3. CMcRae (GB) Ford 17m 58.9

SS2 Sisteron - Thoard (36.73kms):
Stage cancelled due to spectator congestion

Leaders after SS2:
1. Sainz (E) Ford 17m 54.3
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 17m 55.2
3. CMcRae (GB) Ford 17m 58.9

SS3 Sisteron - Turriers 2 (28.74kms):
1. Solberg (N) Subaru 17m 15.9
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 17m 28.5
2. CMcRae (GB) Ford 17m 28.5
4. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 17m 31.7

Leaders after SS3:
1. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 35m 23.7
2. CMcRae (GB) Ford 35m 27.4
3. Sainz (E) Ford 35m 36.3

SS4 Sisteron - Thoard (37.73kms):
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 23m 41.1
2. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot 23m 59.1
3. CMcRae (GB) Ford 24m 02.2

Leaders after SS4:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 59m 22.3
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru 59m 27.6
3. CMcRae (GB) Ford 59m 29.6

SS5 Toudon (26.76kms):
1. Schwarz (D) Skoda 15m 00.8
2. Makinen (FIN) Mitsubishi 15m 03.1
3. CMcRae (GB) Ford 15m 05.2

Leaders after SS5:
1. Loeb (F) Citroen 1h 17m 07.0
2. Makinen (FIN) Subaru +36.7
3. C. McRae (GB) Ford +44.6
4. Gronholm (FIN) Peugeot +51.2
5. Sainz (E) Ford +58.1
6. Solberg (N) Subaru +1m 10.4
7. Burns (GB) Peugeot +1m 46.5
8. Delecour (F) Mitsubishi +1m 56.1
9. Rovanpera (FIN) Peugeot +2m 09.4
10. Gardemeister (FIN) Skoda +2m 27.2