Bryan Bouffier got his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title campaign off to the best possible start by winning the centenary edition of Rallye Monte-Carlo, which finished in Monaco's harbour front in the early hours of Saturday morning following three days of intense competition.
Driving a Peugeot France 207 Super 2000, the 32-year-old from Die in the nearby Drome region, took the lead on a dramatic seventh stage on Thursday afternoon when a freak snowfall coated much of the mountainous roads and made driving conditions treacherous.
Juho Hanninen, who had been leading comfortably in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000, was one of several leading drivers to get caught out by selecting the wrong type of tyre for the wintry conditions. However, Bouffier's decision to opt for a combination of snow and studded tyres gave him just enough grip to slither through the stages and climb from seventh to first overall despite spinning into a bank at one point.
Bouffier, the French champion who shone on a handful of IRC appearances last year, first emerged as a contender for victory by winning stage six on Thursday having lost time on Wednesday afternoon with a rear differential fault. He began day three with a lead of 28 seconds, which he was able to extend following a controlled, albeit attacking, performance throughout Friday's five tests.
He becomes the 19th different driver to win a round of the IRC since it began in 2007. His success was also the 21st for Peugeot in the series.
“It's really fantastic to have won this special rally,” Bouffier said. “I am so happy for Peugeot who gave me this opportunity and did a really good job. There was big pressure on me, there were a lot of fantastic drivers and the conditions were also very difficult. I am just so happy.”
Changeable weather conditions are part of Rallye Monte Carlo folklore and added spice to this year's event. That they contributed to Hanninen's downfall in the space of one afternoon was poor reward for the defending IRC champion, who had excelled by claiming three stage wins in the early running, but had to settle for sixth in the final classification.
With Hanninen caught out by the weather and Czech Republic team-mate Jan Kopecky not showing the sparkle that has made him IRC runner-up for the past two seasons, it was left to Freddy Loix to uphold Skoda's honour in second overall after the Belgian recovered from a spin on stage six. No driver has won more rounds of the IRC than Loix but he had to settle for 'silver' on this occasion.
“The first day was not the most difficult but we were quite controlled. Then the second day was very difficult with the weather. To keep second place is a good result and I'm quite pleased,” Loix reflected.