A technical issue with the hybrid unit on Loeb’s Puma Rally1 car ended his dominance and allowed his English team-mate, Gus Greensmith, to record a first scratch time in the Championship by 1.4 seconds.

Two loops of three stages made up the Friday leg of the World Rally Championship season opener, with Loeb proving almost unbeatable on roads that weaved their way through the Mercantour National Park.

The nine-time champion moved to the head of the field on the final run before the remote lunchtime tyre zone at Puget-Théniers having chipped away at the overnight lead of Toyota star, Sebastien Ogier. Loeb eventually finished the day with 9.9 seconds in hand over the defending World champion.

“We are feeling well,” said Loeb. "For sure, it was a good day. The first four stages were great and then we had a little hybrid problem and this one [stage eight] was OK. We had some ice coming out at the end of the stage which made it a bit tricky but it was all OK.”

For his part, Ogier was left frustrated as he could only watch on as the advantage he had worked so hard to build up over the course of Thursday’s two night stages evaporated.

The Frenchman admitted at the end of the first three stages that he had been far too cautious – an approach not helped by anomalies in the information provided by his ice crew. On the second pass, he struggled for traction but somehow managed to find a way around this and leapfrog his team-mate - Elfyn Evans - on the penultimate test.

Thrusday's frustrations continued into Friday for Evans who spoke of having "an up and down" day at the office. 22 seconds adrift of Loeb and 12 behind Ogier, the Welshman survived a big slide on the fifth test under braking and got away with a slow puncture after running wide at a hairpin.

By comparison, Evans' day was more straightforward than fifth-placed Thierry Neuville. "I think we are going to struggle to get there this weekend," the Belgian conceded after battling with recurring hybrid issues and understeer. "I am on the limit of what we can do with what we have. There's not much we can do."

Craig Breen and Ott Tanak traded places on the day's deciding stage, with Breen blaming the time loss on a camera that had been placed on the racing line by a spectator. "Thanks for that, it probably cost us two or three seconds," he said. "Where’s the sense in that, honestly?"

After a shaky start, 2019 WRC champion Tanak said he was beginning to appreciate the potential of his I20 N having also been plagued initially by a non-cooperative energy recovery system.

Stage seven winner Greensmith was unable to repeat the trick on eight but remains in seventh, 27.5 seconds clear of Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta. Kalle Rovanpera - the youngest ever winner of a WRC round - is ninth and young Swede Oliver Solberg tenth.

Solberg cut a disconsolate figure at the end of the morning loop, his rhythm and confidence dented by choking smoke that was filtering into the cabin of his Hyundai I20 N Rally1 supermini.

With so much time lost, he admitted he has “nothing to fight for” and lost all interest in looking at stage times. "It's a good day for experience and a good day for me and the team to learn a lot," he said.

"I can't say I'm happy with the day, but in a way, I am still happy. We know what we have to do and everybody is motivated."

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux was the first casualty of Rallye Monte Carlo when he crashed out in spectacular fashion on today’s opener, his Puma Rally1 car careering, at speed, into a rock face on a tightening left hander.

The impact vaulted the car across the road and down a steep ravine and while it sustained considerable damage, both Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria emerged unscathed.