Marcus Gronholm holds the lead of the Monte Carlo Rally after the end of an eventful first leg.
Gronholm, driving in his first event with Ford following seven seasons with Peugeot, inherited the lead on the final stage of the day after the seemingly invincible Sebastien Loeb crashed out.
On a fourth gear corner, Loeb lost control in the slippery conditions and slid down a bank. The car is reportedly not badly damaged and the team are hopeful that it can be repaired to restart under superrally regulations tomorrow.
Loeb, who has won the last three Monte Carlo rallies, had a one minute and 15 second lead over Gronholm after his blistering pace in the early stages.
Loeb won the two runnings of the St Sauveur sur Tinee to Beuil stage handsomely; he took SS1 by 25 seconds and SS4 by 20 seconds while Gronholm struggled with tyre choice, spinning early into SS1.
However, 5.6 km into SS6, the 23.22 km stage of Pierlas-Ilonse, Loeb crashed out. Both he and co-driver Daniel Elena are not seriously injured.
The crash was an incredible end to a bizarre day. Only 11 cars completed the first two special stages this morning, and organisers were then forced to cancel the third special stage.
The problems with the morning's stages all resulted from traffic congestion leading up to the first stage of the day where a bus reportedly became stuck and blocked competitor traffic. The majority of the cars were unable to get to the stage on time and notional results were awarded to the competitors who did not complete the first two stages.
Gronholm, who both won SS2 and SS6, now holds a seemingly comfortable 1:23.7 minutes lead over Subaru works driver Chris Atkinson, who has had an impressive day in his new Impreza.
Because Atkinson is in his first Monte Carlo Rally, the Japanese manufacturer chose their asphalt expert Stephane Sarrazin as their second-nominated points scoring car for the event.
However, the Australian has surpassed all expectations so far, making a conservative tyre choice in the morning to be up to fourth by lunchtime. He inherited second when Loeb crashed out and Gilles Panizzi struggled in the final stage in his Red Bull Skoda.
However, Atkinson will face a tough battle to hold on to the position for the rest of the rally, with only 15.4 seconds between him and the fifth-placed car. Toni Gardemeister, in the privateer Astra Motorsport-run Peugeot 307, has moved up to third, just 3.4 seconds behind Atkinson. Panizzi and OMV Peugeot runner Manfred Stohl round out the top five.
Gigi Galli, running in a privateer Mitsubishi Lancer, was up to fourth at lunch, however he crashed two kilometers into SS4 and retired.
Ousted Citroen driver Francois Duval lies in sixth overnight thanks in part to a mesmerizing performance in SS5. Duval, running in a privateer First Motorsport run Skoda Fabia, was the fastest driver through the test, beating Sarrazin by 5.7 seconds.
Lead Subaru driver Petter Solberg ended the day in seventh, recovering well from his disastrous start to the rally. The Norwegian chose a slick, unstudded tyre this morning after his Subaru crew believed that would be the best way to go, despite early morning ice and snow.
However, the quicker runners chose studded tyres and the Norwegian lost three minutes to rally leader Loeb in the first two stages. The 2003 champion was in the top five quickest runners all afternoon, and was second only to Gronholm on SS6 to haul himself back up the order.
Sarrazin is in the final points position in eighth after similarly struggling with tyres this morning.