WRC Monte Carlo Rally: Sebastien Loeb leads opening night

Sebastien Loeb leads the Monte Carlo Rally from Sebastien Ogier after the first evening of his World Rally Championship comeback

WRC Monte Carlo Rally: Sebastien Loeb leads opening night

Citroen star Loeb stormed through the Entrevaux-Rouaine stage that opened the 2015 WRC season a full 22 seconds clear of surprise second-placed man Ott Tanak's M-Sport Ford and half a minute faster than Ogier's Volkswagen in third position.

Ogier responded by going quickest on the Norante to Dignes-les-Bains stage that completed the after-dark double-header.

If Loeb's 14th position in the starting order had helped him on SS1, where everyone complained of extremely unpredictable ice levels, it was a hindrance on SS2, as most drivers further down the order found increasing amounts of gravel dragged onto the corners by cars ahead.

Loeb was still third fastest, but he dropped 17.6s to Ogier, bringing his outright lead down to 13.3s at the end of the night.

OPINION: Why Loeb can win the Monte

The other VW drivers had struggled badly for confidence on SS1 - where Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen were only eighth and 13th quickest - before regaining ground with second and fifth places on SS2.

That brought Latvala up to third overall, just ahead of Tanak, with Mikkelsen now seventh.

Tanak's team-mate Elfyn Evans was a superb fourth quickest on SS2, putting him fifth overall in front of fellow Brit Kris Meeke.

Thierry Neuville completed the opening day of a Monte Carlo Rally - an event where he has crashed early on every previous attempt - for the first time in eighth place, while Mads Ostberg fell back from an initial fifth to ninth with a poor SS2 time.

There were early disappointments for the two heroes of the 2014 Monte: Bryan Bouffier and Robert Kubica.

A year after their shock appearances in the rally lead, Bouffier crashed when running seventh on SS2 and Kubica's promising early splits on SS1 were followed by two minor errors and then a major electrical problem on the next stage.

The RK Ford lost nearly five minutes and tumbled down the order, then had to stop on the road section heading back to service.

Dani Sordo also had early drama, outbraking himself and going off the road within the first few miles of SS1.

His co-driver Marc Marti had to push the Hyundai back onto the road, and though they rebounded with sixth place on SS2, the pair are back in 12th overall behind Henning Solberg and Martin Prokop.

Follow Friday's Monte Carlo Rally action as it happens with AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live from 8.45am UK time

LEADING POSITIONS AFTER SS2:

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Loeb's back - and he can win the Monte

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