WRC Monte Carlo Rally: Sebastien Ogier wins 2016 season opener

Sebastien Ogier opened the 2016 World Rally Championship with a commanding third straight Monte Carlo Rally victory, though he faced a tough challenge from Kris Meeke

WRC Monte Carlo Rally: Sebastien Ogier wins 2016 season opener

It took until Saturday morning for Ogier's Volkswagen to make a break from Meeke's PH Sport-run Citroen, and the battle was still alive when Meeke hit a rock and sustained terminal damage to his car's gearbox.

Meeke's exit left Ogier disappointed - the WRC champion having enjoyed the competition - but it meant the world champion was able to nurse a two-minute advantage to the finish.

He ensured a maximum 28-point score by winning Sunday's concluding powerstage too.

Team-mate and potential title rival Jari-Matti Latvala had another nightmare start to a championship bid, leaving Monte Carlo with zero points and a suspended one-rally ban.

Latvala was battling VW's other driver Andreas Mikkelsen for third place when he went off on the first stage of Saturday afternoon.

The incident broke his car's suspension, and he also hit a spectator as he tried to rejoin - incurring the punishment because he failed to stop at the scene.

With Latvala and Meeke out, Mikkelsen moved into a second place that he held to the finish despite heavy pressure from Thierry Neuville.

The new Hyundai made a low-key start, with Neuville and Dani Sordo both unhappy with the car's handling at first.

But it flew on winter tyres on Saturday afternoon, allowing Neuville to reduce a 1m04s deficit to Mikkelsen to just 12.5s by winning two straight stages.

Neuville trimmed another nine tenths from Mikkelsen's advantage on Sunday morning's opener before the car ran into transmission trouble.

Though he dropped a minute on the last stage of the rally, Neuville had enough in hand to still seal a podium on the new i20's debut.

Sordo recovered to sixth behind M-Sport's Mads Ostberg and Meeke's team-mate Stephane Lefebvre after hitting a bank on Saturday morning.

Hayden Paddon spent most of the weekend running under Rally 2 in the 2015 Hyundai having gone off on Friday.

Also in trouble early were M-Sport's new driver Eric Camilli and ex-Formula 1 racer Robert Kubica, whose incidents on ice on the two runnings of Friday's La Salle en Beaumont stage ended their rallies and perhaps Kubica's WRC career.

Camilli's predecessor in M-Sport's lead line-up Elfyn Evans began his return to WRC2 with a crushing class win and eighth overall despite two punctures.

LEADING FINISHERS AFTER SS16:

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LEADING POWERSTAGE RESULTS:

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
1 Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen 8m09.6s
2 Dani Sordo, M.Marti Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai 1.4s
3 Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager Volkswagen Motorsport II Volkswagen 5.9s
3 Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau Abu Dhabi Total WRT Citroen 5.9s
5 Mads Ostberg, O.Floene M-Sport World Rally Team Ford 11.5s

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS:

Pos Driver Points
1 Sebastien Ogier 28
2 Andreas Mikkelsen 19
3 Thierry Neuville 15
4 Mads Ostberg 12
5 Stephane Lefebvre 10
6 Dani Sordo 10
7 Ott Tanak 6
8 Elfyn Evans 4
9 Esapekka Lappi 2
10 Armin Kremer 1

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