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WRC Monte Carlo: Tanak leads, eventful starts for Meeke and Loeb

Ott Tanak leads the World Rally Championship-opening Monte Carlo Rally, while Kris Meeke and Sebastien Loeb both starred early before hitting problems

In his first WRC start for Toyota, Meeke was Tanak's closest challenger as the Yaris duo set a commanding pace on the La Breole-Selonnet stage that kicked the season off - the pair five seconds apart at the finish.

But Meeke then picked up a puncture in the final miles of the following Avancon-Notre Dame du Laus stage and tumbled to seventh overall.

That did little to dent his mood, the former Citroen driver revelling in his revitalised confidence as he returned to the WRC with Tommi Makinen's Toyota team.

Tanak was only third fastest on SS2, but retained an overall lead of 9.1s over Sebastien Ogier's Citroen.

Thierry Neuville set the pace on that stage, moving up to third and closing to within 14.3s of leader Tanak in the process.

Hyundai driver Neuville had taken the boldest tyre choice of the evening, setting off with mostly supersoft slick tyres despite snow having hit the stages.

He floundered on the ice and snow that affected much of SS1, where he was only fifth fastest and nearly half a minute from Tanak.

In the clearer conditions of SS2, Neuville flew - although he was disappointed not to gain more time.

Loeb had been the best of the Hyundais on the first stage and began his new WRC era fourth-fastest.

But he plunged to eighth on the next stage, having taken primarily studded tyres and therefore struggled on the dry roads.

Loeb is still within 10s of fourth place, sitting in a group of drivers already a long way from the podium battle but packed close together.

Citroen's other new signing Esapekka Lappi leads that pack in fourth, half a minute away from Neuville in front, and just ahead of Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala, the leading M-Sport Ford of Elfyn Evans, the delayed Meeke, Loeb and the third Hyundai of Andreas Mikkelsen.

That group all rued varying degrees of excess confidence, poor set-up choices or over-cautious tyre picks.

Evans is already carrying M-Sport's hopes virtually alone, with new team-mate Pontus Tidemand a long way off the pace in a cautious 10th on his return to the World Rally Car class and Teemu Suninen having crashed out early on SS1.

Follow Friday's WRC action as it happens with Autosport Live from 8am UK time

Leading positions after SS2

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
1 Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota 26m33.0s
2 Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia Citroen Total WRT Citroen 9.1s
3 Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT Hyundai 14.3s
4 Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm Citroen Total WRT Citroen 45.2s
5 Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota 46.4s
6 Elfyn Evans, S.Martin M-Sport Ford WRT Ford 48.2s
7 Kris Meeke, S.Marshall Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota 53.8s
8 Sebastien Loeb, D.Elena Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT Hyundai 55.2s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen, A.Jager Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT Hyundai 59.6s
10 Pontus Tidemand, O.Floene M-Sport Ford WRT Ford 1m41.1s


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