World champ Ogier wins season-opening Monte Carlo Rally
AP Monday, January 20, 2014, 12:11 am TWN
MONACO -- World champion Sebastien Ogier of France protected his overnight lead to win the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally in treacherous conditions on Saturday.
Ogier won three of the five stages on Friday to climb from fourth and take the overnight lead, and extended it as the weather conditions became progressively worse, with first snow then heavy rain and fog making it particularly difficult for the drivers in the two night sessions.
"It's been a tough weekend, we had so much fog at the beginning of the (last stage)," Ogier said. "It's a perfect result."
Overall, he finished 78 seconds ahead of countryman Bryan Bouffier and 1:54 clear of Britain's Kris Meeke.
"This rally's been so crazy. I've never seen anything like it," Meeke said.
Ogier won the day's first stage that passed up the Col du Turini in 19 1/2 minutes, with Jari-Matti Latvala finishing it in second place and Bouffier third.
"It was tough with the snow on the Turini," Bouffier said. "It was more like soup (slush) so we couldn't ease up at all."
Ogier won the short second stage — 16 1/2 kilometers (10 miles) from Sospel to Breil Sur Roya — ahead of Meeke to move more than one minute clear of Bouffier overall.
The 14th stage was the first of the night sessions but organizers decided to cancel it and make it a neutral, transitional stage after Slovakian Jaroslav Melicharek, the first driver to go, got stuck up the Turini pass. His Ford blocked Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen, Finland's Mikko Hirvonen and Britain's Elfyn Evans for several minutes.
The second night session, Sospel to Breil Sur Roya again, was a power stage, giving the top three finishers extra points — three for first place, two for second and one for third.
But as well as the wet roads, the fog came down.
"It's been really tricky, conditions I'd never experienced before," Mikkelsen said. "I'm really pleased to finish — there was so much fog."
Latvala, who beat Ogier by .2 seconds to win it, called it "a very tough rally" because "there was so much water on the road."
Hirvonen abandoned it.
Robert Kubica retired on Friday after his Ford skidded off the road, while Hyundai drivers Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Dani Sordo of Spain retired on Thursday.
Kubica crashed heavily while racing in Italy on Feb. 6, 2011, suffering massive injuries to the right side of his body, almost severing his forearm, and with fractures to his leg and shoulder. The Polish driver is starting his first full season in the world rally championship.
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