WRC | Neuville places Ogier, international champ Tanak in coloration in Monte Carlo opener


Belgian driver Thierry Neuville and his co-pilot Nicolas Gilsoul steer their Hyundai i20 WRC in Gap, southeastern France. Image: JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / AFP

Belgium’s Thierry Neuville grabbed the lead to edge out six-time world champion Sebastien Ogier and 2019 series winner Ott Tanak on the first day of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday.

Neuville, the bespectacled five-time runner-up in the world championship, carved out a lead of 19.2sec over Ogier, racing this year for Toyota.

Tanak, who switched from Toyota to join Neuville at Hyundai for the 2020 championship, is third overnight, 25.1 sec off the lead.

For Neuville, it was a satisfying start to the 13-race season, as he dominated the two stages above Monte Carlo where snow and ice made the opening exchanges treacherous.

“It was very tricky,” admitted Neuville on a night when Estonian driver Tanak complained about flares ignited by spectators and which he claimed hampered his visibility.

“We might have been able to go faster but the rally has only just started,” added Ogier, who is aiming for an eighth victory — and seventh in a row in Monte Carlo.

Ogier moved to Toyota over the winter after Citroen withdrew from the championship.

The Frenchman’s teammate Elfyn Evans of Wales is fourth overnight.

Tanak said it had been a tough day trying to judge the conditions and challenges on the 88th running of the famed rally.

“We faced some tricky conditions on these first two stages, the second stage especially,” said Tanak.

“We heard from the gravel crew that it was freezing with a lot of black ice but in between it seemed to freeze even more.

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“It was challenging and my aim was just to get through without any issues.”

Nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, in the third Hyundai, is fifth overall.

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