GAP, France: Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke snatched the lead of the Monte Carlo Rally from triple world champion Sebastien Ogier on Thursday (Friday in Manila), mastering the bitter cold and ice of the season’s opening event.
Meeke, behind the wheel of a Citroen, had trailed Volkswagen Polo driver Ogier by 4.1seconds after the first night-time special between Entrevaux and Rouaine.
But he overturned the deficit over the second stage, 20.38 kilometers between Barles and Seyne, to end the opening day with a 6.9-second lead over Ogier who is chasing a fourth win on the 84th edition of the storied rally.
“Everything feels good,” Meeke told wrc.com
Ogier said he was content to be in second place ahead of the resumption of the rally on Friday in his home town of Gap.
“I’m happy to be here. This is just the beginning of the rally,” said the Frenchman.
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen, a VW teammate of Ogier, was third, 20 seconds behind Meeke with the Hyundai i20 cars of Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon filling out the top five.
Last year’s world championship runner-up Latvala, in the another VW, had been fourth fastest after the opening stage but he hit trouble on the second run, dropping to seventh at the end of the day.
“I hit something on the first proper icy section,” said the Finn.
“The car started to slide so I hit full throttle. I think we tagged a bridge or something and I was worried we might have damaged the rear suspension. We took it easy after that,” he added.
Ogier, meanwhile, rued his cautious approach on the last five kilometers of the second stage where the road was covered in snow and ice. But he wasn’t about to panic. “I’m happy to be here. This is just the beginning of the rally,” he pointed out.