Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb heads the leaderboard after the opening day of Rally Monte-Carlo, the first round of the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship. Former team-mate Sébastien Ogier holds second in the debut competitive outing of the Volkswagen Polo R WRC and Mikko Hirvonen is third after the first of four days of action.

“There was less snow than this morning. But near the end, while the road looked dry, it’s freezing again and I lost and grip and some confidence. I had a few small moments….I’m happy to be at the end of the day,” said Loeb.

The 81st Rallye Monte-Carlo started in Valence today and took the contenders over two loops of two identical stages in the south Ardeche region covering 135.40 competitive kilometres. Snowfall yesterday resulted in treacherous and unpredictable conditions and, as always, tyre choice and confidence became critical factors.

With Volkswagen Motorsport joining the series this season, all eyes were on the pace of the Polo R WRC this morning and Sébastien Ogier didn’t disappoint, the Frenchman fastest by 3.7 seconds over the opening 37.10 kilometre stage. While he remained one of Loeb’s nearest rivals throughout the day, he then lost nearly a minute in the final stage as road conditions deteriorated.

Nevertheless, a fine performance sees him second to Loeb after a full year out of world rally car competition. “We did our best but it wasn’t easy in there. There was a lot of mud,” he said.

Loeb then dominated the remaining three stages, the nine-time World Champion winning each to pull out over a minute’s advantage. His team-mate Mikko Hirvonen is third but the Finn struggled with grip and confidence in the sister DS3 WRC.

Hirvonen was frustrated with pretty much everything, but his speed was still sufficient to propel him from sixth midway through the leg into third tonight. “I was too cautious, but when I try to push harder I go wide. I really hate these conditions. I really, really hate to drive like this but at least I’m here,” said the 32-year-old Finn.

Dani Sordo has run without problems to an overnight fourth and Jari-Matti Latvala – in the second Polo R WRC – ran better this afternoon with set-up changes. He has climbed from 10th to fifth. Evgeny Novikov heads the Qatar M-Sport squad in sixth, ahead of Mads Østberg and former Monte-Carlo victor Bryan Bouffier. The leading retirement of the day was Thierry Neuville, the Belgium retiring after taking a wheel off his Fiesta RS WRC. Without Rally 2 regulations in Monte-Carlo, he will not be re-starting.

FIA WRC