PARIS (Reuters) - Sebastien Ogier of France opened the defence of his rallying world title with a commanding victory in the Rally Monte Carlo, his 41st in WRC, on Sunday.
The M-Sport Ford driver, winner of the last five world titles, started the fourth and final leg with a 33.5-second lead over Toyota’s Ott Tanak and it proved a comfortable enough cushion.
He extended his lead over the Estonian up to almost a minute ahead of the final stage and Tanak ended up second 58.3 seconds behind at the end of the four days.
Ogier is the first driver to win the Rally Monte Carlo five times in a row.
Finn Jari-Matti Latvala took third place, one minute 52 seconds off the pace.
“It’s been a difficult weekend. Often in Monte Carlo you have to face hard conditions, but this has been extremely difficult,” said Ogier.
“I’ve never struggled with the tyre choices so much, but in the end we win and I‘m super happy. I need to thank the team for another good start to the season. Every driver did mistakes this weekend - I did too. I made a few less.”
Ogier joined M-Sport last season after Volkswagen, with whom he won his first four titles, pulled out as part of a strategic shift to help the German carmaker overcome a costly emissions scandal.
The Frenchman won only four of the 17 stages, including three of the first four, but always had his rivals in check in sometimes muddy conditions.
The next leg of the world championships is the Rally Sweden from Feb. 15-18.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar